| February Attempt at Bierstadt, Sawtooth, Evans. No time for Evans
Summary: did Bierstadt, crossed the Sawtooth, did not attempt Evans as it was quite late and we were quite tired.
Drove up Friday night with one of my good friends, Luke. After dinner at the bar/pizza place in Georgetown we drove as far as we could up the pass, parked, and camped for the night next to the car.
Part of me wanted to hike up to the pass and camp so we could save the mileage in the morning but the other part of me didn't want to that stuff up there. Luke felt the same way so we stayed there the night and I'm not sure, even in retrospect, if that was a good idea or not. It would have saved us some time in the morning and given us a closer base to get back to at the end of the day but I still don't think it would have saved so much time or energy as to have permitted us to climb Evans. Also, since we didn't have a tent the wind was much stronger at the pass than down by the car so we probably slept better.
The plan was to wake up at 4AM, pack up, and leave camp. I never heard the alarm on my watch so instead, I woke up at 5:05 quite comfy in my bag and realized we were already late. Leaving the car took us longer than planned so we didn't leave the parking lot until 5:40. We snow-shoed up the road in the dark which wasn't particularly memorable. In fact, it seemed to go quite quickly (which is odd since both Luke and I reported finding on the way down the road extremely long, with more switchbacks, and concerned we had somehow passed the car on the way down). The sun was up but not directly visible to us yet by the time we reached the parking lot at the pass and the trailhead just before 7.
We crossed the open flat area from the pass to the start of the trailhead with only a little difficulty. Some snow had fallen and there were no tracks or obvious trail. However, at times it was quite obvious when one was off trail as one sunk a fair amount into the snow. The sinking though wasn't a sure sign since occasionally a winddrift had built the snow up. Finding the wooden posts and heading to them seemed to work well for the most part. Luke was experiencing some cold feet (literally) and was quite concerned so we spent some time on the trail just before the ascent eating breakfast and warming his feet. I put his feet on my stomach (and they didn't seem that cold to me-though to be fair I had my undershirt between his foot and my stomach) and eventually his feet were painful, which was just what I wanted!
The ascent was notably uninteresting though it had some good views of the area behind us and the sawtooth. We gained the first piece of the elevation by 8:30. The other odd thing is the perception game that occurs where one is convinced the summit is always another 25-30 minutes away. About 20-30 minutes short of the ridgeline Luke was convinced it was time to ditch the snowshoes-I persisted for another 10 minutes then joined him. We gained the ridgeline about midway between the first and second shoulders coming off the ridge around 9:45 AM thinking we were making OK time. Not particularly impressed or disappointed; I could have sworn the summit was closer. I think we summit'ed shortly after 11.
We spent some time at the summit, eating lunch, talking, avoiding the wind. I was quite cold and switched from my undershirt, mid-layer, and shell to my undershirt and down-jacket. I was quite pleased with that decision since even though my jacket was 1/2 3/4 zipped most of the time I think the sawtooth would have been a lot colder. I put on yak-tracks and Luke remained in his boots only, we both pulled out our ice-axes. I think the yak-tracks were unnecessary. Absolutely no need for crampons though we both carried them the whole way.
We probably started descending to the sawtooth around noon. We saw no cairns and probably stayed on steeper terrain unnecessarily. We saw one cairn at the first U (notch) in the ridge which was probably unnecessary to put there. There was plenty of snow just below us. We triggered a few very small slides when we wandered down closer to the snow fields. None of them were very big (4-5 ft wide, 6 inches deep, and running for 30 meters) but enough to remind us to be careful especially with the crappy snowpack and all the avalanche accidents this year. About halfway down the descent we both wondered out loud if we should turn around since we both felt quite physically tired. We both wanted to proceed.
The thing about this route isn't that it is technically difficult, it's not. It is just a high level of moderate for a VERY LONG TIME.
