Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Date Posted:  09/11/2007
Date Climbed:   09/09/2007
Author:  akmpolsen

 Bierstadt Willows workaround?  

Bierstadt-Sawtooth-Evans "Mud-free" route

The standard loop of hiking Bierstadt, traversing the Sawtooth Ridge, then Evans, and returning to the TH via Evans NW gulley has been well documented. One thing I noticed, both by reading TR's and speaking with people on the trail is that the legendary willows can be a filthy, muddy, arduous slog. So, the pioneering spirit overtook me and I decided to try something different…

While hiking up Bierstadt, I convinced myself that there was an easier way back. By staying high to the right side of the valley after descending the steep gulley, it appears to be a reasonably dry way to get back to the TH.

There are lots and lots of great pictures of the Biesrtadt-Sawtooth-Evans loop, so I will just jump right into the possible alternate to the mucky quagmire that many have been mired in over the years…

Here is a topo of the actual route I took. Picture vantage points are annotated as waypoints (WGS-84 coordinates at bottom). (I will try to put a hyperlink at the bottom where you can download a full-res image of the topos)


Here is a zoom of the route. There are plenty of options, and I did have a little bit of a bash at the stream crossing indicated by the waypoint labeled "wlwbash".

The below pic is taken from the ridge ("pic0"), providing an overview of the approximate route (highlighted). Exit the standard trail at about 12,350‘. At first, you will sidehill with a slight downslope bias through boulders that are reasonably stable. At about 11,900', navigate through the willows and hold your elevation. The willows are fun to navigate through, almost like a topiary maze a la The Shining. Occasionally you will need to burst through a wall of willows but with a modest amount of thought you can keep that to a minimum. The good thing is, the ground is bone dry.

The hardest part is the stream crossing. I would head a little further uphill and it would probably be a little easier. There was a faint trail that I found that made it a little easier, but still this was by far the hardest part of the journey.

After the stream crossing, the willows are a little thicker – aim for the rocks and scattered spruce trees. When you arrive in the forest, the walking is enjoyable.


Taken from "Pic1" waypoint :
The "Lone tree" is your target (just out of the picture on the left). From that point on there is a fairly well-worn trail (facing towards the parking area, it is about 20yds to the left of the tree) that becomes more diffuse as you get closer to the parking area. You will probably find the trail quite a bit before the lone tree, but it is not really necessary as the route through the spruce forest is easy walking over rocks and occasional downed trees, with some patches of willows that are easily skirted.

Pic2 shows the enjoyable maze of willows with little highways and byways between them. The nasty stream crossing is ahead – try to stay a little higher upslope than I went and it will not be so bad. It may be a little longer but worth the detour.

Pic 3 shows the spruce forest – some scattered willows but you can meander around them with little difficulty.

Note that it is impossible to not have to fight through at least some willows, but the route back that I took had a distinct advantage of the standard trail : it was dry ground. Note also that there is a required amount of 'sidehilling' involved – some people hate that even worse than bashing through hellishly muddy willows.

Topo hyperlink (zoomed version)(right click and select "save picture as…") :
Topo hyperlink (wide view) :

Waypoint coordinates :
"Lone Tree" N 39 35.806' W 105 41.834'
WLWBASH (where I crossed the stream) N 39 35.988' W 105 41.019'
"Pic1" (where I left the std trail@ 12,350') N 39 35.792' W 105 40.232'
"pic2" (11,900') N 39 35.897' W 105 40.662'

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

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