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First-timers on the Sawtooth

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby bpko » Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:50 am

Hey everybody,

I'm taking a couple friends to do their first fourteeners next week and we were planning on climbing Bierstadt and Evans. My only concern are the tales of hazard I've heard about the Sawtooth ridge. Would it be unwise to take some first-timers up this ridge\?
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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby GregMiller » Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:58 am

I'd recommend against it, for a couple reasons beyond the hazard of the Sawtooth:
1) It's a significantly longer hike than just Bierstadt - with a lot of up and down, and a lot of time at altitude.
2) There are (AFAIK) no good exits while you're on the Sawtooth - if they start having problems with altitude, they'll have to go up and over something to get out of it (bad idea).
3) Do you really want to drag them out through the swamp on the way out? ;-)
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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby wildlobo71 » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:07 am

I wouldn't totally be against it... the first time I did it several years ago, we caught a group of guys who were in tennis shoes slowly making their way across - they were from Penn State, it was their first 14ers ever. We laughed at their apparel, but they were fine. It's not a very difficult trip, there's one upclimb before the exit ramp that takes some consideration and deliberation about the correct route - cairned up, so it's not invisible. The actual traverse can be made easier or more difficult the closer you stick to the ridge proper.

The time is the question - it is more involved and then there's the getting back to the TH. We hiked to Evans, over to Spaulding, over to Grey Wolf and then down into the Scott Gomer Creek drainage... The willows are tall, but they were not real wet - I am anticipating similar conditions now with such heat and lack of moisture. If it was a muddy mess, I'd advise against it if you lack patience. You can make good time in dry willows, just keep your head up and aim for a line that keeps Square Top Peak (the peak across Guanella Pass Road) at your right shoulder - if you do that, you'll reach the Bierstadt trail before the raised walks (and not get into the permanent mud bog) and then it's an easy trudge back to the trailhead.
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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby Monster5 » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:09 am

Depends on your friends' mental/physical capability.

A long time ago, when I was under 30 and still inexperienced, a group of six of us did the Sawtooth as our firsties (not including standard route G&T) and found it perfectly reasonable and fun. We were all in pretty good shape back then and had a good mental vibe going on. It is a fine first scramble for a crew with good heads. There really isn't much scrambling to it, but it is pretty exposed and loose in a couple spots and looks intimidating. That being said, accidents occur there every year and escape back to Guanella isn't available on the traverse proper.
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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby SurfNTurf » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:10 am

farcedude wrote:I'd recommend against it, for a couple reasons beyond the hazard of the Sawtooth:
1) It's a significantly longer hike than just Bierstadt - with a lot of up and down, and a lot of time at altitude.
2) There are (AFAIK) no good exits while you're on the Sawtooth - if they start having problems with altitude, they'll have to go up and over something to get out of it (bad idea).
3) Do you really want to drag them out through the swamp on the way out? ;-)


In a true emergency, the entire first half of the ridge can easily be bailed on the Abyss Lake side. It wouldn't be ideal (a couple hundred feet up a loose gully), but from that drainage you can access the Mt. Evans Road fairly quickly.

To the OP, the question is virtually impossible to answer unless you provide more information and your friends' backgrounds. Will they be comfortable with exposure? Do they rock climb? Are they fit? Etc.
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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby Cruiser » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:15 am

Any chance of doing a car shuttle from Evans back to Guanella Pass? That'd make it a really fun day and would minimize the time spent above treeline which is, IMO, the biggest challenge on that route. Unless your friends are extremely fit it's going to take quite a while to go from Bierstadt's summit to Evans' summit and then back down Spaulding's ridge (or the Gomer Gully) to get back to the pass.
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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby Lemmiwinks » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:22 am

farcedude wrote:I'd recommend against it, for a couple reasons beyond the hazard of the Sawtooth:
1) It's a significantly longer hike than just Bierstadt - with a lot of up and down, and a lot of time at altitude.
2) There are (AFAIK) no good exits while you're on the Sawtooth - if they start having problems with altitude, they'll have to go up and over something to get out of it (bad idea).3) Do you really want to drag them out through the swamp on the way out? ;-)



I wouldn't recommend it for this reason, unless you are absolutely certain of their abilities. G/T, Decalibron, Sherman, Quandary would all probably be better recommendations. If you want to do Bierstadt with a little spice, try the east ridge route from either Mt. Evans Road or Scott Gomer/Abyss Lake TH.
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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby GregMiller » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:35 am

