Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Mt. Evans  -  14,264 feet
Sawtooth, The  -  13,780 feet
Spalding, Mt  -  13,842 feet
"West Evans" - 14,256 feet
Date Posted:  02/23/2020
Date Climbed:   02/02/2020
Author:  supranihilest
Additional Members:   whileyh
 The Mostest Stupidest Winter Climb of Bierstadt, the Sawtooth, and Evans  

Long have I admired the Sawtooth, the jagged ridge between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans. I know I'm not the only one. It's a scene that's probably stirred the soul of every single person who has gazed upon it. For some of us lucky ones we've gotten to experience the moving feelings of traversing the ridge between the peaks, complete with steep scrambling and airy, exposed ledges. It was among the first of my scrambles and Bierstadt and Evans were my fourth and fifth 14ers, respectively, so the whole area holds a large degree of respect for me. I have also admired those who climbed the trio in winter, and it's been a long-standing goal of mine. My friend Whiley and I set out to do just that...

We got an early start from the Guanella Pass road closure. We took a set of shortcuts between switchbacks, the first of which was great and the second of which led us to a fork; do we take the left, which looks awful and sugary, or do we take the right, which also looks awful and sugary? We chose the right branch as it led back to the road. It did indeed turn out to be awful and sugary, about waist deep, and was just what we had wanted to start our day with! At least once we got to the road it was completely dry - all the snow was clearly blown onto the exact path we took. We hit the summer trailhead as the sun rose.

20018_01
What a silhouette!
20018_02
Peaks west of Guanella Pass; Squaretop Mountain on the left, Argentine Peak in center, Mount Wilcox and Mount Edwards on the right.

We'd be traversing the traditional way from Bierstadt to Evans, and Bierstadt had a nicely packed trail through its entire standard route, much of which appeared largely windblown anyway.

20018_03
The Mightiest Lump in All the Land.

With the sun having risen we could finally see the Sawtooth's sheer western face, almost entirely devoid of snow - nice!

20018_04
The only snow we'd have to cross on this side of the Sawtooth is just below the highest point, the remaining ledges were dry.

We had to only finish the ascent of Bierstadt, which, what can I say about it that hasn't already been said? It's Mount Bierstadt, one of the easiest and most frequented peaks in the state regardless of season. I'd only done the west slopes once when dry, four and a half years ago, and I remember it being far more annoying but we found it to be cruiser.

20018_05
Solid snow made for quick progress.
20018_06
Whiley climbing to glory.

Winds picked up incrementally as we ascended and it was rather cold in the shade. A few hours into our day we hit the summit ridge, ascended snow, and were on top of Bierstadt.

20018_07
The only even mildly fun and cool looking part of the route.
20018_08
Up the snow we go.

From the summit the eastern side of the Sawtooth (that is, the Abyss Lake side) looked very snowy. I had expected this despite the dry western side.

20018_09
A rather snowy Sawtooth.
20018_10
A rather dry Mount Evans.

We were ready to conquer the Sawtooth, slay the Sawtooth, make the Sawtooth our bitch, subjugate the Sawtooth, and other euphemisms completely inappropriate to the sport of mountaineering. There was only one problem. It was so absurdly windy we weren't sure we'd even be able to safely cross the Sawtooth. We were getting pushed around by the winds on Bierstadt's flat summit; given that, scrambling snowy rock wouldn't be easy or safe. Well, dammit.


Video: Whiley H.

We ducked behind a rock to talk without having to shout over the wind. It didn't help. We had a short discussion about next steps. In winter we'd both already done Bierstadt but not Evans and agreed it'd be a pointless waste to just do the former. We wanted to also get the Sawtooth and do the Sawtooth traverse, which we agreed were separate things, but also that we weren't willing to risk it in the winds. So we decided to take the fool's way out of our predicament and descend Bierstadt back to the willowy flats and ascend the Sawtooth, Evans and its subsummit, and maybe Mount Spalding, all via Gomer gully. Less fun, more work. Winter mountaineering in a nutshell.

