Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Sawtooth, The  -  13,780 feet
"West Evans" - 14,256 feet
Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Date Posted:  07/02/2016
Modified:  08/13/2020
Date Climbed:   06/26/2016
Author:  litote312
 Tour de Abyss   

Initially I wasn't going to activate this TR (another Bierstadt report?!?!), but saw less on Roach's Tour de Abyss route than anticipated. So, what the heck, have at it. Hope it provides good info for those scoping this spectacular route.

A week long internal debate between Halo Ridge and the Tour de Abyss culminated in me essentially chickening out and going for the shorter RT length. I'm dying to take some shots of Holy Cross on Notch Mountain, but that length and gain will likely floor me. I might save it for next year and do some better conditioning through May in order to get a mid June hike in on it. Coming into this hike, I toyed with the idea of an Epaulet/Epaulie extra credit run, or maybe Spalding... maybe next time, I was beat!

After a relatively short trip up from Fort Collins, I arrived at the parking lot off the Mount Evans Road near 5:30AM. Fluid clouds clung to the ridge below, quickly drifting by but keeping Mount Epaulet shrouded from view. I stepped out of my car to be greeted with the accompanying cold winds. Thankful for bringing an extra jacket, I zipped it up, locked the car and headed towards the Epaulet-Evans saddle amidst waves of clouds. A recent conditions report warned of marshy conditions in the basin. I was ready for this but... marshy conditions abound near the parking lot as well! Both of my feet were sopping before I had made it 100 yards. I didn't switch socks just yet, in case the basin held more of the same.

From the saddle, I had a better glimpse down into the basin. It looked as though the dense clouds overhead were the last of their kind, and a clear sky awaited. Reinvigorated, I started down the basin. The gully was surprisingly solid as I stuck towards the right side, then migrated left about halfway down. Before long the gully gave way to the open basin floor. To the north, a stunning view of The Sawtooth demanded my attention.
Sawtooth from the serene basin.

Wrens and finches dove across my path as I worked towards the lake and the steep slope behind it. I ended up electing to go around the north side of the lake, which may have been a mistake. From above, the stream looks much narrower on the south end of the lake. Either way, I skipped across some protruding rocks to cross the streams. At the base of the slope, I paused to swap out my freshly soaked socks before ascending the slope to Bierstadt's east ridge.
Fresh socks and smiles (not pictured)

The slope ended as quickly as it began. Bierstadt was hidden from this point but the view to the west did not disappoint. Ahead lay a minor point on the ridge, and behind it Point 13,641'. I began hiking along the ridge through some easy bumps and rocks before getting to the first class 3 moves of the route, singing Red Hot Chili Peppers all the while.
Just gained the ridge, the two main points in sight.

The first point of the ridge was fun but brief. I stuck towards the top of the ridge as much as possible, and did not have any issues in route finding here. Before long, the point was behind me and ahead lay Point 13,641. This crux of the route is fantastic and was certainly my favorite part of the route. I'll likely do the Sawtooth again before long, but I know I'll be back for Bierstadt's East Ridge soon.
Point 13,641', the highlight of the day, with Bierstadt to the left.

I began by almost going to the lower of the two ledges, which was the wrong choice but may have been possible. I was tipped off by the amount of elevation lost--it just didn't feel right. I backtracked a bit and found the correct ledge. It was easy to determine when to turn left off the ledge and begin climbing upward. The turncame quickly, and I engaged in some of the most fun moves of the route. The rock was solid, and the sun warmed my back as I made my way back to the ridge. Topping out after a few minutes, I turned right again and made for the top of the point. I walked on the left, shaded side of the ridge and the cool rock felt amazing on my fingertips. The end of the climb was reminiscent of a miniature Longs' homestrech, with two parallel cracks running to the top. Heaving but thrilled, I topped out on 13,641 to the laudatory sound of chirping pikas.
Sawtooth and Abyss Lake from near the top of 13,641'.

