| Tour d‘Abyss + "West Evans"
Completed the Tour d'Abyss on Sunday, June 26, 2011.
This was my 2nd time on this route and it proved to still be a favorite scramble close to Denver. This time out I added the fun variation of scrambling the west ridge of Mt. Evans for "West Evans".
The available parking is limited at the switchback area but we were the first car to arrive. Reminder, look at a map ahead of time so you can anticipate and identify the correct switchback to park at. A few vehicles made some EXTRA turns today, including ours.
Now on to the photos:
The descent gully has a steep entrance with some loose rock and dirt. Once in, it's best to stay close to one of the walls of the gully and the route conditions will improve as you descend to the Abyss floor. Our team of 3 descended quickly and had no problems with rockfall. The rocks will move on you but nothing tumbled far. This photo was looking back up at our descent.
The descent gully at the start of the Tour
You will see 2 gully entrances as you walk down from the parking area. A group behind us took the first gully option on the north (right) side of the saddle. I don't have experience with this descent option but it's easy to get lured into because there is a blank wooden post sticking up at the top at the entrance to this gully. We clearly had the speed advantage in the middle gully with a quick and easy descent. Looking up from below, the first gully has a lot more exposure and chances for cliff outs, especially near the bottom where the slope really steepens before it reaches the Abyss floor. Boyd took the picture below and zoomed in on the other group coming down the first gully. If you want to avoid this tougher terrain, then use the middle gully in the center of the Mt. Evans/Epaulet saddle -- it's also the gully WITHOUT a wooden post at the entrance.
Another group descending the first gully option
The Abyss floor and the slope leading up to the east ridge of Mt. Bierstadt. The snow was not completely avoidable on the Abyss floor but it was solid in the morning and was easy to cross. No mud, no heavy runoff, no giant willows and no deep postholing.
The Abyss floor & Mt. Bierstadt East Ridge
A different perspective. Note the deep snowpack still along the eastern slope of the Sawtooth. This was key in helping us make the decision later in the day to direct climb the gendarme along the Sawtooth ridge instead of taking the option to skirt below and around it.
View of the Sawtooth east face from the Abyss floor
The steep climb up to the east ridge is a great warm up on grassy terrain with big boulders. Steep, efficient and not too long. There are no defined or marked trails to cross the Abyss floor, to gain the east ridge or to traverse it. Pick your own route. The photo below also shows the first 2 points on the east ridge of Mt. Bierstadt. The scrambling is fun and immediate once you top out on the east ridge. The rock is solid as you simply climb straight up and over both ridge points.
Gaining the east ridge of Mt. Bierstadt
Here's a photo of Pt. 13,641. It was exciting to return to the scrambling along Bierstadt's East Ridge. Pt 13,641 may offer some pucker factor if you are new to exposed routes but the grassy ledges offer perfect stability. The rock is completely solid, the route is isolated from crowds and the views are spectacular. We followed the route description from 14ers.com. There are very few route markers so you will need to spot your own line to climb.
Drew on the grassy ledges of Pt. 13,641. Keep traversing out along the north side and look for the easy way up to regain the ridge. You may have to make a tough move or two to gain the next ledge above you but the climbing is solid and fun at class 3. The exposure remains as you cross the top and descend from Point 13,641 but it's nothing more difficult than what you already achieved.
Drew on the grassy ledges of Pt 13,641
The view looking back on the east ridge of Mt. Bierstadt. You can also see the start of the Tour D'Abyss at the Mt. Evans/Epaulet saddle. There are a lot of fun up and downs to scramble along the east ridge after clearing Pt. 13,641 and the rock remains solid. Again, you will need to pick your own route all the way to the summit of Mt. Bierstadt.
The east ridge of Mt. Bierstadt
The next few photos show a variety of angles of the current snow conditions (6/26/11) along the east slope of the Sawtooth connecting ridge and the northeast face of Mt. Bierstadt. There was significant snow along the traverse and it was unavoidable. We were all glad we carried our ice axes, which we used to cross the snow field that was stretching the entire length of the northeast face of Bierstadt. There were signs that someone recently chose the option to glissade down most of this slope but it is long, steep and is shallow in areas.
Bierstadt northeast face
Bierstadt northeast face
We stayed right of the large descending snowfield for half the descent of the northeast face. We then picked a narrow point in the snow and crossed over to the ridge. Down climbing and staying on the Sawtooth ridge can be difficult climbing. Assess the conditions and plan your route before you drop off the summit. Don't be afraid to backtrack or to choose to stay below the ridge to avoid its difficulties. The difficulty is never climbing up to a ridge point, it's the down climbing that can get tough along the Sawtooth ridge.
Looking down the Bierstadt northeast face
Image #16 (not yet uploaded)
Traversing the Sawtooth's connecting ridge
The last obstacle along the Sawtooth ridge before the saddle has a steep and exposed down climb. Deciding to drop back down towards Abyss Lake midway over this obstacle is difficult due to the steep slope of the rock slabs. Commit to staying on the ridge or bypass the various obstacles before starting up them. Both times I've made the Sawtooth traverse, I've seen several groups get stymied on some of the down climbs along the ridge. These groups usually ended up backtracking or tossing their packs below before attempting an outward facing skooch down the side of slabbed rock. Some of the ridge obstacles will need to be bypassed if you are looking to keep this climb at an easy class 3. The photo below is looking back at the last ridge down climb at the saddle. There is a climber in the bottom center of the photo to give you a better perspective.