Near the gendarme Luke and I both preferred the high route. The lower route would have put us very deep into snow, the possible slides, and the struggle that is post-holing. We proceeded up with some very easy Class III (though we were quite concerned with the message in the route description that the route gets more serious after the low point. I agree with it in terms of exposure, not in terms of difficulty). At one point in the traverse we came across a small traverse probably in terms of difficulty a 5.3 or 5.4 but the exposure was pretty wicked. The traverse wasn't long either but we chose to rope up at this point. I set protection on each side of the traverse and then continued my climb probably setting protection every 5m or so which was probably excessive. We finally saw our first cairn. I got to a good section about 20 m short of the notch where one transitions from the east to west side of the ridge and belayed Luke to me and then on and past to the notch.
From the transition east to west it was very easy. The only issue was the exposure on some of the ledges that were slightly icy. Both Luke and I agreed that we probably didn't need the rope (it was a 60m rope but we only used about 30) but both felt much more comfortable with it and simo-climbed the rest of the way off the sawtooth - I think we swapped leads once. I lead the first half and Luke the second, more uphill, half. We set protection periodically but preferred to use the natural pro of just flipping the rope over a large rock. We quickly made our way up and off the Sawtooth onto the large slope that leads down to the gully and were quite relieved. We felt the ascent was much easier than the descent though it was far more exposed.
It was probably 3:30 at that point. We were both quite tired physically and wanted to get back. We enjoyed a quick break and opined on the how near Mt Evans may or may not be but had already agreed that neither of us actually wanted to go for it. After a quick study of the topo to make sure the gully that was visible was indeed our descent gully (as opposed to a gully over the next ridge) made our way down to it.
The gully descent was nice in that it was easy to go down hill. The snow was quite deep but not deep enough to give us a long glissade. It wasn't hard either so the few short glissades we tried required a lot of effort to get going. About half way down the gully we both decided we needed snow-shoes so paused and snow-shoed up. I should have put away my ice ax at that point but instead I carried it in my hand all the way back to the car.
The route description states once you reach the creek to hike up above the willows on the other side of the creek on the ridge. That must be the non-winter route advice. It sucks up there. So much post holing about thigh deep even with snowshoes on and post holing is so demoralizing. The struggle is just awful and the false hope when you think you might get above it is even worse. You pick up one foot and compress the snow in front of you, slowly you weight it and it seems to be holding, then, all of a sudden, you drop down to midthigh again. Sucks.
After a while Luke and I wondered aloud how bad could the creek be? At least there were sections of ice that we could walk on. We just hoped it wasn't thin ice over deep water. We made our way down to the creek and just fell in love. This was so much better. There were still a few sections of post-holing but when they did occur they weren't as deep.
About 20 minutes before dark, just as you take a pretty sharp turn left to head in a relatively straight line to meet your trail in, I spotted a snow shoe trail. I was deliriously happy and Luke for a few moments didn't believe my and thought this might be some cruel joke of mine. He perked up once he realized this time I wasn't kidding.
We made it back to the original trail and just cruised from there. I was dragging ass and Luke would get a 1-2 hundred meters ahead of me and pause briefly (you could still make out shapes if they were above the ridgeline-just barely). When I got near the road I heard Luke call out to ask if I didn't mind him heading back to the car without waiting for me which I didn't since I knew his feet were cold.
The road took forever as I mentioned at the start of the the report. Luke commented on it to me once I got to the car and I had planned on commenting on it to him so you know it must be scientifically longer going down
Luke beat me by about 15-20 minutes when I got down and we both sat in the car briefly without moving just resting. We were both exhausted and it was just after 7PM making the trip just around 13.5 hours. Long day.
I took a few photos (nothing after the Bierstadt summit, because I'm a slack) and will upload them after I get them off my phone. I'm leaving the info below to remind me how to do it.
To display your photos (uploaded below) in the final trip report, type the image number (i.e., 1, 2, 3), highlight it with your cursor, and click on the Image button on the right. Example:
Image #1 (not yet uploaded)