Mt. Bierstadt - 14,060 feet
Mt. Evans - 14,264 feet
Mt. Bierstadt - 14,060 feet
Mt. Evans - 14,264 feet
|Sending the Sawtooth|
Sending the Sawtooth
Preface: I've always sort of had my eye on doing the Sawtooth ridge but having already done Mt. Evans and Bierstadt, it was never huge on my list of routes to try out. A couple of other friends wanted to do it though, so I figured that I would tag along and try yet another new route up some cool mountains in the front range. On this trip we had myself, Philip, Logan and Sandy.
Logistics: Our original plan was to do the Tour de Abyss route, which takes the east ridge up Bierstadt, then the sawtooth over to Evans. We drove out to Guanella pass before realizing that the proper trailhead is about eleven miles above Echo Lake via highway five. This year unfortunately, the highway is closed past Echo Lake so once we drove there, we again had to turn around and go up Guanella pass to take the standard route up Bierstadt. This maneuver and poor planning situation cost us a lot of time and gas, but we gave ourselves a lot of time in the morning and everything worked out.
Hike to Bierstadt: The first portion of the hike going up the west slopes of Bierstadt was very easy. Due to our failure in planning and logistics, we got to the trailhead fashionably late at around 9:00 AM. When we got to the trailhead, it was packed with cars, and we could see a line of people going up the route to Bierstadt. This hike has very solid and gradual elevation gain throughout, but Bierstadt is the easiest fourteener in Colorado, so we did not encounter any issues going up. Towards the top, there is a bit of rock-hopping, but some of that is because Phil and I were anxious to get to the summit, and ended up just getting on the ridge to avoid having to pass the pilgrimage of people making their way to the summit. We reached the summit at 11:00, which was much later than we would have liked however, the weather looked decent for the most part; there were a few clouds but no threat of rain from what we could see. From the summit, I eyed the ledge that cuts to the West of the Sawtooth. This looked very sketch and precarious. I saw how loose and steep it looked, and the sheer vertical cliff below, and became a bit anxious. No one else seemed to share my concern so I brushed it off. We took a brief rest on the summit, awaiting Sandy and Logan. They arrived about ten minutes after us and soon enough, we were ready to begin the ridge.
Risk factors: Unfortunately, I completely forgot to bring a helmet on this hike and I have no clue why. I knew that this is a class three route with a good amount of potential for rockfall, but somehow I spaced it completely. Another issue is that I had dislocated my shoulder about a month ago, and this would be my first class three route, entailing use of both arms. I was a bit nervous to see how I would do, but knew that my shoulder was going to be fine for the climb because I had been doing lots of exercises and had full mobility in the arm. The only issue is that it would (and unfortunately still does) get sore from time to time if I stretch it too much or otherwise over-exert. Neither of these factors ended up being problematic as I was gentle on my shoulder and took extra care regarding rockfall to ensure I didn't injure my head.
The Sawtooth: We began our descent down Bierstadt. The descent is likely a difficult class 2 or maybe a class 3 depending on how you descend. There is an established route, but the four of us ended up sort of choosing our own lines down to the ridge. Philip was out way ahead, while the rest of us were all behind, picking our way down Bierstadt to the Sawtooth. Soon enough, we made it to the ridge, and were very excited to see the route ahead. This is another mountain where Philip and I wanted to just follow the ridge proper, and see about class four variants to make the route more fun. Most of this ridge was very straightforward class three.
We reached the gendarme and opted to climb over it as opposed to skirting to hiker's right. This made for a fun couple of class three moves on solid rock. Philip took a nice class four variant up. I on the other hand, feeling some soreness in my shoulder, decided that I'd stick to class three and give my left arm a bit of a break. After we had crossed most of the ridge, we reached the portion of the ridge that I was dreading- the ledge. Once we got on it, all of my trepidations dissolved. This section is not nearly as steep or loose as it looks. This taught me that in many cases, a section of a climb or hike is not nearly as bad as it looks from afar. All you have to do is remember this, and then when you're on the rock you'll be dialed in and you'll feel in much better control, so these crux/sketchy sections will seem like light work. I was relieved that all of my concern for this section was not necessary.
