Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Sawtooth, The  -  13,780 feet
Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Date Posted:  08/09/2014
Date Climbed:   07/26/2014
Author:  buckeyejes
Additional Members:   AdDoBe
 Breaking out into the world of Class 3 - Biersawans   

Title: Breaking out into the world of Class 3
Subtitle: How to collect new friends on 14ers

July 26, 2014
Mt. Bierstadt, Sawtooth, Evans (biersawans)

Time Summary:
Start at trailhead: 5:10am
Summit Bierstadt: 7:27am (2 hr 17 min)
Left Bierstadt: 7:44am
Summit Sawtooth: 10:10am (2 hr 26 min)
Left Sawtooth: 10:20am
Summit Evans: 11:48am (1 hr 28 min)
Left Evans: 12:00pm
Back to Trailhead: 3:40pm (3 hr 40 min)
Total Trip Time (including breaks): 10 hr 30 min

Trailhead: We got the last parking spot in the lot at 5am. We left around 2:30am from Colorado Springs to make it there by that time. I definitely suggest getting there very early to get a spot, or you will end up parking along the road. There are bathrooms at the trailhead.

The Warmup Mountain:
The Trip up to Bierstadt was relatively uneventful, but did require headlamps during the first part of the trip. As we started, we could see headlamps going up to Bierstadt, so others were obviously on the trail much earlier than us. The trail was in immaculate condition and even had wooden bridges across swamp areas. The trail was very easy to find, even in the dark. We made our way up at a decent pace, but still gave ourselves enough time to observe where we were going, and admire the sights behind us.

ahhh, the ominous Sawtooth

looking back on the trail

a look back with the trail

another look at what we planned to traverse

As we approached the ridge, the trail got much steeper, but we were able to power through it without many issues. The summit was in view the entire time, which made us focus on keeping our eye on the prize, and gave us the feeling we were close.

summit in view

We met some kids along the way doing their first (and some second) 14er with Bierstadt. We were surprised to hear that they were planning to do the Sawtooth traverse on their 1st 14er hike, and were telling them how surprised we were they were attempting Class 3 on their 1st 14er since this we did 21 14ers before attempting this. We were even more surprised when they asked us what class 3 meant. I think once we explained it, they were a little more cautious about attempting it, but they all made it up their 1st 14er even without doing Sawtooth! (Congrats!)

The last part of the hike to the summit is not as defined, but it is not difficult to find a route to the top. After a little over 2 hours, we were at the summit of Bierstadt and ready for some food. The clouds were beginning to clear and the wind was minimal, which made the summit very comfortable, even though it was a tad chilly at 7:30 in the morning.

Lovely views from the summit

summit from the other side

excited but nervous for our new challenge....

Challenge Accepted!!!

The "Gnarliness":
We admired the traverse for a bit and how "gnarly" it looked (apparently, that is what the kids are saying these days.....). After a nice break on Bierstadt, we decided to begin the trek. We met another guy on of Bierstadt who was attempting this for the first time as well, (Colin!) and he decided to come with us, so we were a team of class 3 newbies entering the gnarliness. There was still a little snow on the ridge, so we had the option to stay high or drop below it. Our group decided to stay as high as possible, so we went above it.

staying high

For a first timer, this was a bit more exposure than I was used to, and it was a little tricky, but I handled both the exposure and the climbing better than I expected I would. Staying high, there were a few ledges I had to cross, but I was able to lean forward against the rocks, so I never felt like I would fall back. A very important piece of advice from this where you put your hands! I accidentally put them right on a prickly weed, and I do not recommend doing that....

carefully moving along the rocks....

trailblazing... *photo courtesy of Colin

figuring out what to do next..... *photo courtesy of Colin

climbing around *photo courtesy of Colin

watch where you put your hands! *photo courtesy of Colin

There was a small section where I had to repel myself down about 10 ft, but I was able to do that with some coaching from Adam on where to put my feet (if only I was a little taller!). During this time, another fellow we met on top of Bierstadt dropped below the snow and made up to the sawtooth faster than our group. That may be a faster option, but it may have been because he was more athletically gifted than adam and I......not sure which.

over before going up to the notch *photo courtesy of Colin

Looking through the ridge

Our group picked up a marmot friend along the way, and he followed us all the way towards the notch. He teased us the entire way and showed us how easy it was for him to traverse the ridge.

marmot friend

looking back at adam and abyss lake

Once we got closer to where the notch was, we had to go up. This area was steep and loose, but definitely doable. The views through the notch were well worth it and we examined our next big challenge, the crux of the sawtooth.

wondering if that is as bad as it looks...

After a snack and some pictures, we moved forward into what looked to be very steep and loose. As we started through this section, we quickly found that it was not as bad as it looks. There is room to move through and although the drop off is steep, just don't fall 5 ft to the left, and you will be fine!

giving a little perspective on how much room I had going through this part

Before we knew it, we were at the top of the crux, and we decided to summit the sawtooth....since we were already up there. There were fantastic views from the top and the weather was still looking great.

looking back at Bierstadt

sawtooth selfie

Evans is how far?!?!
After all that time on the traverse, we quickly realized that we had a long hike ahead of us to evans. It is not that we weren't warned, but we didn't want to believe it. We started across the easy but long boulder field and made our way to Evans.

Making our way to Evans

Still going.....