Since we were the first people up Bierstadt we only encountered the crowds on the way down, which was nice. We ran down and I slipped and fell a couple of times on the icy slope. There was a trench through the willows to Gomer gully we'd noticed from higher up on Bierstadt, we just had to find a way to get to it. Eventually, instead of returning all the way to the pass, we selected a set of snowshoe tracks through the willows. While short, it wasn't a very good track to follow and we ended up stomping our way through quite a few willows before reaching the good trench.

20018_11
Trenchin'.

By now it was hotter than a witch's cauldron in the flats, which of course were dead calm. That figures. We were also closer now to the "summit" of the Sawtooth than we were on Bierstadt. That also figures.

Gomer gully from the bottom looked a little intimidating what with its snow cover and towering, sheer walls. I'd gone down it once before in the summer and hadn't thought much of it, except that it was loose, so I knew that while it looked like a lion it was more akin to that snaggletoothed, one-eyed alley cat who purrs and rubs up against your leg all friendly-like (while perhaps giving you fleas, to complete the comparison to the state of the gully). Numerous sets of tracks, both boot and snowshoe, led up the gully and we decided to dump our snowshoes, crampons, helmets, and various assorted gear we wouldn't need to climb the non-technical gully.

20018_12
Big but nothing to worry about.
20018_13
Tracks. Tracks everywhere.

There was actually a little bit of fun, Class 2/Class 2+ scrambling in the gully, and the massive walls enclosing us were a source of oohs and aahs. I wondered aloud if anyone had come up and climbed them, as routes seemed plentiful and the rock solid. I'm not sure why anyone would bother climbing there, but I suppose for some crazed individual(s) there was entertainment to be found. For us the gully was just a source of uninteresting talus.

20018_14
Source of uninteresting talus. I suppose the tower is kind of interesting, but given time it too will be uninteresting talus.

The two thousand or so vertical feet up the gully went quickly and we soon found ourselves in the large expanse of tundra that makes up the bulk of Evans' west ridge.

20018_15
Looks a lot more wild than it really is. Photo: Whiley H.
20018_16
Final bit up to the Evans plateau.
20018_17
Mountaineering is serious business. So serious, in fact, that I needed two ice axes and a trekking pole simultaneously. Photo: Whiley H.

The winds resumed as we topped out, which sucked for the fact of its existence, but was also nice so we knew we didn't abandon our Sawtooth traverse for no reason. At this point it was just a cold annoyance and wouldn't prevent us from tagging the rest of our summits, so we stashed our ice axes in a pile of rocks before contouring up towards the Sawtooth.

20018_18
I was told this was a Sawtooth but I think I've been lied to.

From Gomer gully the Sawtooth is but a simple affair, consisting of nothing more than tundra and stable granite boulders. There's no difficulty at all and the impressive, jagged skyline everyone associates with the Sawtooth isn't even visible, but this is truly the easiest way to tag the highest point of the Sawtooth, which of course is somewhere about the top of the largest, northern-most tooth (far left tooth when viewing from Guanella Pass).

20018_19
We'll be back for you for real, Sawtooth. Photo: Whiley H.
20018_20
Head on view of Bierstadt and the Sawtooth from the latter's "summit". It actually looks easier from here, since you can't see the scrambly bits.
20018_21
Mount Evans, still a long ways away. The left bump isn't really anything, while the bump on the right is "West Evans", which obscures the true summit.

There wasn't much left stats-wise but we were tired, the winds were unrelenting, and it was well after noon, so we set off towards Evans' rocky west ridge. Along the way we ran into and passed another pair of climbers and directed them back to the trail, which they were far above.

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Beginning of the ridge.

We sped along as quickly as we could on dead legs, thankful for generally good conditions on most of the trail.

20018_33
There's a road all the way up Evans that we could have taken? Never again, Gomer gully!

There wasn't much fanfare when we summitted Evans. We wanted to take naps, honestly.