The gendarme. Notice the direct climb route that is depicted on the 14ers.com route description was dry and non-technical. This route is quicker but the lower bypass route that goes around to the right is easier. Plan in advance and consider the option to climb the steeper direct route up the gendarme if the lower bypass route is still filled with snow. You will not be able to scout the bypass route from the saddle so survey your route options in advance.
The gendarme after reaching the Sawtooth saddle
Here are some pictures of conditions along the Sawtooth west ledges. Minimal snow and mostly avoidable. Major exposure but you will be well adjusted by the time you arrive. Are the west ledges overrated? It's fun and rather easy to cross but the consequences of a fall could be extreme so be careful of changing conditions. Notice our group grew in numbers. We went from a party of 3 to 6 and everyone was a user of 14ers.com.
The west ledges of the Sawtooth
Crossing over the corner from the ledges to the ramp up is where the loose rock and dirt begins. The ramp up is steep but you will be further removed from the exposure. This section is very short.
The Sawtooth west ramp
The next photo is along the topside of the Sawtooth leading up to the west ridge of Mt Evans.
Walking along the topside of the Sawtooth is a fun area for some photos. Yes, you can flirt with all kinds of disaster in an attempt to get that perfect photo. That's Boyd (fortmeyers-b) in the distance running along one of the edges of the Sawtooth.
Bierstadt northeast face
Some various photos along the west ridge of Evans:
Looking up at the west ridge of Mt Evans
Looking down at Abyss Lake from the west ridge of Mt Evans
Looking northwest at Mount Spalding
The start of the class 2+ climbing along the west ridge variation. So if you're tourin' d'Abyss, why finish off on the standard route and easily march up to a crowded summit? Keep the FUN meter at FOURTEEN and stay on the ridge and keep scramblin' for "West Evans." This picture shows the point where the fun climbing begins again and the standard route breaks to the right and stays below the ridge.
This route is airy with massive exposure to the north. The views are 360 panoramic and spectacular as your traverse across this narrow and undulating ridge. The climb at times feels greater than the Roach rating of class 2+. The ridge is easy to navigate and it's all above 14000 ft. But you will encounter some short climbing/down climbing sections with rock slabs (like the one in the picture below). But the rock is solid, easy to grip and easy to maintain footing. Besides, at this point in the tour, you are well warmed up at scrambling and much more immune to a fear of heights.
Just a warning: we did have several Mt Evans standard route groups follow us up onto the west ridge because it's easy to miss the turnoff where the standard route drops below the ridge. The good news: If someone needs to bail from the west ridge proper, there's usually an easy and short exit option leading back down to the standard trail just below you to the south.
Such a great view along this ridge climb. "West Evans" and the Mt Evans Summit are in the distance in the photo. There are a few false summits to clear before you scramble up to the 14,256 ft summit of "West Evans." The "West Evans" Summit was a great place to sit and hang out away form the crowds and traffic. It's a small, isolated and airy summit with sweet views all around.
Looking back on the west ridge from the summit of "West Evans."
The view from "West Evans" over to the party on Mt Evans. The ridge climbing also relents at this point and the remaining route is much less exposed, is wide open and rejoins the standard trail at the saddle.
The view from the summit of Mt Evans looking back at "West Evans" and the west ridge. Definitely consider making "West Evans" an added stopping point along the Tour d'Abyss.
The tour is listed at 4.9 mi RT and 2,985 ft according to Gerry Roach. Don't underestimate the time and effort it will take for what seems to be small stats for a route. The route is sustained along ridges at high elevation so there is very little escape from a t-storm.
Notes on time: We kept a good moderate pace with occasional short breaks for photos and hydration. Our weather forecast was superb (and rare) with a statewide 0% chance of precipitation or t-storms. Total bluebird day!
* It took ~1.5 hours from the TH to gain the east ridge just below the first point.
* It took ~1.5 hours to reach the summit of Mt. Bierstadt from the start of the east ridge.
* The traverse from the summit of Mt. Bierstadt to the topside of the Sawtooth took ~1.5 hours.
* It took ~1.5 hours to reach the summit of Mt. Evans after exiting the west ledges. You should easily be able to improve on this time segment if you skip the exploration of the various points along the top of the Sawtooth or the scrambling on the west ridge for "West Evans".
* The entire route (sans the final descent from the Mt. Evans summit) took ~6.5 hours including all breaks.
A big thanks to Boyd (fortmyers-b) for posting an invite on 14ers.com for members to join him on this climb. Plus, Boyd (pictured below) scored us this classy ride down from the summit of Mt. Evans in the back of this pickup truck. This was a big improvement from my last outing on the Tour d'Abyss where I opted to hike down the remaining 1000 ft back to the trail head. The mountains are a great place to see how Colorado is filled with kind people who are willing to give a few random hikers a ride back down to the trail head. It was also a PERFECT day to ride in the back of pickup truck at 14000 ft after summitting Pt. 13,641, Mt. Bierstadt, "West Evans" and Mt. Evans via the Tour d'Abyss.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):