Disclaimer: It is not generally a good idea to mountaineer alone (you'll see why later).
Exception to the Disclaimer: On a weekend, there's no such thing as "alone" on Mt. Bierstadt.
Setting: As I now live on the Eastern Seaboard, my Colorado time each year is limited. I had talked my usual Colorado hiking partner into doing Pikes in light snow via the Barr Trail on the two days prior to this hike, but he wasn't interested in joining this follow-on trip. A substitute "blind-hike" partner from 14ers.com and I got our signals crossed right before the hike date, so I ended up just doing it solo.
Route: Traditional Mt. Bierstadt - West Slopes, The Sawtooth traverse, NW Ridge of Mt. Evans (out and back), North to Mt. Spalding, then descend to Scott Gomer Creek while searching (in vain) for an actual trail.
Distance: Probably just over 10 miles
Perfect autumn day for a hike!
Exiting the Willow Bog looking West toward Squaretop. White dots right of center are vans in the rather large Guanella Pass parking lot
Long morning shadows as I gain elevation on Bierstadt's well-worn trail
Awkward autumn sun angle - something I hadn't considered
Nobody climbs Bierstadt alone
Mt. Bierstadt summit looking North to The Sawtooth (shadowy element). Part of the traverse is the lighted snowy portion, the rest is in shade
It's worth mentioning that while there may have been 60 people on top of Bierstadt, only about 10 of us were headed further.
Obstacles to reaching the Sawtooth: The "Gendarmes"...so are they hard? easy? Well, I thought they were fun. The footing and handholds are very good but it certainly is possible to hurt yourself. If they concern you, you can largely avoid them by dropping elevation and coming back up beyond them (but make sure to aim for the CORRECT notch which is the entrance to The Sawtooth traverse. Notice how much elevation is lost from Bierstadt's summit to the Gendarmes and the entrance to the Sawtooth. These shaky video excerpts have views back up to Mt. Bierstadt above me and to Abyss Lake below me (with Mt. Evans behind it).
This was the only portion of the trip which I was concerned about beforehand. This would have been easier either in dry conditions or with deeper snow in full winter gear. The combination of light, dry snow and summer boots was suboptimal. The exposure was troubling, but much of the time I was able to stay a step or so back from from the cliff edge. I moved very slowly and deliberately, but my judgment to proceed was questionable. Falls from this traverse could be fatal.
Here's a good view back at Mt. Bierstadt taken from approximately the summit of The Sawtooth. This is North Face of Bierstadt you must descend (or hug the ridge) to reach The Sawtooth. The beginning of the Gendarmes area is at lower right. The Sawtooth traverse is out of frame, down and further to the right and faces west, on the other side of the rock, facing away from this point of view.
View from The Sawtooth (summit)
Another similar image from further along the slope leading to Mt. Evan's west ridge. Mt. Bierstadt is at left. The Sawtooth traverse is all on the back side of the rock you see center-right. I believe the notch to enter the traverse is NOT what appears to be the low-point notch, but rather the NEXT ONE to the right. Getting to what looks like a higher notch is what the whole Gendarmes section is about.
I made a mistake here - there is actually a pretty good kairned trail which parallels Mt. Evan's ridge on the South side, a couple of hundred feet from the top. Using that rather than riding the ridge as I did saves A LOT of time and effort. That said, I was having a lot of fun on the ridge -- just not on purpose. I didn't see the trail on the way out to Evan's summit, but it was obvious on the return.
I made a second mistake in that I "summitted" an extra false summit beyond what I thought was in store for me. I had forgotten that Mt. Evans has two substantial false summits from this side, not just one.
Looking East toward a false summit sometimes called "West Evans" (14,256 ft) ...viewed from the slightly lower "Unter-West Evans" false summit (yeah, you can re-use that name)
Mt. Evans' summit. It's certainly a rewarding feeling to be gasping above treeline for several hours and then be rewarded with lovely views of a parking lot. (or in the case of Pikes Peak, a fully-stocked gift shop shilling peculiarly bland-tasting doughnuts).
Looking West at Mt. Evans' obvious-from-this-perspective two false summits. Note Grays & Torrey's in the background, Mt. Spalding is at right in the foreground.
Returning on Evans' trail took less than 1/2 the time I spent going out on the ridge. Turn the corner (North) in the altiplano prior to the Sawtooth for a straight-shot at Mt. Spalding.
Mt. Spalding is kind of out of the way -- nobody was within sight anywhere this side of Evans, but it is not a difficult addition if you're in the area.
North Slope of Mt. Evans from Mt. Spalding (looking Southeast)
(...continued...)West Flank of Mt. Evans ridge with Mt. Bierstadt at far right. The Sawtooth traverse would be out of view and out of frame at extreme right.
Then the sun broke through for a moment and everything didn't look so ominous anymore. "Four"? Well between the Sawtooth and ascending 2 of Evan's false summits, I guess I figured I can count a peak among the lot of them -- that effort was much harder than picking up Mt. Spalding, in any case.
Mt. Spalding looking North (Longs Peak in far distance at right)
And, my worst mistake of the trip - descending Spalding toward Scott Gomer Creek. 14ers.com will advise you to look for the "hidden gully". Well, this day it was hiding too well and I never saw it, so I decided to keep going northwest to the next drainage which would have a much more moderate pitch even if I never encountered a trail. And this is the part where I really shouldn't have been solo-ing since there wasn't a soul on the mountain north of Evan's ridge. The footing was soft high-altitude grassland, but eventually I got bogged down, literally, in the infamous Bierstadt willows. Bushwacking rapidly evolved from fun to a challenge to a waste of time as I frequently had to loop back when what looked like a path would terminate in the midst of thick 8-foot bush.
But first, a photo from before it really started to suck.
The Sawtooth (left) and Mt. Bierstadt (right) looking East
And another photo after I had been wading through ankle-high bog and brush for quite some time.
Curse you, willow bog!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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