Peak(s):  Sawtooth Mountain - 12,304 feet
Date Posted:  08/24/2009
Date Climbed:   08/23/2009
Author:  Aubrey

 Sawtooth Mountain  

Trailhead: Coney Flats Road (96J/507), at the junction of the closed road, at 9,600' (see map at end of this TR)
Round-trip Distance: about 10 miles
Total Elevation Gain: roughly 3,000', including some up and down, out and back
Class rating: easy Class 3 (most difficulties could be bypassed, if so desired)
Start: 7 a.m.
Summit: 10 a.m.
Finish: noon

When I look at the mountains west of my house, for some reason my eyes are always drawn to Longs, Audubon, and a curious-looking peak named Sawtooth Mountain, which might as well be called Dorsal Fin Mountain.

Sawtooth is 35 miles due west of my home, and I glance at it at least once a day on my way to work. I've always thought about climbing it, but never got around to it for one reason or another.

Recent sunset, viewed from my house (Longs Peak is just out of frame to the right):

A couple weeks ago, while drinking a Sawtooth Ale from Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, I was inspired to finally climb that puppy. Yet again, a couple of my life passions (beer and mountains, this time) overlap.

From its standard route, Sawtooth Mountain is a relatively easy climb. It's just long, with a long approach, especially if you do not have a high-clearance 4x4.

After about an hour of driving on paved roads (I-25 to 66 to 7 to 72), we turned onto 96, which is a flat gravel road. The sign for 96 isn't very large, so we actually drove right past it at first. There's a much larger sign that says, "Boy Scout Camp," so I guess they have better funding than the government.

After driving up 96 for a couple miles we came to Beaver Reservoir, which was where we got our first good view of Sawtooth Mountain, which was still surprisingly far away.


On the north side of Beaver Reservoir, we started up the narrow and rough 4x4 road (507).

One section of the rough road to our "trailhead" … high clearance and careful tire placement is absolutely necessary:

Starting our hike at the beginning of that 4x4 road would've made the hike more than 13 miles, so I really wanted to eat up some miles in the truck. But it was slow going because it was really narrow and rocky. When opposing trucks blocked our progress, it was a little tricky to back up to a pull-off.

Roughly 1.5 miles up the road, we came to a trailhead, just as the road got rougher. I figured with the rough obstacles ahead, we wouldn't be going much faster than walking speed, and the road wasn't eating up any elevation, so we might as well start hiking.

Our trailhead:

At 7 a.m. we started down the old, one-mile-long road (that is closed to vehicles), which actually shortcuts the 4x4 road by almost a mile. Unfortunately, this road-trail goes up and down a bit, adding some elevation gain both ways.

Marshy section of the one-mile-long road that is closed (shortcut off Road 507) … never got our feet wet:

One of many rough sections on 507:

Even though we hiked at a brisk pace, Sawtooth never seemed to get any closer.

Sawtooth Mountain, continuing to elude us:

The wildflowers were raging:

The route descriptions we had were vague, so Jen and I argued about where to turn off from the trail. Adding to the frustration, trees blocked our sight of the Sawtooth and its east ridge.

One description we had said to veer off the trail and head to the ridge at 10,400 feet. Problem is, the trail in that area is mostly flat, so accounting for GPS variance, "10,400" could be anywhere along a half-mile-long stretch of trail.

This is about where we decided to peel away from the trail and bushwhack to Sawtooth's east ridge:

Once we broke out of the trees, which was soon after breaking away from the trail, we could see our objective. It only required a bit of willow bashing first.

We aimed toward the hump of land below Sawtooth's east ridge:

The first scrambling obstacles we came upon were pretty easy – class 2 and easy 3, at most.

Gentle scrambling on the ridge:

In general, we stayed on the east ridge's crest, save for the first large tower of rock, which we didn't really need to climb anyway.

An interesting perspective of Longs Peak, looming in the distance:

The class 3 sections were brief and relatively easy. Exposure and challenges could be easily bypassed on the left (south) side of the ridge, but we continued along the crest, for the most part.

On the east ridge:

From our vantage point, Sawtooth's east face looked nasty. I wasn't looking forward to the 500-foot climb up loose talus. But it ended up being not so bad. Sure, some boulders shifted a bit, but it was actually pretty grippy and locked in. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this section.

Our general route, directly up the east face:

Pushing up the steep talus slope on Sawtooth's east face:

One of many spider webs:

Jen climbing up …

Me climbing up …

At 10 a.m. we gained the summit and had it all to ourselves. (We saw two people up there when we were on the ridge, but they were gone by the time we got up there.)

Me on the summit:

Six-photo pan from the summit; Audubon and Paiute upper-left:

"Coney Island" and Coney Lake from Sawtooth's summit:

Summit benchmark:

Pan to the north:

After enjoying the expansive views, we sauntered down Sawtooth's mellow north slope to Buchanan Pass, where we picked up the Buchanan Pass Trail.

Buchanan Pass pan:

Pan view from Buchanan Pass, looking east:

Pan of Sawtooth's east ridge, viewed from the Buchanan Pass trail:

Descending the Buchanan Pass trail:

After a long, brisk hike, we made it back to the truck at noon.

Our route (marked on a crudely photographed map):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

nice climb!
02/05/2011 00:22
Do you know if there is a direct route up the face? From a distance it almost looks like Yosemite, but closer up it looks like Mt. Evan‘s Headwall. Cool stuff on a different mountain, just another reason to love this State.


thanks, seekanddestroy99
11/30/2010 17:28
I'm assuming you mean the south face. And I can't say. Roach just says it's 600 vertical feet of 5.0-5.6 and the rock is reported to be bad. He goes on to say, "A variety of routes can be done with the details left to the souls who want to find their own way."

From the east ridge and east face, the mountain's southeastern edge looked ledgy and steppy. But the "steps" were covered in sloped grass, so you wouldn't find me up there.

And I agree, this state is awesome ... it's so diverse and limitless.


Looks like a fun scramble
08/25/2009 05:48
Thanks for making my ”to-do list” a little longer.


Well done...
08/25/2009 15:21
I agree with Floyd. My list just got longer. There is nothing quite like a tough 4x4 road to start an adventure. Sometime soon I want to drive the MSV road to the wilderness boundary and climb Elk Tooth and possibly Ogalalla (sp). Unfortunately, time is running out this year.


What is next?
08/25/2009 15:42
And people wonder what is next after hiking all the 14ers. I say continuing to live in and hike in Colorado (and other states) is what is next. Keep it up! Looking forward to some beers at GABF too.


Nice little hidden IPW gem
08/26/2009 17:22
Nice work Aubrey and thanks for outlining the route on your map. I have completely ignored this range this summer, for more than one reason, but hopefully summer and fall will last just a little longer this year. Good stuff.


My first Colorado peak
10/07/2010 14:18
I climbed this way back in June 1981, freshly arrived from the midwest after graduating high school. The ease of this peak after only a few days in Denver gave me lots of inspiration to climb all of the 14ers.

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