Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Date Posted:  08/17/2011
Date Climbed:   08/13/2011
Author:  wildoats
 Taking a Solo Tour d'Abyss  

As a recent transplant to Denver from Phoenix, I've felt fairly overwhelmed trying to figure out what my next weekend outing will consist of. For some reason I thought that hiking Longs (ascent via Loft, descent via Keyhole) and then completing the Tour d'Abyss would be a good idea. Longs Peak went without incident on Thursday, but I realized on the drive back I'd have my work cut out recovering in time for the tour. Friday was spent drinking water and eating any kind of food I could get a hold of.

My wife reluctantly let me go on the Tour solo, as I was sure I'd have cell phone reception if need be (wrong). So on Friday night I packed the car up and made my way up to Summit Lake. As I setup inside my car, I realized that this was the highest I've ever camped before...and in fact I was camping higher than Mt Humphreys (AZ highpoint). That night I slept fairly good (for camping), woke up at 3:30 and was heading towards the road switchback by 4:00. By 4:15 I was on the trail towards the descent gully.
Denver from Evans Road
Start of the trail

I made it down the gully without incident, navigating by full moon and headlamp. When I reached the bottom, I suddenly noticed that the moon was about to set behind Bierstadts East Ridge. I took a few minutes to line up the ridgeline with a couple pictures I brought so I would gain the ridge at the recommended notch. A few minutes after I lined everything up, the moon set and the whole basin went black. I laughed at first, thinking 'Abyss' was a proper name for this outing, and then felt very alone. I turned the mp3 player up and started trudging across to the foot of the East Ridge.
Welcome to the Abyss

While I was busy figuring out where to aim for the East Ridge notch, I neglected to look at the marsh/willow maze that I would have to cross. I regretted not bringing waterproof shoes, because I knew that one submerged foot was all it would take to ruin the day. I tried to pole-vault my way straight-across between narrow patches of willows and grass until I found myself in a watery dead-end. I backtracked and circled South-East around the maze. Through dumb-luck/amazing-skills (I'm always amazed at the thin line between the two) I managed to get across without submerging a foot. All the willow-whacking had soaked the front of my shoes, luckily it didn't bleed through to my socks.

I started my way up the East Ridge and arrived just in time to see the moon-set to the West and the sunrise to the East. The first and second rock outcropping were a good warm-up, easy scrambling on solid rock. I spent some time studying the way up 13,641 before taking the grassy ledge system on the north side. A little route-finding was required, as I didn't take the ledges far enough and found myself looking at the class 5 book-end section. I backtracked and found the proper line up to the top.
Gaining the East Ridge
Working up the ledges

I stopped on top of 13,641 to apply sunscreen and eat, knowing the the most difficult part was next. I dropped too far down on the south-side of the ridge and was faced with an extremely exposed not-low-enough-angle traverse in order to reach the grassy flat-spot on the ridge. I reclimbed up higher on the ridge and found a more acceptable line, requiring some 'intriguing' moves to get around a large block on top of a lower-angle slab. Once on the grassy spot, I was able to relax.
Stay higher up on ridge
Done with the hard part!

Some easy/fun scrambling led to the top of Bierstadt. I tried to send an SMS and make a phone dice.

From the summit of Bierstadt, the Sawtooth looks intimidating. Like "are you crazy?" type of intimidating. I ate, drank, and started my way down, telling myself that if I didn't like the look of it I could always bail and head back down to the lake and work my way back. I kind of laugh now as I write that...because I don't think there was ever any intention of turning back. Just one of those things you tell yourself to feel better.

Luckily the Sawtooth is very well cairned, so at least I didn't have to worry about being on or off the path. I made the switch from the East to West side of the sawtooth and realized it might not be that bad. It was definitely loose, but it was completely dry and at least seemed wider than I thought it'd be. I made my way across, and found it to be pretty damn fun. Some parts definitely kept your attention, but overall the path is tame.
About to cross over...
Last part of the Sawtooth

I celebrated as I rounded the exit corner, knowing that the rest was easy. As I made my way across the gentle slope, I started to see people and the huge cairns on the trail to Evans. I booked it across to the trail, busted out the trekking poles, and started the final march to Evans. Surprisingly there were fewer people on Evans than there were on Longs!
Easy from here on out...
View of Summit Lake

After a short rest, some pictures, and a successful phone call (took 3 tries) I started back down the road to my car. By 10:30 I was in the car, and by 12:30 I was back in town. By 12:45 I was having brunch at Snooze...that might become a new tradition. Sandwich I Am is the perfect recovery meal.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

08/18/2011 01:32
Great Report Doug. I love the pic of Denver from the road in the dark!!!


Well done!!
08/18/2011 02:31
Great report! Nice early morning shots! I did this route a few weeks ago with some friends and I loved it, although it took a lot longer than I anticipated.


08/18/2011 13:47
@avs8fan - Thanks! I'm still a total hack at the long-exposure shots, I think it took me 4 tries to get something that looked decent
@MtnHub - Yeah, I was surprised at how long it took me. I was thinking it would take me ~4 hours...all the route finding definitely added up

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