My friend chase was coming into town for a couple of days and wanted to get out into the mountains on sunday. Chase is a serious climber/mountaineer. I knew he wouldnt be interested in a walkup, so i figured this would be as good a time as any to try some kind of class 3 route. Plus, he had just completed his wilderness emt certification, so if i got hurt he could probably help! I suggested the sawtooth or kelso ridge, as I had read these are good introductory class 3 routes. Chase has done kelso several times, but never the sawtooth. so the sawtooth would be the route for the day, and plans were made to leave golden around 7.
I didnt sleep particularly well the night before, as i was pretty anxious about what lay ahead. To this point all i had done were walkups. The thought of getting out onto the sawtooth and encountering a section I couldnt handle and not really having a bail out option was making me very nervous. I was excited too, as i have climbed bierstadt 3 times prior and gazed at the sawtooth each time, thinking how awesome it would be to do that route.
Nate and Chase met me in golden about 815 and we got a not so alpine start (920am). We had to park a few hundred yards past the lot because of some bike race. We werent concerned with the late start because the weather looked to be excellent. Chase set a ridiculous pace and me and nate struggled to keep up with him. It was already hot, and trying to keep up with this dude was not helping. about halfway up the wind really picked up and id guess it was gusting to around 30mph at times...this was not helping to calm my nerves about what was coming.
we summitted bierstadt at 1110am, about 30 minutes behind chase. The summit was a party, at least 50 people up there. i was shocked at our time...the first time i climbed that mountain last year it had taken me 3.5 hours. We sat on the summit for about 20 minutes, relaxing and eating some food. Nate brought an entire whole foods store with him, so we ate pretty well. I was really starting to get pretty nervous at this point, especially with the wind. The thought of getting blown off that ledge took center stage in my mind. We put our helmets on, took a quick summit shot and began descending down the ridge.
summit of bierstadt with our cool helmets
The descent off of bierstadt was pretty easy, with only one snow crossing that was about 40 feet across. You wouldnt want to slip but there were some steps kicked in so it wasnt hard to cross. Id say the descent is class 2+, just kind of boulder hopping. Chase said there were a couple class 3 moves, but it seemed manageable. there were cairns to guide the route, so it went pretty quickly. My confidence was kind of building, but i knew this was the easy part.
some of the terrain coming down off bierstadt
me making my way down
me and nate...what did these guys get me into?
heading for the gendarme
Before I knew it we were at the low point of the ridge, staring at the remaining route. It was looking pretty intimidating to say the least. That gendarme is big, and the terrain behind it doesnt look particularly friendly.
chase telling me it wont be that difficult...im skeptical
peering over the edge
nate isnt worried
We went up the left side and then hooked around to the right, as it seemed like the easiest way to go. There were cairns as well, so we felt good about our route choice. A couple of class 3 moves and we were around the gendarme! It was definitely not a place that you wanted to fall, but i felt like it was manageable.
next objective was the ledge, the cause of my anxiety. The wind was still blowing, and this thing looked narrow and loose.
around the corner getting to the ledge
As we walked on the narrow path, i tried to not look over the edge, but the urge to look was insurmountable. If you are scared of heights, id recommend not doing that.
My heart was pounding as it came time to climb up the scree onto the actual ledge. I said a quick prayer and took a deep breath and started up. I would say its the only place on the route where a fall would be certain death. I used my hands to grab any secure rocks and shuffled my feet up the slope and made it up to the relative safety of the ledge. It was only about 10-15 feet but the looseness made it pretty nerve wracking.
working our way to the ledge
Overall, the ledge section wasnt nearly as bad as i thought it was going to be. Its exposed, but its pretty wide (10-15 feet), wide enough that a slip wouldnt necessarily spell doom. I wouldnt want to test that theory. I just focused on my feet and what i was doing, and before long we were exiting the ledge and had completed the sawtooth!
The feeling when i made that last move to get off the ledge onto stable, flat ground is pretty hard to describe. It was like relief, joy, disbelief and a million other emotions. This was easily the greatest accomplishment in my mountain 'career' and I took a few minutes to soak it in and really enjoy the moment.
i crossed this!?
keith richards is my guardian angel
chase and nate hamming it up
marmot looked surprised to see us
right after these shots, my camera died, so forgive me for a lack of pictures for the descent. We headed up the ridgeline to west evans and then evans, to hang out with the tourists. we got some puzzled looks from people up there...i guess they assumed we put helmets on to walk up from the parking lot. We stayed for a few minutes and then followed the trail back to the gully.
we expected that the gully was going to be steep and miserable, as it looks from the parking lot, but it really was not that bad. It was steepish, but there was a clear trail and cairns to guide you down. there was some scree and dirt, but by taking your time it was no biggie. after getting down, i realized how far away the car still was. I could see it sitting up on the pass.
Next on the agenda was the willows...i was dreading this almost as much as the ledge, but again, not that bad. There was a trail to follow and the mud only went over my boots a couple times. it was actually mostly dry, just plowing through endless willows. when we finally hit the main trail, we were elated. Pretty soon, we were back at the car, rushing back to golden to catch the end of game 3. It took us 9 hours car to car.
please keep in mind this is written from the perspective of a total amateur, with no real climbing experience. So what i find scary or difficult, an experienced climber probably wouldnt flinch...i kind of wanted to write this for people who are debating trying a class 3 route. I feel like the sawtooth is a pretty good route for a first timer...the route finding is pretty easy, the climbing isnt too hard and the ledge isnt as bad as it seems. It is pretty committing though, it wouldnt be easy to bail once you are past the gendarme.
hope you enjoyed reading,
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):