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EARLY on the 4th, Cruiser and I started up to the Guanella Pass trail head to attempt the Sawtooth traverse from the Mt. Bierstadt summit. We were in the parking lot around 5:00 am and there were only three or four cars ahead with us and part of them were heading for Evans up the gulch. We were hiking by 5:30 am.
The wild flowers are getting started.
After summiting Bierstadt with 4 others, we started down to the Sawtooth. The next picture shows the down climb. Cruiser and I decided we would stay on the ridge. Cruiser started toward the ridge higher than I did. I tried to cross the snow field about 2/3 of the way down the tongue at the top of the snow field. I sunk to my crouch. I lieu of climbing back up, I continued down the left side of the snow while Cruiser continued down the ridge. As you can see, by the time we reached the low point of down climb, Bierstadt was already getting crowded.
Here's Cruiser on the Ridge.
I would say the trip down the left side was a difficult class 2 with very small amount of 3. Cruiser says the right side is all class 3 with a few class 4 moves. Cruiser reported plenty of exposure on the ridge.
Unfortunately, I didn't think to take any decent pictures of the climb up to the notch. We climbed the direct route Bill shows. It was an easy class 3 scramble. There were a couple of spots that approached Class 4. But since they were less than 6 or 7 feet of climb, they really didn't qualify. There is one spot about half way up where it was a difficult scramble up a short wall to reach a cairn. When we reached the cairn, the next one was below us. It appeared that had we turned right at the wall, we could have gone directly to the lower cairn with about the same difficulty.
The next picture shows Cruiser just after crossing thru the notch and starting over the ledge. While the picture seems to show a real scramble from Cruiser to where I took the picture, it is just perspective. It was a walk across. In fact the entire first half of the ledge is a walk across. There isn't a great feeling of exposure (assuming you are comfortable standing a couple of feet from a long drop-off.) since all but a couple of places are at least 5 to 8 feet wide and no place you cannot get by with less than 18 inch to spare. The worst spot is shown on the lower left where you have to avoid the rock that juts out. But it's only 2 or 3 steps.
This picture show just how wide much of the ledge is.
The next picture shows the remainder of the ledge and the climb up to the shoulder. In fact the climb up is the worst part of the whole crossing. As you can tell, the bottom part of the climb is fairly steep and real loose. It's an easy climb if you make sure of you footing and handhold for each step.
The next picture is what makes it all worth while.
Here is a picture of Cruiser starting up the climb out. The perspective of the photo makes the climb appear a little steeper than it is in reality, but it is steep and loose. After you get about half way up, the slope lessen and the footing is much better.
After topping out on the shoulder, we decided to go down the shoulder of Spaulding instead of going down the gulch. The route took an hour or so longer than going straight down, but there is a boulder field with some weird formations and a view of the Sawtooth that made the extra time and distance worthwhile.
A final note: Stay a high as possible on the side of Bierstadt through the willows. We found the trail from the gulch though the willows but it wound up to low and we hiked in bog for much of the willows. Our boots were reasonably waterproof so we came out muddy but not wet. A couple of times, Cruiser, who was leading, sank to the top of his boot. His gators were a god send.
We arrived back at the car about 1:30 PM and headed down to Tommyknockers for a well deserved brew.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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