| Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans
My goal for the day was to summit Mount Evans. I decided to climb Mount Bierstadt, traverse the Sawtooth to Evans, then descend the West Ridge of Evans to Guanella Flats.
6:30: I set out on the Mount Bierstadt Trail. Its a very foggy and damp morning. I wonder if this trip is going to work out, as Im worried about the weather. The forecast called for a 30% chance of storms after 1:00pm. 6:30 was later than I intended to start, so I decide to really push it to the top of Bierstadt.
8:00: I top out on Mount Bierstadt, taking only an hour and a half. I actually pushed a little too hard up to this point, and I take a little break and eat some food. This was decision point #1 for me. When I topped out, I was engulfed in thick clouds, and visibility was no more than 10 feet. Suddenly, the clouds break and I can see again. The Sawtooth beckons me on. I decide to go for it. At 8:10, I put on my helmet and begin to descend to the Sawtooth.
The Sawtooth looks fairly daunting from the summit of Bierstadt. Rather than keeping to the actual ridge, I see some cairns that head a little to the right and follow them. The talus along this descent is very loose, and slows me down considerably. When I descend more, I see some grass benches that would require me to lose more elevation, but offer a quicker path to the first rock tower along the Sawtooth. I choose the faster path.
The grass benches are a welcome relief from the loose junk. Before I know it, Im just below the first tower. I found no cairns here marking the route, but I knew I was lower than most guidebooks indicate. I spot a weakness in the tower and climb it. Its easy Class 3 climbing for about 25 feet. Above the tower, I can see the route to the cross-over point. I descend a little into a gully, and then climb straight through the gully. Cairns mark the route well here, and theres only one or two moves of Class 3.
Soon I come to the cross-over point. Its a striking view on the West side of the Sawtooth. From the cross-over, the route on the big ledge is clear. This route is also well-cairned. The exposure on this side of the Sawtooth is staggering. This would be a real bad spot to make a mistake. Despite the exposure, the ledge is very large and easy to climb. I dont even think its Class 3. I rarely had to use my hands to climb.
9:30: Above the ledge, I reach decision point #2 as I exit the Sawtooth. The weather still doesnt look great, but theres no wind and things seem stable. I decide to go for Evans, but tell myself to hustle.
There is actually a faint trail from the Sawtooth to the West Ridge of Evans. I follow it and gain the ridge. Initially, I climbed to the ridge proper over rock that seems way too difficult compared to what Ive read. I glance to my right and see two climbers well below me following a cairned trail. I downclimb to the trail and follow it. Its very good all the way to Evans summit.
10:15: I reach Evans summit. I spoke to a few tourists and then leave within 5 minutes. There are some clouds building to the West, and Im a little worried I made the wrong choice at the top of the Sawtooth. I quickly retrace my steps on Evans West Ridge, and soon find myself near the Sawtooth exit. I spot my exit gully to Guanella Flats, and start to descend. So far, the clouds are still far away. Im fairly confident Ill be low before any storms hit.
The exit gully is pretty loose, but Im still making good time. Along the way, I meet another climber who is descending the same way I am, and we go together. When we reach the valley, we take a few minutes to plot a route through the willows. Neither of us sees a good way to go.
Initially, we stay high on a little ridge to keep our feet dry. There is a faint trail, but we still do a fair amount of willow bashing. After a lot of up and downs, we find a more defined trail. I quickly realize that we are at the junction where the Mount Spalding trail goes up the West Ridge of Mount Spalding. We spot where this trail is coming from, and follow it. It drops us into the valley floor.
The skies open up with rain. Donning my rain jacket, I give up any hope of keeping my feet dry. The trail were on is easy to follow, and we wind our way through the willows. Its very wet.
1:30:The trail we are on actually drops us off into the parking area at Guanella right in front of my bumper. Somehow, we totally missed a crucial intersection that would have taken us to the Mt Bierstadt trail, saving us some swamp crossing. Im completely soaked at this point.
All in all, this is a great trip except for the willows. If I do the Sawtooth again, Ill probably do it from the Evans parking area to avoid Guanella Flats.
In my opinion, the Sawtooth was way easier than I anticipated. The only part I would call sustained Class 3 was negotiating the first tower. Beyond there, its mostly Class 2 with a Class 3 move now and then. The ledges are really, really exposed, which is probably why some people find them difficult. I dont have a fear of heights, so the ledges were a breeze. There really isnt any reason to get near the edge, and the climbing is very easy.
Evans West Ridge
This is a great alpine hike over mostly stable rock. If you know to look for the trail along the south side of the ridge, its very easy.
This was the crux for me, at least mentally. I was pretty beat at this point, and a nice trail walk would have been nice. I dont think there is a really good way to negotiate this area. Its a maze of game and climbers trails. The torrential downpour definitely didnt help, but the willows are a real pain in the ass.
Reading the above posts, I noticed that people are having trouble finding the Sawtooth when coming from Evans. It is tough to spot. This might help:
After exiting Evans West Ridge, aim for the highpoint of the Sawtooth, but dont go to it. The entrance/exit to the Sawtooth is about 300 yards from the top. Walk along the edge of this ridge and look sharp for two large cairns. Drop in right between them. Youll know youre on the right path if you find yourself on the big ledge. If you go this summer, there is a patch of snow near the entrance.