Sawtooth vs Kelso

Colorado 14er peak questions, condition requests and other info.
User avatar
Posts: 156
Joined: 6/21/2009
14er Checklist (26)
14ers Skied (2)

Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby YooperJonKornely » Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:23 am

I had a question regarding the Sawtooth versus Kelso Ridge, and the 'length' of the Class 3 section. I've read a bunch of trip reports on each, but my question is how long is the actual "scary" part on each? (I know 'scary' is relative... but just play along). It appears that the Sawtooth Ridge has a fairly short section that is the crux, the rest (Accent up Bierstadt/Decent down Evans) is similar to many other easier 14ers. But how much Class 3 is on Kelso? Are there just sections like the knife edge towards the top, or is a majority of the route Class 3? I'm just trying to get an idea of which would be best for me to attempt first, and get some beta on which of these has the most/longest Class 3 exposure.
User avatar
I Man
Posts: 967
Joined: 7/18/2011
14er Checklist (58)
14ers in Winter (49)
13er Checklist (73)

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby I Man » Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:31 am


I am of the opinion that any Class 3 route that has a Class 2 descent (which both of these do) - is a good first Class 3. I have not done Kelso Ridge, but I find Sawtooth to be very easy for Class 3.
Last edited by I Man on Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
You can touch the void, just don't fall into it.

I fly a starship across the universe divide....and when I reach the other side...I'll find a place to rest my spirit if I can. Perhaps I may become a Mountain Man again.
User avatar
Brian C
Posts: 1241
Joined: 2/26/2008
14er Checklist (45)
14ers in Winter (5)
13er Checklist (19)

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby Brian C » Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:32 am

This is something that people always argue about and everybody takes it differently. For what it's worth, I did Sawtooth as my very first scramble and was not scared at all. I did Kelso Ridge as my third scramble (after Longs Peak) and was scared to death. Granted we were a bit off route on Kelso on loose junk on the side of the ridge and right on track on the Sawtooth.
Brian in the Wild
Lists of John
"Nature never did betray the heart that loved her." - Wordsworth
User avatar
Somewhat of a Prick
Posts: 617
Joined: 8/4/2012
14er Checklist (57)
14ers in Winter (7)
13er Checklist (13)

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby Somewhat of a Prick » Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:44 am

Kelso is more difficult
User avatar
Posts: 2159
Joined: 4/1/2008
14er Checklist (58)
14ers in Winter (6)
13er Checklist (40)

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby wildlobo71 » Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:47 am

I see the Sawtooth as this: It's got some high class 2 on both the descent and ascent, and areas on the actual ridge-proper that you can make class 3 - exposures, etc... The only class-3 work is the upclimb from the saddle to the ramp on the ascent up. That exit ramp spooks some people - loose scree on it, it's pitched to the west where the exposure is. All in all it's fun, but you can pick a safer, more stable line of passage, east of the ridge for your liking pretty much the entire point from dropping off Bierstadt (until you get to the climb up to the ramp - that, you have to do if you don't want to turn around and return to Bierstadt.)

Kelso is really fun, the exposure isn't too dramatic, but once you get past the saddle and start the ridge proper, you don't really have many options to pick better, safer, less sketchy (for your tastes) lines... the ridge is the path, and that fact also spooks some people - fewer areas to bail off in case you can't handle it. Kelso is more sustained at a light- to typical Class 3 route from the saddle up to the summit.

Sawtooth is less technical in my opinion.
Last edited by wildlobo71 on Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
You've never really stopped even if you feel like you have.
User avatar
Posts: 114
Joined: 7/23/2009
14er Checklist (29)
14ers in Winter (1)

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby Ramfan24 » Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:51 am

The Sawtooth was my first class 3. Other than the sideways slanting of the ramp, I didn't find it particularly difficult or scary. I thought Kelso was a lot more fun and a little bit spicier. Both are short enough that they make good early class 3 experiences.
User avatar
Posts: 979
Joined: 6/6/2006
14er Checklist Not Entered

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby jaymz » Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:32 am

Comparing these two routes is difficult, because they're so different.
1. Kelso is sustained class 3 with a short approach and an easy stroll on the way back to the TH from the Grays/Torreys saddle.
2. The Sawtooth is a short section of class 3 followed by mainly class 2 surrounded by somewhat dramatic exposure, sandwiched between a long, high approach and a slog on the way back to the TH (assuming you're coming from Guanella).
It's interesting to see that some find Kelso to be harder/scarier - it just depends on whom you ask, I suppose.
The Sawtooth's class 3 sections aren't that technical or difficult, and really not that sustained. The scariest part for me was the seemingly loose rock just before exiting the Sawtooth, at the section circled in the pic below (forgive the poor quality). The rock is much more solid than it looks up close, but until I actually got on it I was afraid I was going to slide right off that cliff.
Kelso, on the other hand, never had me feeling like I was going to fall off. But the class 3 is pretty sustained the whole way along that ridge.
These were my first two class 3 routes, done about a month apart with the Sawtooth first. Perhaps I'd have been more scared of Kelso had I done it first, but if I had to pick only one of these routes to do for the rest of my life, it'd be Kelso in a heartbeat.
Sawtooth.jpg (84.08 KiB) Viewed 547 times
"Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy." - Psalm 98:8
"Nature is a choir..." - Timothy Keller
User avatar
Steve Climber
Posts: 902
Joined: 12/31/2007
14er Checklist (27)
14ers in Winter (3)
13er Checklist (25)

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby Steve Climber » Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:54 am

I think the difficulty of the Sawtooth is a bit over stated. At no point, have I ever felt nervous crossing it....It would be a different story in wet conditions-but dry- it's quite straight forward and much easier that it looks.