SurfNTurf wrote:
farcedude wrote:I'd recommend against it, for a couple reasons beyond the hazard of the Sawtooth:
1) It's a significantly longer hike than just Bierstadt - with a lot of up and down, and a lot of time at altitude.
2) There are (AFAIK) no good exits while you're on the Sawtooth - if they start having problems with altitude, they'll have to go up and over something to get out of it (bad idea).
3) Do you really want to drag them out through the swamp on the way out? ;-)


In a true emergency, the entire first half of the ridge can easily be bailed on the Abyss Lake side. It wouldn't be ideal (a couple hundred feet up a loose gully), but from that drainage you can access the Mt. Evans Road fairly quickly.

To the OP, the question is virtually impossible to answer unless you provide more information and your friends' backgrounds. Will they be comfortable with exposure? Do they rock climb? Are they fit? Etc.


You are absolutely correct, I always forget (or perhaps have a mental block) that that road is that close - I only think about coming up to that gully the long way from Guanella (I still kind of want to do a winter ascent of Evans from that way - call me crazy).

Full disclosure (I should have said this earlier) - My first 14er summit was Torreys via Kelso Ridge (which I would not recommend, but it worked out all right). Also, the first time I did Bierstadt/Sawtooth/Evans, one of the three in our group ended up resting and waiting for us just after the Sawtooth while the other two did a quick trip up and down Evans, because he was tired and a little out of it. So it goes both ways.
Still Here
been scared and battered. My hopes the wind done scattered. Snow has friz me, Sun has baked me,
Looks like between 'em they done Tried to make me
Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin'-- But I don't care! I'm still here!
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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby SilverLynx » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:38 am

The Sawtooth is just a matter of patience. The gully is the ONLY scary part, and it's over quickly. Mind you, I had no idea what the heck I was doing when I did it. Just mind your footing. And please, stay out of the Willows on your descent if you can help it. Unless of course you like having your feet sink 1-2 feet into the murky water and mud, and you enjoy getting sexually assaulted by willow bushes and pine trees.

Oh and for the record, the Sawtooth Ridge was during my second and third 14ers. It's not the best "start" but it's doable, assuming your friends like to hike other stuff already.
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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby GregMiller » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:46 am

SilverLynx wrote:The Sawtooth is just a matter of patience. The gully is the ONLY scary part, and it's over quickly. Mind you, I had no idea what the heck I was doing when I did it. Just mind your footing. And please, stay out of the Willows on your descent if you can help it. Unless of course you like having your feet sink 1-2 feet into the murky water and mud, and you enjoy getting sexually assaulted by willow bushes and pine trees.

Oh and for the record, the Sawtooth Ridge was during my second 14er. It's not the best "start" but it's doable, assuming your friends like to hike other stuff already.


Just curious, what do you recommend for staying out of the willows? Try to cross over to the left (South), or swing right (North)? I tried the North side last time, and stayed decently dry until the last half mile.
Still Here
been scared and battered. My hopes the wind done scattered. Snow has friz me, Sun has baked me,
Looks like between 'em they done Tried to make me
Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin'-- But I don't care! I'm still here!
Langston Hughes

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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby SilverLynx » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:48 am

farcedude wrote:
SilverLynx wrote:The Sawtooth is just a matter of patience. The gully is the ONLY scary part, and it's over quickly. Mind you, I had no idea what the heck I was doing when I did it. Just mind your footing. And please, stay out of the Willows on your descent if you can help it. Unless of course you like having your feet sink 1-2 feet into the murky water and mud, and you enjoy getting sexually assaulted by willow bushes and pine trees.

Oh and for the record, the Sawtooth Ridge was during my second 14er. It's not the best "start" but it's doable, assuming your friends like to hike other stuff already.


Just curious, what do you recommend for staying out of the willows? Try to cross over to the left (South), or swing right (North)? I tried the North side last time, and stayed decently dry until the last half mile.


It seemed like if we had stayed above the valley longer, we could have gone to the North and saved some time and effort. I'm not sure though.
"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."
~Nelson Mandela

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
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Re: First-timers on the Sawtooth

Postby Cruiser » Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:48 am

Those willows are a right of passage. There's nothing like having your boot sucked off your foot by the bog leaving you completely filthy and wet for the last 2 miles of your hike back to the pass. That's character building right there! :D
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