| Avoiding the willows - Bierstadt-Sawtooth-Evans-Spalding
The Bierstadt-Sawtooth-Evans-Spalding adventure
Stats (as reported by motionbased.com after uploading my track log):
Elevation gain: 5322'
Mileage: 12.2 miles
Summits: 3 (Bierstadt, Evans, Spalding)
Total time: 9 hrs 55 min
Friday, 6/27/08, I drove up to Guanella Pass, on the way stopping to take a few pictures. The road was completely free of any snow. I reached the parking lot about 5 PM and met some hikers returning from the day's hike. They had done the Bierstadt-Sawtooth-Evans route and mentioned that the return route down the scree gully and through the valley of willows was not much fun. I had viewed the topo maps and as I was staring up at the mountains from the parking lot, I could see that the descent from Mt. Spalding would be much more gradual. I took a short hike westward and captured some photos: Mt. Spalding - Sawtooth - Bierstadt from Guanella Pass Rd
A few of the blooming wildflowers
The wind was picking up so I moved my car to the lower part of the lower parking lot and grilled a burger and some potatoes for dinner. The views of Bierstadt and the Sawtooth from this parking lot are spectacular. And one more shot as the sun set
About 9 PM, the parking lot was empty except for one other vehicle, whose owner seemed to be missing. Then, 4 SUV's pulled in and parked near me. I met the group of 7 hikers (5 were 14er virgins) and a dog that were planning on doing Bierstadt the next day. We chatted a bit and headed to bed.
Saturday, 6/28/08, 5:30 AM, after not getting much sleep and having some weird dreams, (believed to be caused by the excitement of the next day's hike) I emerged from my car. Several hikers had already started and the group of 7 were just rustling to get going. They left about 6 AM and I putzed around until just about 6:30 before starting up the trail.
It was a beautiful morning with not a cloud in the sky! I snapped this shot of the sun coming over the ridge and basking the valley in light as I reached one of the bridges going through the marsh.
The Bierstadt trail is wide and well-traveled. I cruised up the trail (stopping only a few times to feed my compulsive nature to take photographs of the beautiful scenery and wildflowers) and caught up to the group of 7 hikers at about 12300'. And took a shot looking back to the West:
As my plan was to do the Sawtooth and Evans, I kept going on to the summit of Bierstadt and reached it at just before 8:30 AM. The last snow field before the final pitch to the summit:
Not bad at all and definitely the easiest 14er I've done so far.
View to the West from the summit:
There were a few others on the summit and I joined up with Rick and Jen (The Kanes) to climb the Sawtooth and Evans.
View of the Sawtooth from Bierstadt:
We started the down climb from Bierstadt at about 8:55 AM. There seemed to be many routes down this section and we stayed a little farther from the edge to avoid the snow. This section was covered with treacherous loose rocks and scree. After Rick reached the section of the Sawtooth that required either climbing up or going lower and around, he decided the lower route was the way to go.
Jen and Rick at that point on the Sawtooth.
We made some good progress until we reached a snow field about 30 feet wide that was pretty steep and we didn't really want to cross. Going down and around would have meant 200 feet down and up. We surveyed the rock face to the left of the snow field and figured that was a better way to go. It required some class 4 moves. We all seemed pretty comfortable with the exposure and kept our heads and made the climb very safely. My recent rock climbing experiences really helped me on this section of the climb which was the crux for us. Jen and Rick negotiating this part of the climb with partially frozen Abyss Lake below.
Once, we got over to the West side of the Sawtooth, the exposure was definitely worse, but footing was better.
Looking back at the West edge of the Sawtooth and Bierstadt
From there, the rest of the route up to Evans was fairly easy to follow.
We reached the summit of Mt. Evans at approximately 12:10 AM. We took a little break to eat some lunch and take pictures with all the tourists and then headed back.
Bierstadt and Sawtooth from Evans (can really see the snow from this picture)
At this point, I took the opportunity to pitch my idea of hitting Mt. Spalding on the return trip to avoid that steep gully and most of the willows. Both Rick and Jen were up to it, so we headed down. As we reached the low point of the saddle, we headed straight over to Mt. Spalding following the ridge. The clouds were forming on the East side of the ridge (can you spot the 4 hikers in this pic?)
At the saddle between Evans and Spalding, Jen decided she had done enough climbing for the day. So, we set up a rendezvous point on the ridge. Rick and I summitted Spalding and headed down the ridge.
Pic of me on the summit of Mt. Spalding looking toward the Northeast
As we headed down, Rick stuck close to the edge and spotted Jen. A few minutes later we rendezvoused on the ridge. We avoided the snow closest to the ridge and headed toward the Scott Gomer Creek which still contained enough snow to see from quite a distance. I had read another trip report that said to cross this creek above the gulch that the creek drains into. I spotted a break in the snow in the creek and headed toward that. As we arrived at the creek, we saw the easiest natural creek crossing yet – a veritable walk across stepping stones.
We spotted two other climbers ahead of us taking a similar route down. As we entered the gulch, we stayed above the willows and aimed for the grassy areas. We caught up to the two hikers as they were trying to find a route above a small pond and around some rocks. The key here was staying very high and doing a little rock scrambling. Our next target was the spruce forest and we picked up a trail leading into and out of the small forest – very nice part of this route. This path was easy to follow and seemed to be quite traveled so we expected it would take us right to the parking lot. Unfortunately, as we got closer and closer to the parking lot and the filed of willows and marsh separating us from our destination, the trail led us into the willows and eventually just disappeared. The ground here was very soft and wet and we were faced with a small pond directly between us and the parking lot. We had to literally bush-whack through the willows to get around the pond and were headed back towards the Bierstadt trail. After about 300 feet of severe bush-whacking in willows that at times were above 7' tall,
we emerged only 100 feet from one of the wood bridges of the Bierstadt trail and followed that back to the parking lot. We reached the parking lot at approximately 4:20 PM. So, we didn't quite avoid all the willows, but nearly so.
The complete tracklog
Almost before I could get my car unlocked, Rick and Jen had gone to their car, changed into sandals and were back at my car. They really wanted to get out of their hiking shoes! We exchanged information and parted ways.
I decided to follow Guanella Pass road south to 285. Interestingly, the time and distance from the trailhead parking lot back to I-470 was nearly the same as the I-70 route thru Georgetown.
All in all, this was a great first 14er hike of the year and test for my knee after my recent surgery. I'm looking forward to the next one (or two).
Special thanks to Rick and Jen for allowing me to join them on this climb. It was a true pleasure.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):