| Mt. Bierstadt, The Sawtooth, Mt. Evans
Peak: Mt. Bierstadt (14,060'), Sawtooth, Mt. Evans (14,264')
Date: Saturday, June 30, 2007
Team: krz2fer (Chris), ajkagy (Adam), Ryan (krz2fer's brother)
Route: Guanella Pass
Roundtrip: ~10 miles
First off, I'm going to try to make the most of this report for others to get a good chunk of info from. I think our entire group yesterday was perhaps a bit unprepared for the journey as a whole despite all the reading we'd done on the route, especially the Sawtooth and Evans sections. Hopefully future hikers can get a better feel for what to expect!
My brother and I left Denver at 4am to meet ajkagy along I-70. We reached the TH a little before 6am and snagged a good spot. There were approximately 10-15 other cars already there so we were in high spirits and ready for the day.
Morning glow over Bierstadt:
The trail is straight forward enough and the lower sections' muddy areas that others had been reporting on seemed to have dried up over the last week or two. Mud along the standard route is no longer an issue. We were pressing on rather quickly, and making good time. I was huffing an puffing after a bit, so we had a few stops to gather ourselves and then took a snack break before the ridge.
Looking towards the summit. This was really the only large section of snow left on the route. Easily maneuverable with steps already kicked in:
After the snow is was exciting to quickly reach the summit. I believe it was just after 8:00am. There were a handful of people there already, but we saw the parking lot and road quickly filling below. I'm glad we got there so early.
Ryan, ajkagy, krz2fer on the summit:
I feel obligated to put this in here, only because it was an experience unto itself. Let's just saying having to deuce right below a rapidly busying 14k foot summit isn't the most fun thing to be doing I feel like the last two hikes I haven't had the best of luck in the stomach department! I need to figure out a system that works for 3:00am wakeup calls.
We focused our attention on the Sawtooth next. There were probably three other groups on the summit that had the same 14ers.com route printout, plotting their courses accordingly. We decided to down climb from the summit and head over the boulders to the ridge. Others decided to do the ridge the entire way. IMO this isn't recommended if you want to make good time. A few groups left ahead of us on the ridge, and we either ended up ahead of them or never saw them after that. I'm guessing they took it extremely slow or turned back.
This begins one of the sections of the standard route descriptions that I don't necessarily agree with. The Sawtooth has been coined as a ridge line that's "challenging and fun!" (which it is), but it's also not warm fuzzies and cookie dough blizzards. We're all in pretty good shape, and I wouldn't want anyone thinking that the Sawtooth isn't a big deal. It's one of those things were once you commit, you have to go or else you have a lot of climbing back to Bierstadt to do, or your stuck heading down the gully after a tough climb.
Our approximate route (partial) from a summit shot (in red):
The down climb held a lot of loose rock and dirt, along with endless boulders. Overall it's not too tough, although it's just a long little trek with Sawtooth looming ahead and it's a knee killer. Here is a photo for reference of size:
We cut across a small snowfield, careful to use ajkagy's poles for added stability. The snow bands in this area are tough to avoid with going up and down; something we didn't want to keep doing. We picked the best line possible and stuck with it, which meant crossing a small field that, if you fell, would have led a ways down! Obviously this was our choice. Point being, there's currently extra work involved to get over to the ridge (when not directly climbing from the summit) to avoid at least one snow crossing.
We finally met back up with the ridge and tried to figure out the best move at the notch section in the route description (if you stay high, be ready for class 3). We definitely stayed higher and the first few moves were tricky, involving some teeth gritting. I know the "class" rules are objective, but we felt the first couple moves bordered class 4 with a bit more exposure than we'd bargained for. As for the entire section, after the first few moves it wasn't too bad. Staying low would certainly allow you to avoid that first area. Follow your gut at that point.
ajkagy climbing that aforementioned section:
Wrapping around the backside of the Sawtooth next, we came into contact with very little snow. The only portion covering the trail is seen in the photo below. It was not a problem to get past.
There has been a lot of discussion about the "sketchiness" of the trail in this section. I teeter back and forth with two sides of the story. Yes, it wasn't as if I was walking a wire 2k feet in the air, but I also wasn't blazing a path atop a nice wide prairie. The image below shows the approximate route (red). The dashed line marks my most uncomfortable section, noted in a moment. The circle shows another hiker ahead.
Below is a zoom of that middle area. It involved a lot of calculated steps, careful not to catch on the endless amounts of loose rock and gravel. A fall here would not be advisable. With little to hold on to, even if you stuck to the wall (flat slabs), this was the most hairy for me.