We hiked for what felt like forever along a well-defined trail over to Evans. We saw some people coming back from Evans whom we had met on Bierstadt, and they encouraged us that we were getting closer. Once we got very close, we noticed there was a bike race going on so the top area was pretty busy and you could hear the cheering and cowbells as we approached. We kept following the trail around and eventually made it to where there were several switchbacks to top, which is the path from the road. I highly suggest going straight for the summit rather than winding around and doing the switchbacks. It will save time and effort in your hike. Once we made it to the top, we noticed the clouds were starting to roll in. We were able to get some pictures and take a short break, since we had been hiking for a long while already in the day.

from the top of Evans

looking toward echo lake

At noon on the dot, we heard thunder, and what seemed like very close to us. We didn't have time to set up the camera and there wasn't anyone close to take our picture, so it was a quick selfie and then time to get off the mountain.

evans selfie

The thunder we heard was enough motivation to start making the long hike back. We caught up with a couple that had left evans only a few minutes before us. They had hiked up to evans through the willows, so we decided to stay with them since they were going back that way anyway. We cut the switchbacks out on the way back and followed the trail back to the boulder field. It had not started to rain yet, when we saw a lone mountain goat scaling a rock, so I decided to take my camera out to get a picture.

the goat all by himself

zoomed out - mountain goat is the white spec

As we approached the gully, the thunder subsided for a short time, although there were still clouds to keep an eye on. The area looking towards the gully and the willows was very photogenic, and all 4 of us decided we could afford a short break before heading into the dreaded willows.

Loving the view

The Dreaded Descent:
While we were breaking, a girl with 2 backpacks came up to our group and asked if she could tag along with us. She (Ellen) was carrying her roommates backpack too, whom we had passed while we were going down from Evans when the thunder was going and the clouds were rolling in, and she was on her way up to Evans. We were surprised to see anyone heading up while the weather was turning, and Ellen did not want to head up in the oncoming storm, so she decided to stay back while her roommate headed up to Evans, packless (yes, without water...). Ellen joined our group and we headed down together into the steep and loose gully. The gully was long and frustrating and it was clear we were not going to be able to avoid getting rained on. When we were about halfway down the gully, a couple girls were headed up and we took a quick break to talk to them. They were looking for Echo Lake, and were worried about needing to summit Evans again in the ominous weather to get back to their car. They took a wrong turn somewhere and had already been hiking for a while, so we told them we would be to give them a ride back to their car in Idaho Springs if they wanted to hike back down with us while. (I am sure they have a trip report to tell as well! ;) ) Our ever-increasing group continued down the gully as the rain came in. The gully became especially frustrating and slow as the rocks became slick and caused the trek to be more difficult with many more slips. Once we finished the gully, the rain had cleared so we had a little time to snap some more pics of a waterfall and river nearby. It is hard to do the wildflowers in this area justice.

the river closeby

the waterfall

And then it was time to head into the dreaded willows..... The other couple we were hiking with decided to hike all the way to the left of the willows since they had already experienced the awfulness on the way up. After a little discussion between the rest of us, we decided to go for it, as unawesome as everyone who has ever done the willows describes it. The route that the other couple was taking would have required quite a bit more elevation gain, and our legs were already tired.

to the left of the snowpatch on the right was the other proposed way to catch the beirstadt trail and avoid the willows....

to the willows!

here we go!

lovely first

We made the mistake of thinking, "oh, this isn't so bad!". Promptly after, the mud came and went (mostly into our shoes). I didn't take my camera out for any of this. The willows were longer that I had thought and just seemed to never end. It was mud to the ankles, but may have been worse in spots if it wasn't for testing some steps with my poles first. There were a few breaks in the mud, and the trail, and each time I thought, "oh, maybe it is like this the rest of the way! That wasn't so bad!" And then, the mud would come again. All of these things combined certainly added to the lack of fun we were having during this section. A few pieces of advice for this section:
1. Don't be afraid to get dirty. You will. No matter what.
2. Wear long sleeves. The willows were tall and the branches weren't as much of a factor in the narrow trail with the long sleeves.
3. Poles are helpful. I used these quite a bit to minimize the mud (you will never eliminate it). They were super helpful during the gully descent as well.

Once we (FINALLY) made it to the Bierstadt trail, we were all very excited and happy to be on the mud free trail! Ellen, Jessica, Brooke, Adam, and I made it back to the trailhead. As we were walking back to the car, Ellen's roommate was there and we were glad they were reunited, although we weren't sure she was going to be there yet since we never saw her on the way down. She apparently had taken the farther gully down (on the other side of Mt. Spalding) and made it down trailless, but also avoided the willows. Either way, there were some lessons to be learned in this reunion as well:
1. Always have a plan if you do decide to split up, with your hiking partner or group. This would include where you are going and checkpoints.
2. Always have water/food with you. Don't give up your pack if you do split up since you might not be back together soon.

We were so excited to finish this hike and accomplish and even have fun on our first class 3. We were also thrilled to be able to meet and hike with so many wonderful people. It was wonderful to meet all of you!!!

we made it!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

What an adventure!
02/17/2015 16:46
Thanks for such a thorough and fun trip report! Your photos captured the essence of these two peaks and the Sawtooth perfectly! I must say that your candor and ability to describe the whole route has helped me determine the Sawtooth is not for me this season. I have summited Bierstadt in years past, but was trying to decide if I should go gung–ho and try and bag both peaks by way of the Sawtooth this coming May. I believe I will simply find a longer route up Mt. Evans and enjoy myself rather than stressing out over safety issues on the Sawtooth. This will be my 24th 14er, however, I have not been out in the mountains on long, high elevation hikes for nearly 15 years. I believe I will err on the side of conservativeness and simply enjoy the beauty of Evans and Spalding –– this way I will enjoy a new side of the behemoth and bag a high 13er as well. Thanks again for such a wonderful and honest appraisal of the trip. I wish you many more amazing and safe journeys!



Thank you!
02/18/2015 04:41
Thanks Mandy! It is definitely better not to force it if you don’t feel comfortable on the Sawtooth. We did have quite a bit of fun with the new challenge, but Spalding and Evans would be a beautiful trip as well! Happy hiking!

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