Kelso is a bit more taxing as it is pretty well sustained Class 3 and if you get slightly off route (like we did) it can get quite spicy.

There are only a few small spots (exit ramp of Sawtooth and Knife edge on Kelso) that you really need to take care on. Both are fantastic routes though. Be warned when you walk up to the top of Evans and someone in a mini-van asks you where you came from...when you point at Bierstadt, they will think you are super human. I'm in somebody's vacation photos as "that crazy mountain man" LOL :-s
Dave B wrote:And/or line thy helmet with tin foil and realize this is a freaking mountaineering website.

Steve Climber wrote:So that's your backpack, huh?
Posts: 12
Joined: 12/12/2011
14er Checklist (58)
14ers in Winter (6)

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby OrthoMatt » Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:56 am

It's hard to add anything that hasn't already been said, but I can give my opinion...

I first did the Sawtooth as part of Roaches' Tour de Abyss and really only remember there being one spot with any real exposure - the exit ramp. It really isn't bad and doesn't make you feel too uncomfortable, however I do remember it being a little loose. There was less Class III on the Sawtooth compared to Kelso so you might consider doing this route first.

Kelso Ridge was a lot more fun/enjoyable to me (hence why I have done it 4 times and the Sawtooth only once). It is Class II hiking with a few Class III spots to keep you interested. The exposure on Kelso was less from my recollection than the Sawtooth but I thought it was more technical.

I know a lot of people would think I am reckless for having done this, but I have taken several people for their first 14ers on these routes with one of them being my 55yo father. They were in shape and I judged them to be competent at the time. I share that only to suggest that they aren't as bad as some may say, but you'll have to judge your own comfort level. Be safe and have fun!
User avatar
Posts: 973
Joined: 6/16/2011
14er Checklist (30)
14ers Skied (4)
14ers in Winter (1)
13er Checklist (18)

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby GregMiller » Thu Feb 07, 2013 12:29 pm

I actually did Kelso for my first 14er (if I'd known what I was getting into, I would have, but I was drug up by some friends of mine). I actually greatly enjoyed it. I did Sawtooth something around my 10th or 12th, and enjoyed it as well, but never felt as exposed as I did on Kelso (I mean, I don't think anything on the Sawtooth relaly matches the exposure on both sides of the knife edge, but that's me).

As far as the exit ramp goes, there's a ledge up to climber's right that makes it a lot easier. After you cross over, at the bottom, when you're looking up at the exit ramp thinking "holy cow", turn right to face uphill. Scramble up to the ledge, and follow that all the way along. You skip past most (if not all) of the scree, with a good wall to hang on to, on a solid trail.

Personally, as far as 'fun' goes, I actually like the Sawtooth, by way of Roach's Tour d'Abyss. You can take the class 2 sections before you cross over and turn them into Class 3 or 4. Kelso, as far as I've been able to tell, doesn't give you many options.
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
User avatar
Posts: 1678
Joined: 8/20/2009
14er Checklist (58)
14ers in Winter (25)
13er Checklist (60)

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby SurfNTurf » Thu Feb 07, 2013 12:37 pm

Sawtooth is barely Class 3, but perhaps more unnerving on the exposed scree ledges. Far less aesthetic of a line. You might run into people trying to pretend they're search and rescue (but for dogs) with no regard for that pesky "months of intense training" thing.

Kelso Ridge is a flat-out classic. Sustained Class 3 with a few Class 2 areas for mental breaks. The Knife Edge is short and not as exposed as its name would suggest. Once on the summit, college girls in running shorts will fawn over you.

Kelso Ridge wins.

EDIT: to answer the OP's question more directly, Kelso Ridge was my first Class 3 and somewhere around my fifth 14er. I had no issue, even though it was my first taste of exposure. At the time I was still afraid of single-pitch sport routes, so it's not like I had balls of steel. It was a blast. I did the Sawtooth much later in my 14er journey, but if I'd done it earlier I think the scree ledges would have given me pause. Kelso Ridge, in my opinion, is more fun and less scary.
“There are two kinds of climbers: those who climb because their heart sings when they’re in the mountains, and all the rest.” - Alex Lowe

"There have been joys too great to describe in words, and there have been griefs upon which I cannot dare to dwell; and with those in mind I say, 'Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.'" - Edward Whymper
User avatar
Posts: 807
Joined: 8/1/2007
14er Checklist (41)
14ers in Winter (9)
13er Checklist (119)

Re: Sawtooth vs Kelso

Postby Jay521 » Thu Feb 07, 2013 1:19 pm

SurfNTurf wrote:Once on the summit, college girls in running shorts will fawn over you.
Kelso Ridge wins.

'nuff said!'
I take the mountain climber's approach to housekeeping - don't look down

Return to “14ers”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests