| Tour de Abyss, a Great Route
I spent the week having an internal debate between climbing one/both of the Crestones or heading over to the Tour de Abyss. I'm glad I picked the Tour; it was exactly what I needed. Woke up at 3 AM for the 2 hr + drive to the parking lot off the Mt Evans Rd (from CO Springs). Item of note: I spent 5-10 minutes at the start of the Mt Evans Rd looking for a self-issued parking pass, turns out they're 1-2 miles up the road on the left. This was probably easy info to find, I guess I just missed it. I spent a few minutes in the car at the parking lot waiting for the sun to hit and was off hiking at 0630. It seems I struck the route lottery as there was no one else in the parking lot and I didn't see a soul on the entire East Ridge route (no cars in the lot when I returned either). Finding the right gully down is an exercise in fighting with yourself. The route guide clearly states that the right gully at the lowest point in the saddle, but there's 1-2 gullies before that that look promising. After looking back up at these poor alternate chutes from the valley, it just makes your day that much harder if you don't pick the right one. Not that the correct chute was enjoyable...far from it. Frost, leftover hail, and crap rock made this a not so happy 30 min.
Sunrise over Bierstadt's East Ridge
Looking down the gully (I think this is the right one)
Once the chute was over and done with, hiking across the valley was pretty enjoyable. Everything was incredibly lush and it wasn't very hard to find a way through the stunted growth Willows (folks should try Whitney's Mountaineer Route if they want a true Willow-battle). Camping here would be pretty cool. Ascending to the East Ridge was a bit of a novelty as I don't recall every going up a fairly steep approach almost entirely on grass. My first friend of the day, Wilson the Marmot, appeared on the approach and followed me up to the first bit of climbing on the ridge. True to the trip report, the 1st bit of climbing is straightforward and a good warmup for what's to come.
Wilson the Marmot
Wilson followed me up the last 1/3 of the climb to the ridge just to show me the 1st climbing portion (definitely not looking for food)
At 0830, 2 hours from leaving the car, Point 13,641 was next on the agenda. It looks pretty stunning in the route pictures, and does not disappoint in real life. As much as I wanted to focus on the next obstacle, the quickly forming storm clouds stole some of Point 13,641's thunder (sorry). All the weather reports had around 30% precip chance AFTER noon. This route doesn't strike me as one with a whole lot of bailout options considering where you have to park, so I was concerned with the prospect of completing the route in the rain (props to the weather gurus, even with the clouds the 1st round of thunder/rain didn't happen until I was at my car).
Point 13,641'. I was almost more concerned with the storm clouds brewing in the background at 0830.
A lot has been written about the route up Point 13,641, but again you have to fight with yourself. After starting the climb up, the grassy cutback left that appears early on just looks so darn tempting (someone else even wrote warning about this). Somehow I convinced myself that this was another, legitimate cutback and went to check it out. Luckily, it's only about a 30 sec detour to see that, nope, it spits you out at the class 5 rock. Basically, trust the route guide. Notionally, head right/up as far as you can easily until a "duh" easy line appears heading up and to the left. Solid, easy climbing and some great (dropoff) views. Once at the top of this bit, choose one of the several good-looking lines to the top of Point 13,641. Not much was said in the route description about the descent. Like others have noted, I thought this was equally difficult as the climb up. The harder downclimbs are towards the end of this section, and most if not all of the obstacles are bypassed to the left or right. The exposure is there, but the rock/foot placements are pretty decent. If you reach an obstacle where the bypass to your side looks like crap (happened to me once), take the 20 seconds to scramble back up to the ridge and look at the other side (usually has a much better option). The one bit that required "extra attention" for me was the bypass to the right near the very end. You have to face-in downclimb around a corner with a decent amount of exposure. Point 13,641 was my favorite part of the Tour de Abyss.
On top of Point 13,641'. Easy walking at first
Descending Point 13,641'
The summit of Mt Bierstadt is now visable, but it does take awhile and a lot of class 2 slogging to get there. Luckily, I had my other 2 East Ridge friends to guide me. The people at the summit of Bierstadt (when I got close enough to pick them out) were the only people I'd seen all day.
Elanore and Timmy took up the lead climbing after Wilson left
Once on Mt Bierstadt's summit, I meandered down to the start of the Sawtooth Ridge. There were a number of folks on this part of the route, and I saw quite a few going over as far left as they could and descending straight down to the ridge. I thought it easier to take an angled approach, traversing left and down towards the ridge. Getting to the Gendarme was relatively straight forward and I bypassed the 1st and 2nd "tooth" by traversing around the base. I saw a couple groups holding to the ridge proper at the 2nd tooth. They very well might have been doing it just for the fun-looking class 3 climbing it presented, but totally not necessary if you want to skip it (as I did). At the Gendarme, I took the Class 3 chute shown on the route description straight up and then headed for the notch. I thought the Gendarme chute to be the 2nd most fun climbing of the trip as you can't just autopilot the route/holds here. Right after descending from the notch onto the ledges, I was joined (passed) by a guy from Boulder. We quickly made our way up the scree ledges keeping it low the whole way. The pictures of this section look somewhat daunting; not so much in real life. I think the "loose" ledges present more of a mental obstacle rather than a serious objective hazard.
Looking down at Sawtooth Ridge
Just about topped out on Sawtooth Ridge. The ledge that starts at the notch in the ridge and looks like it ends at my knee is the route
After finishing Sawtooth, the remaining hike up to Mt Evans felt like it took forever, probably because I was running empty on fuel. The Tour de Abyss really does tire you out, but is absolutely a blast. Less awesome are the throngs of tourists climbing the final switchbacks up to Mt Evans in their jean shorts and sandals, but I guess that's to be expected. I loved the solitude/peace I had climbing the East Ridge, just enjoying the scenery and the route. The worst part of this route is the hike back down to the car, but at least it's not too far. Total time from car to car: 6 hours.
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