| Tour de Abyss from Scott Gomer TH
Trailhead: Scott Gomer TH/Abyss Lake Trail
Route: Abyss Lake Trail --> Bierstadt East Ridge --> Sawtooth --> Evans West Ridge --> Abyss Lake Trail
Trailhead Elevation: 9600 ft
Start Time: 6:05 am
Finish Time: 5:55 pm
I had summited both Bierstadt and Evans on previously seperate occasions (from Guanella Pass and Echo Lake respectively), but had never done any of the "classic routes" proposed by Gerry Roach. The Sawtooth has been one of my goals for this season, and with some of the recently posted pictures of Bierstadt's East Ridge route, my interest in doing the entire Tour de Abyss grew. However, starting from the Mt. Evans Rd didn't really excite me much. When the weather forecast looked like it would stay sunny skies all day, I decided that I'd much rather start from Scott Gomer TH and take the Abyss Lake Trail to the start of Bierstadt's East Ridge. I knew that this would add a lot of milage to my day, but I was up for it. I'm pretty certain that someone has done this route before, but I couldn't find a trip report on it.
I set up a tent along Guanella Pass Rd on Saturday night in preparation for a early start. The signs at nearby campsites advertising recent mountain lion sightings ("Warning: A mother mountain lion with 2 kits has been spotted in the area. She is very protective!") made me a little less comfortable when I was setting up my tent in the pitch black night. I woke up around 5:30, packed up camp, and hit the trail a just after 6 am. It was a little bit later than I was hoping to start, but what can I say, I like the snooze button.
The approach to Lake "11730" is all on well-defined trail and is pretty flat with the exception of one section of switchbacks. After approximately 2 miles, I reached a small clearing and took in the first views of Bierstadt's East Ridge. It still looked quite faraway.
First view of Bierstadt's East Ridge
The trail intersects with the Rosalie trail in two locations, but I followed the signs that point in the direction of Abyss Lake. After the trail junctions, a series of switchbacks took me to just below treeline before it leveled out again and contoured around the south slopes. Here I had to maneuver around a significant amount of deadfall that caused me to occasionally lose the trail for a few minutes.
Once I reached Lake "11730," the thick willows on the south and east sides of the lake made the trail difficult to follow. As a result, I decided to head up to the East Ridge directly from Lake "11730" as opposed to following the Abyss trail further around the ridge.
Route I chose up to the East Ridge
After gaining the ridgeline, Point 13,641 came into view. It is an imposing and beautiful rock formation that offers plenty of good class III sections. The standard route follows a grassy ledge around the right side before cutting back to ridge proper. The ledge provides some exposure, but it is plenty wide enough to travel safely. I followed the ledge a little farther than most before cutting back but still didn't run into anything worse than class III. From here, Point 13,641 can either be skirted or summited. I figured that since I was so close, I might as well climb the class III slabs to the top.
Route I chose up Point 13,641
The remaining route to the summit of Bierstadt becomes obvious, and I did some rock hopping along the ridge to finally join the ruck of other summiters.
The remaining ridge run to the summit
View across Guanella Pass to Grays and Torreys from the summit
Abyss Lake from Bierstadt
Looking down at The Sawtooth
After a Snickers break, I donned my helmet and headed for my second Class III section of the day, The Sawtooth. A helmet probably isn't needed, but with the number of people on the route that day, I thought it was a good idea. Because of its frequent use, the route is well-defined and easy to follow. A narrow snowfield provided the only obstacle on the downclimb, but the deep boot tracks made crossing relatively easy. The route stays on the east side of the ridge until you reach the large Class III gendarme, which provides an opportunity for some fun climbing. After working my way over the gendarme the route crosses to west side of The Sawtooth and follows a ledge up to a wide scree slope which is the exit ramp for the route. This section is exposed but not very dangerous.
Looking back at the route across the ledge
Looking back at the west ledge of The Sawtooth
Most of the other people on the route continued straight to Mt. Evans, but I stopped along the way to summit The Sawtooth and "West Evans." From "West Evans" I could see both the High Park fire to the North and the Springer fire which had recently started to the South. I rested for just a couple minutes before making the quick scramble over to Mt. Evans and the throng of people that awaited me.
Summit Lake from Mt. Evans
I'm sure we're all used to seeing wildlife on the slopes of Mt. Evans, but I was lucky enough to get some shots of newborn mountain goat kids that couldn't have been more than a couple weeks old. I didn't want to get too much closer for fear of being gored by an angry momma goat.
As I made my way down to the saddle between Evans and Epaulet Mt, I started trying to pick out the best gully for my descent to the Abyss Lake area. At one point I had considered hiking Epaulet and coming down the more gentle slopes on the other side. However, as I got closer, I realized that this route would spit me out into some thick willows that would require tedious bushwacking to get back to the trail. So I took the advice from a climber earlier in the day who said the best gully was the one with the large rock spire. He was certainly right. The gully proved to be much easier than I anticipated, and the scree was mostly avoidable if you stay to the right. I made it out of the gully in about 20 minutes, enjoying the views of the rock formations on my way down.
Descent gully with Lake 11,730 in the distance
Route from the exit of the gully
The hike out from Lake "11730" seemed to go on forever, and my legs were starting to feel the effects of a long day during the last couple of miles. I eventually made it back to my car just before 6 pm, wrapping up an almost 12 hour day.
For anyone considering this route, it makes for a long day, so I would do it on a day in which you know the weather will hold. I highly recommend this route though, especially if you want to have a more challenging and somewhat isolated experience on two of the most popular mountains in the state.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):