| Should I? vs. Could I?
I'm long-winded but I like these for my records. If you get through it all, thanks and I hope you enjoy the recap of the weekend.
July 12-13, 2008
Mileage: ~39 miles
Elevation Gain: ~14,500 feet
Saturday: Mileage: 21 miles / Elevation Gain: ~10,000 feet
La Plata - Northwest Ridge 9.5 miles, 4,500 feet of elevation.
The original plan was for four of us to try the Ellingwood Ridge on Saturday morning. I was expecting a 10-hour day on the mountain and since I was meeting a friend at the Scott Gomer TH at 5 that afternoon, a 4 am start was planned. I received a call from my partner Friday night that a conflict arose and he wouldn't be able to make it – oh well, disappointing, sure, but stuff happens. I still had two more guys going with me. I got the phone number for his friends and I met them for the first time in Buena Vista on my way to the trailhead Friday night. They seemed weary on a 4 am start, but they said they'd be there.
I was ready to go by 3:55 and as the minutes passed, I began wondering if I could just solo the ridge. I could, without a doubt , so I decided if they didn't show by 4:30, I was heading up the trail.
Around 4:15, another (and more important) question came to mind. Sure, I could, but should I solo the ridge? Since the route may not see traffic that day, I could be on the mountain for a long time if something were to go wrong. A thought of my little girl put my priorities in check and I decided to just head up the standard route. If something odd were to happen, I would have 25+ people coming up behind me. A running theme for my summer so far… I was going to need a change of plans.
4:30 came around and still no sign of the two guys, so up the trail I went. My pace from the start was pretty aggressive. Not only was I frustrated, but hiking alone in the dark, I had that feeling that someone(thing) was watching me. It would have been perfect conditions for the ridge early start and favorable forecast (20% chance of storms after 2 or 3). Then, it hit me, perfect weather, and an extra 5 hours… I have to go through Buena Vista anyways, and Yale would finish the Sawatch Range for me. One of the benefits of being a 14ers.com junkie is that I'm vaguely familiar with what to expect on the standard routes, TH locations, etc. Now, could I actually pull this off? I love a challenge, so I'll give it a shot.
I put my head down and headed up the trail with a newly found purpose. I made treeline at 5:30 and the sun greeted me at 6:20 when I hit the ridge at 12,750 feet. The rest of the climb up was pretty uneventful and I made the summit at 7:25, just under 3 hours. I milled around on the summit for about a half-an-hour having a snack, soaking in the views, etc. Unfortunately, the haze (from, I assume, the CA wildfires) detracted from the views a bit, but still a perfect day to be up in the high country.
View NW, Massive on Right
What could have been
Unnamed 13er (Left of ridge) I accidentally climbed on previous La Plata attempt - Another Long story
Sayres Benchmark on descent
Waterfall on first stream crossing
I began my descent at 7:50 and was greeted with the proverbial question of "How much farther?" a few times as I passed the crowds heading up for the day. (Some of these were asked below treeline!) I was back at the trailhead at 10:15 and off to Buena Vista for my Sawatch finisher.
Mt. Yale: West Slope 8 miles, 4,300 feet.
I pulled into the Denny Creek TH at 11:15 and asked a few people returning if they noticed any inclement weather. All signs were good so I headed up the trail. As I made my way through the trees, I was getting the same question from the crowds descending, "How much father is the TH?" and I had to laugh a few times (sorry if any readers asked me.).
Once again, I made treeline in about an hour and the weather looked like it actually may hold off. There was a small system about 50 miles south and that didn't ever seem to materialize into anything. What I didn't realize about this mountain was how crummy the trail was from treeline to the saddle at 13,900 feet. Since it was a safe assumption that 11:15 was the last start time for the day, I asked several people coming down how many people were still on the mountain (I like to know when I'm alone.) A few lectured that it was too late to still heading up but all I could think of was, "Have you looked around?" There wasn't a cloud to be seen to the west and the southern system stayed there and seemed pretty harmless. I've been stormed off a mountain at 8:00 am and been fine at 3 pm, at some point you pay attention to the conditions instead of looking at a watch. The "trail" to the saddle is depressingly deteriorated. It is a loose dirt/gravel mix ranging from 2 to 6 feet wide. Water run off and short-cutting of the switchbacks has pretty much destroyed it. I fear that if it doesn't get some TLC soon, people may put Yale in the same category as Columbia for most miserable climbs. Long story short, I now see why people climb this mountain in winter.
I met the last of the other people on the mountain on the "saddle" between the false and main summit and I made the summit at 2:00. Completing a very odd couple for the day. I enjoyed the view into Horn Fork Basin (although the haze was pretty bad).
Horn Fork/Harvard from summit - note the haze
I needed to hustle if I was going to make Guanella Pass by 5:00 so I took a picture and made it back to the TH at 4:10. I gave Keith a call to tell him I'd be a little late and a quick stop at Subway (annoying jingle but good deal on a sandwich) I was at the Scott Gomer TH at 5:45.
Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans: Scott Gomer Approach
The Scott Gomer TH is at the winter closure on the south side of Guanella Pass road, 5 miles north of 285. I met Keith at 5:45 and we headed up the trail. There was only one other car at the TH so I was hopeful for some solitude on these popular mountains. We started up the trail around 6 pm and passed a group on their way out about 15 minutes up the trail – perfect, some peace and quiet. The trail up is very gentle and offers great views of imposing rock walls and slopes filled with aspen groves. It follows the creek, for the most part, and about 3.5 miles up, after 3 easy creek crossings, you come to a junction. Here was where we went wrong.
Where is the caterpillar on the mushroom?
All of our readings said that the Rosalie trail comes in from the right and the Abyss Lake trail veers to the left. So, we went left… bad choice.
We made camp a few hundred yards up this new trail on the east side of the creek in a soft, flat area between some pine trees shortly after 8 pm.
Sunday: Mileage: ~18 miles / Elevation Gain: ~4,500 feet
Mount Bierstadt: Mt. Bierstadt Trail (My first repeat summit)
If you are confused by the route after reading we took the Scott Gomer Approach, I don't blame you. We intended to take the East Ridge, but the previous evening's wrong turn changed things. We set off up the trail from our campsite at 4:30 and followed it into a very nice gully but after about 45 minutes, the trail faded and we were heading straight for a sea of willows. We had expected a nice trail all the way to Abyss Lake and I was more and more confused with the surrounding terrain as light came available. I had concentrated my research on Ellingwood Ridge, Bierstadt's East Ridge and the sawtooth, I thought the approach hike would be straight forward.
Two hours of willow-wacking ensued and all of a sudden, Keith shouted, "I see someone heading up that slope over to the right!" My first thought was "Who in the world could that be?" Then something moving to my left caught my eye and I realized our mistake. I saw a car pulling into the Bierstadt trailhead. Well, time to slog up another trail to a 14er, 3 mountains and still no scrambling… ugh.
Mount Evans: Sawtooth (#50!)
We joined the crowd on Bierstadt's summit around 9 am and after a quick snack, we headed for the sawtooth. A couple of guys descended the ridge proper but we went to the east of the lingering snowfield, following the cairns. This turned to be a time consuming decision as the ridge looked like fun and was definitely a more direct path. There was a portion of the snowfield that maybe only 5-10 feet across that we crossed and then gained the ridge at the notch before the low point of the saddle. Finally, a lot of fun Class 3 and we even found ourselves on some solid Class 4 stuff. We enjoyed the scenery and the imposing views down the west side of the ridge and stayed higher than the "high road" in Bills description instead of descending to Class 2 terrain. The path is well cairned but improvisation can lead to very fun scrambling and exciting situations. Once you cross to the west and walk the ledges, the excitement tempers but the views of the sheer face on that side makes you forget about the loose, gravelly ascent up to gain Evans' west ridge.
The rest of the way to Evans' summit was uneventful, but we did meet a nice couple along the way and the husband was a 14er finisher the prior year. We got to talking and both of our hiking partners were growing impatient (I can talk mountains for hours) so we said our good-byes and we finished up. #50 didn't come easy for me, but I was glad to be on top with about 100 other people at about 11:30. We took a well deserved break and watched a female bodybuilder strike poses on the summit block for a while before starting our descent.
Bierstadt from Evan's west ridge
We were teetering between skirting around Epaulet and taking the nice grass slopes down or descending the gully at the Evans/Epaulet saddle. We chose the latter and I strongly encourage a helmet in there if there is anyone else in the gully with you. There are 2 gullies next to each other and Keith and I split up to avoid any self-imposed rock fall danger. We shouted back and forth over a small rib to gauge each others' progress and met up about half-way down where the two gullies come together. Shortly below this point, it seems like you may cliff out. Keith took a route to the far left and I went right, walking some grassy ledges to find a solid Class 3 descent. The two routes took about the same amount of time, but it sounded like my option was a little more solid. We hopped the boulder field to finally find the Abyss Lake trail.
As we descended, we realized that we made a great decision avoiding the easy grass slopes because we would have descended on the wrong side of the valley, probably 0.5+ miles from the trail, and the gap was filled with willows. We now got to see what we missed on the approach and it really is a beautiful route. We could see our campsite from the ridge as we descended and we could have either taken the trail back to the junction and reclimb (what we thought could have been 10 minutes back up the other trail) to the campsite or I saw a shortcut through only about 30 yards of willows. Pretty tired at this point, I just took my aggressions out on the plants and we were back at camp by 3:00. We quickly packed up and made the hasty retreat to the trailhead. My legs had had enough when I got back to the car at 5:00.
Lake at base of Biersadt's South Ridge
Evans from Lake (descent gully is in middle of picture)
Another outstanding weekend in the mountains and the weather could not have been better. Here are a few tips on the Scott Gomer Approach.
1. Obviously, take the correct trail.
2. Give yourself about 4+ hours on the backpack approach and camp at the lake at the base of Bierstadt's South Slope. (See pictures) You will ascend 2 different slopes after the trail intersection (where we took the wrong turn) to get there, but very worth the effort. Also note, there isn't a campsite with water access between the trail junction and the lake.
3. Plan a trip for the fall colors. The slopes on either side of the approach are filled with aspens and we hike through a few groves as well. The place would be amazing that time of year.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):