This photo shows the approximate route once we passed the Sawtooth section. The summit to here by about 10:30am (longer than expected, despite our solid pace). The foreground route is noted in red, while the yellow shows the backside approximate route you must take to get around this section.
I think I can speak for everyone when I say that this is were the hike started to not be fun anymore. Route finding after the Sawtooth to the west ridge of Evans is pretty bad. It's an area were once you think you're atop or around a section, you only see another section waiting for you to hike. In other words, the ground one needed to cover seemed endless.
The route description treads lightly on this topic, making things sound closer than they really are. 1 mile may be correct in technical terms, but mentally it felt like a hot, frustrating, leg burning 2 miles. The photo below shows the approximate route on the west side (shown in yellow) in getting from the open space past the Sawtooth towards Evans true summit.
It was a process of trying to keep up with the cairns, that at times seemed as if they were just laughing at us. One moment they'd be above, the next below. It's an understatement to classify this section as frustrating.
We finally saw the road come into view. Route finding at this last portion is quite annoying as well, with flighty tourists and hikers everywhere, it became confusing as to where we needed to go to get there the quickest. Finally reaching the Evans' summit at about 11:30am, we were outwardly exhausted. ajkagy had reached the summit a few minutes ahead of us and grabbed a rock next to the marker.
Summit lake seen from Evans, still full of ice:
Perhaps it was our exhaustion, but the tourists were very overwhelming on a pestering level. I realize it is what it is, and on any other day (like a day where I, say, drive my car to a summit) it would mean nothing, but on this day hearing "This is the highest paved road...!" and "Woohoo! 14k feet!" and "Let's get down and eat..!" just annoyed me to the nth degree.
We even had Mickey's to enjoy but couldn't due to the situation. Hopefully we'll give a proper TalusMonkey tribute soon. If anything, he was on our minds.
We didn't want to head down but knew we didn't have a limo waiting for us at the visitors center, so with heads slightly pounding we made our way back across the west ridge. We were all looking forward to this quicker way to get down without heading back towards Bierstadt.
This final section was a topper on an already tough and long day. The gully description in the route guide is about one sentence long, and states what it is: "..quickly gets steeper...holds some loose rock, dirt, and scree, so be careful..." What it doesn't state (not that I would expect it to) is how difficult it is on the knees after summiting two 14ers and getting over the Sawtooth. The trail was not only steep and loose everywhere, it was also snowy in sections. I slipped a handful of times, and not gracefully. Footing is terrible and treacherous through this decent. It's also very long. The parking area is still very far away and it was at this point no longer fun. When no photos are taken one knows it wasn't something we wanted to remember.
Beware of this as well. In reaching a snowy section covering the trail, we followed a short glissade path down to get a rest. In a nutshell, ajkagy and Ryan made it across fine, however my left heel dug a bit too deeply in the snow, causing an instantaneous posthole/stoppage/crotch killer. Upon pulling my leg up and out, the depth of this hole was most likely 4-8ft down, with about a foot or two of snow above (where the glissade was taking place). Sounds dangerous, IMO. I'm glad I got nothing but a close call.
Route finding here doesn't really exist either. This is a narrow trail down the gully, but once at the bottom it's a guessing game.
Looking back up the gully. A photo that doesn't come close to doing justice of how large this section is to down climb:
We didn't take anymore photos the rest of the way. Hitting the willows (which, until that point didn't seem to be THAT big of a deal) after the day we had killed morale all around. We thankfully found the beaten path, but that didn't prevent ankle-deep mud and water holing for at least a mile. At some junctures you had no choice but to get slogged down with the conditions that were ahead. The willows themselves weren't bad, but the ground conditions were abysmal. It became an exercise in "eff it" while we trudged through towards a tent we'd seen on the trail earlier that morning.
Once back at the trail, I wanted to vomit pretty badly but I held it in as I could. On the trip down the pass I pulled over to attempt it, but no results came. We all agreed we were just beat down and dehydrated. We grabbed a drink in Georgetown which helped a bit, and some light food further down the road.
Ryan and I, who have both done the beast that is Longs, agree that this day felt worse overall than a Keyhole day. Perhaps is was just the conditions yesterday, or something we don't even know, but it capped off the most mentally and physically demanding trek we'd done overall.
Looking back today I won't be there anytime soon but I am glad we did it. I just advise anyone looking to do this route to (a) give yourself ample time (being there at 5:45am didn't feel good enough because we weren't down until 2:30-3:00pm), (b) bring enough liquids and force them down, and (c) recognize that the trek from Sawtooth to Evans is essentially another 14er hike in itself when you factor in the gully/snow/willows/mud conditions. It's certainly not a Greys/Torreys combo, which I've read is quite tame compared to this. Then again, that's just what I've read. 8)
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):