The remaining ridge was a class 2 jaunt punctuated by some brief class 3 moves. Before long, the putrid stench of cigarette smoke welcomed me to the summit of Bierstadt, and reminded me to start earlier on peaks like this. It wasn't overly crowded just yet, but the glimmering fleet of cars at the pass and ant-line procession up the east slopes promised to change that soon. I snapped a few pictures before heading for Evans. The view of Holy Cross from the summit still impresses me, and almost made me regret not getting up Notch Mountain instead... almost! Looking north lay the hyped up Sawtooth traverse.

The ridge to Evans.

The descent from Bierstadt was steep and mildly loose, but free of snow. It was certainly longer and less pleasant than the gully descent from the Epaulet saddle. I clung closer to the ridge for much of the trip down, and was rewarded with some excellent views of the western drainage.

Cliffs lining the northern drainage.

I noticed a hiker ahead who opted to climb on the rock towards the bottom center of the photo 2 pictures above (traverse from Bierstadt), and I chose to do the same. I quickly regretted doing so, and noticed a cairned path a couple dozen feet below. Committed to the rock, I continued climbing across it though unable to gain much elevation. I saw it as a good opportunity to practice some exposed class 3 climbing. Before long however, my options became limited and I backtracked briefly before downclimbing the rock.

Rock that I accidentally ended up on, dropped down from just about the dead center of the rock after running out of options.

From there, the gendarme lay ahead. I approached it lacking confidence, as from afar it appears insurmountable, but was able to find a straightforward route up it with some scoping before climbing. Cutting right just before the top, I wish I had stuck with it for the full climb. Easy downclimbing remained, and took me to the transition onto the opposite side of the ridge. The other option (much less inviting and not really an option) stood looming before me.

Formidable towers after the gendarme and before the turn to the north.

The remaining portion of the route was some careful traipsing across ledges. The gully crossing was straightforward, and I stuck higher up rather than losing some elevation to be regained later. Cairns and intuition led me to the outlet of the ledges, and I followed the top of the ridge toward the summit of Sawtooth.

The ridge from Bierstadt, with Bierstadt in the background.

The route to Evans is shared with the common way up from the lake, so I stuck to the ridge rather than follow the masses. Mt. Spalding lay a short ways to the north, but I was getting tired and wanted to get back home sooner rather than later. The ridge brought me over "West Evans", a pleasant surprise, and kept me relatively solitary despite the crowds below. Save the marmots I suppose, I scared away several on the way up to the sub-summit. As it was already 11, I arrived at an expectedly-swamped Mount Evans. After reveling in the outstanding views (and even better weather) for a few minutes, I began the jaunt down to the car.

West Evans, Bierstadt, and Point 13,641' (look closely!) from Evans.

Cutting across the slopes between ends of the roads' switchbacks, the saddle approached before long. Some furry friends greeted me on one of the slopes.

Aaaand some more on the next one:

This was right about when my heart melted.

After the great ending (always love seeing wildlife), the car was still a welcome sight. 4 other cars had joined me since my start, though I didn't see anyone on the ridges save the hiker that brought me onto the uncomfortable rock. Lesson learned... don't follow blindly! Also learned another lesson; if you're going to do some extra credit summits, do them on the way up... even modest Epaulet was daunting for my tired legs. Next time!

Overall, this route was incredible. It took me about 6 hours which was definitely longer than anticipated.

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

Nice job!
07/02/2016 20:46
The 'Tour' is a lot of fun, but yes, many underestimate it. It's exhausting. I found the ridge up W Evans a blast and glad you ventured that way instead of following the standard trail. I think you're ready for the Halo Ridge now. Although longer and more tedious with nearly constant rock/boulder hopping, I found the Tour to be more draining in some ways. But the Halo Ridge is one of my all-time favorites!! Enjoy! Nice shots of the goats!


Good to hear
07/03/2016 06:42
that it wasn't just me who felt beat after this route, and thanks for the advice on Halo Ridge! Might have to go for it this year after all.

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