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Not a nap, but 7,000 vert later this is what you get. Photo: Whiley H.
20018_35
Second to last objective: "West Evans".
20018_36
Final objective: Mount Spalding.

With the highest peak of the day out of the way we could mostly relax and just go downhill, but only after getting "West Evans" and Spalding. I was so determined to get these pointless side peaks, there was no way I was going home without them, so we scrambled over to "West Evans" in about 20 minutes and immediately left for Spalding.

20018_37
The Sawtooth from "West Evans". If "West Evans" is considered a subsummit then "West West Evans" (on the right) should be too.

We scrambled back to the trail then hiked back to the open tundra. One left. Unranked Spalding. I wasn't sure my poor legs could handle it and Whiley didn't want to do it but it was right there so I went for it and she came along.

20018_38
Mount Spalding.

It felt like we weren't moving. The 200 or so vertical feet up Spalding took a day if they took 20 minutes. We were crawling along, both figuratively and literally, and the summit finally, mercifully, was ours. We high fived knowing it was mostly downhill from here.

20018_39
Evans' impressive north face.

It was about 3:30pm when we left Spalding, angling back towards Gomer gully and our ice axes. The headwind blasting up the gully was ferocious and we had to lean into it to make forward progress. Whiley went ahead down the gully while I plodded behind.

20018_40
Yep, that's a gully alright.

At the bottom we stumbled over to our gear stash and just sat in the snow for a few minutes, collecting energy for the remaining snowshoe to the cars.

20018_42
Finally back to the flats and packed trail.

Snowshoes donned we trudged out as shadows crept long. Once again the wind down low had ceased, and Whiley and I were alone for the march. The trail twisted through the willows and eventually back to the pass, but we still had a couple of miles on the road left. The sun set behind our western friends as we hiked on, reaching the cars as the last bit of light departed. We were exhausted and happy with the day, having been able to bag all the peaks we wanted despite not being able to do the Sawtooth traverse. Stupid though this day may have been, stubborn determination proved to be a winning choice.

20018_43
Until next time, sayonara.


Statistics

Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself), Whiley H.
Trailhead: Guanella Pass Road winter closure
Total distance: 19.35 miles
Total elevation gain: 7,053 feet
Total time: 12:01:45
Peaks: Two fourteeners, one fourteener sub-summit, two unranked 13ers

  • Mount Bierstadt, 14,060'
  • The Sawtooth, 13,780' (unranked)
  • Mount Evans, 14,264'
  • "West Evans", 14,256' (unranked)
  • Mount Spalding, 13,842' (unranked)

Splits:

Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Guanella Pass winter closure Mount Bierstadt 3:19:30 3:19:30 0:00
Mount Bierstadt The Sawtooth (highest point) 3:41:42 7:01:12 0:00
The Sawtooth (highest point) Mount Evans 1:14:27 8:15:39 0:00
Mount Evans "West Evans" 0:23:10 8:38:49 0:00
"West Evans" Mount Spalding 0:53:55 9:32:43 0:00
Mount Spalding Guanella Pass winter closure 2:29:01 12:01:45 Trip End

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 42 43


 Comments or Questions
whileyh

If you run into a wall...
02/23/2020 16:57
...don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.
Michael Jordan

Our stoke was so high to traverse the Snowtooth, but hey we still got all the peaks we set out for! ... we will certainly be back. Iâm ready for more.


supranihilest

Basketball
02/23/2020 17:25
If you run into a wall, buy some dynamite and blast that sucker to hell and back.
- Jordan Michael

I just made that up. But that's my approach to most mountaineering problems.


Tornadoman

No Gray Wolf?!
02/23/2020 19:16
Slackers.


supranihilest

Wolves in Gray
02/23/2020 19:28
We didn't do West West Evans either. I hereby nominate it as a new subsummit to add to the list. Gonna be 60 winter 14ers, the normal 58 + North Massive + West West Evans. Fight me.


stephakett

whiley..
02/25/2020 12:56
you're a freakin' animal. nice TR! i'm headed for rogers, warren, west evans and gray wolf as soon as the road opens



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