Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Date Posted:  06/28/2011
Date Climbed:   06/25/2011
Author:  RSnyder
 Bierstadt/Evans via the Sawtooth  

My wife’s cousin Evan and I went out to summit the Evans/Bierstadt combo over the weekend. Being from Kansas I packed everything I thought I needed and called the ranger station to reserve a campground. I was told that the Guanella campground didn’t take reservations and that I should have an easy enough time finding a spot. I set out to meet up with Evan who was coming from Wyoming.

I arrived in Georgetown a few hours before Evan and did some looking around since I have never stopped through there before. I then headed up to the campground to locate a spot but of course they were entirely full. I also noticed I didn’t have cell phone reception there so I headed back down to Georgetown to meet up with Evan. We eventually found a spot off of the side of the road. We pulled our vehicles in and set up camp for the night.

The next day we got up fairly early and were at the West Slope trailhead around 5:15 a.m. It was in the mid-30 when we started out. The trail was easily marked starting out over a marshy area with wooden platforms to cross. Yet, even with the platforms in place we still had to do some creative stepping to get around some muddy areas. Once we got some elevation it then turned to an easy dirt trail to follow. It was a fairly easy path got rocky near the summit it was obvious to know where to go since it was in sight.

We made summit on Bierrstadt at approximately 7:45 a.m. Once we made summit we took a couple of pictures, had our celebratory beer, and had a good talk with an older gentleman who had done the seven summits including Everest three times. Once we were ready, we headed out to the Sawtooth.

We traversed down Bierstadt and ran into several snow fields. The other climbers and rangers whom I had talked with said the Sawtooth had been a little treacherous earlier but had thawed out enough for an easy crossing. However, there was still plenty of snow on the east face which had made it more difficult than expected. We did happen to find a set of frozen tracks to follow through the snow which we followed for awhile but they seemed much lower than the route which I had seen. From there we were able to ascend the gendarme and cross over to the west side of the Sawtooth. From there it was fairly clear of snow and a lot easier to maneuver. However, at that point we decided to go back down the gully instead of the Sawtooth on our return trip.

Once we cleared the Sawtooth we found ourselves to the rock field west of Evans and continued on intersecting with the other trail. We then followed the cairns which could be frequently spotted. We made it around to Evans trail which was quite busier since we had been the only ones on the Sawtooth at the time. Once on Evan’s trail we were able to push up to the summit around 11:30 a.m. We took more pictures and had another celebratory beer. We then mingled with the non-hikers and took to looking at the sites.

We headed back down Evans around noon, oblivious that anything tragic had occurred. A hiker stopped us around 12:30 p.m. heading to Evans. He asked how much further it was to the summit. We told about a half an hour. He then stated that a person had fallen and attempted to point out what he stated was a skid in the snow. We looked the person for the longest time but could not see anything. It turned out we were looking too close to Bierstadt and had a bad angle at the Sawtooth to observe anything. We later thought that a person might have been mistaken and saw a boulder roll down the mountain. I had also made a comment that if it was true someone should have had cell phone reception to call for a rescue and that a helicopter would have been seen. To our dismay, soon after we did hear a helicopter coming in from the east and could identify it as a rescue helicopter. It made several elongated passes around the area. We were unsure if they saw anything either or if wind was a factor.

We again stopped to see if we could spot the person but again our angle to the Sawtooth was bad. I at one point attempted to use my camera zoom to spot anything but couldn’t make anything out. After several fly-bys the helicopter disappeared and we believed it to once again be a false call. We then continued down the gulley towards the trailhead.
While on our way down the gulley we could spot what looked to be another helicopter coming from the west of the range. Evan and I at that moment knew that it was no longer a false call. We were too far down the gully to turn back. We both just hoped it wasn’t serious.
We made our way down to the base of the valley where we were greeted by several marmots and a nice view of a waterfall. From there we treaded through the watery mess for what seemed like eternity. We both agreed however that we were grateful the willow bushes were hiker friendly and not a tangled, thorny mess.

We intersected the main trail and were happy again to see dry land and planks to stand on. Evan ventured forward while I snapped some pictures of Bierstadt in the afternoon and took in the beauty. We reached the car at approximately 3:15 p.m. We both had noted we had been hiking for ten straight hours and realized that neither of us had applied sunscreen which was evident from our neck, face, and arms.

We headed back to camp and cleaned off. We then headed to Georgetown to grab something to eat and get with in range to use cell phone. We both called our respective wives and asked them to pull up any news story about a fall in our area. We were both saddened by the news when we discovered that someone did fatally fall from the Sawtooth. We discussed the situation thoroughly from what we had heard and read to this point and felt guilty but thankful that we had made it.

After eating we headed back to camp and again discussed the incident and how that could have possibly have been us. We both called it an early bedtime but before doing so we made a pact not to attempt something like the Sawtooth in those conditions again unless we had more suitable equipment to cross snowy terrain.


Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Good work
06/28/2011 23:26
I did that route a week and a half ago, minus Evans, glad you all made it safely across the tooth. Getting back to the main Bierstadt trail was a watery, willowy mess to say the least!

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