We quickly made our way up the ledge, and were super stoked to have accomplished the hardest part of the route- the sawtooth ridge. I was very appreciative that we were all very careful and there was no one else on the route to send rocks down, so despite me dumbly forgetting my helmet, like I said everything worked out!
The sawtooth as a whole was very cool. There is some insane exposure to hiker's left in a couple spots if you're hiking from Bierstadt to Evans, but the route itself is not very exposed. There aren't any pitches where rockfall is an issue, most of the route is just crossing the ridge so rock is not a factor. Some of the tougher moves can be avoided by sticking to the standard route instead of climbing up the ridge proper. Definitely ensure that the weather is good because the ridge is a bit committing. I enjoyed the scambling on the sawtooth, it was a great way for me to ease back into more technical hiking with my recovering shoulder.
Hike to Evans: Sandy was not feeling too well, and decided that he was not going to join us on the hike up to Evans. Instead he hiked down the gully to wait for us. Philip, myself and Logan went to tag the summit of Evans. We ended up paying for being late to arrive to the trailhead by fighting wind the whole way up. Once we were above the Sawtooth, we were immediately hit with strong wind gusts of around 20-30 mph. Because it was a warm day and we had come this far already, we decided to press on towards the summit. We vastly underestimated the distance between the end of the sawtooth and the summit of Evans, and it ended up taking us around 30 minutes to reach the summit. The whole hike up, we were fighting against some pretty considerable wind gusts, which made the hike a bit less enjoyable. There were also a couple of false summits going up to Evans, which was all too familiar from the last time I had done it. We reached the summit at around 2:00 PM.
Evans summit: We reached the summit of Evans, which due to the road closure was eerily quiet. Last summer when I did it, there was a crowd of at least thirty people, all making the strenuous and exhausting hike from their cars parked at the summit lot to the actual summit of the mountain. This year however, we only ran into one other hiker, who had make the hike all the way from Echo Lake. We did not linger at the summit for long, just enough time to down some water and snacks. We then decided, so as not to keep Sandy waiting for too long and to get out of these winds, that we would start our descent.
The descent: The three of us made our way down from the summit of Evans and lost the route a couple of times in our haste. We ended up dropping too low and had to regain a bit of elevation to get back on the route. Once off the summit ridge, we took the grassy and rocky alpine meadow towards the gully. It's obvious that this route is not travelled nearly as often as others because the trail is pretty faint in spots. The whole time we were still getting blasted by wind. We reached the gully, and Phil turned on the jets. He was hauling, sort of running down the gully. Meanwhile, Logan and I took our time descending, just talking and admiring the sawtooth.
The gully: This section has a solid trail but it is very steep; a lot of it goes straight down the gully with occasional turns or switchbacks. My knees did not like this section. I remember looking down, and wondering if the trail goes all the way down because it looks very steep and in some places, seems to just drop off. Once we were at the bottom, we saw Sandy waiting, and making friends with a marmot nearby. Reunited, the four of us continued hiking back to the car. Hiking in this basin gave me a new sense of appreciation for Bierstadt and Evans. I never thought that these mountains were particularly beautiful or special compared to some of the other peaks I've done however, this basin is a whole new perspective. There are very dramatic views of Bierstadt, Evans, and the gnarly sawtooth ridge that connects the two mountains. Needless to say, I took plenty of pictures while descending the gully and hiking in the lower basin.
The Willows: We hiked through the rest of the meadow, and reached the infamous willows. Hiking through here was not particularly enjoyable due to marshy terrain that got our shoes all wet and muddy, and the route was a bit difficult to follow. These trees were a bit taller than us, so we had to stay on the trail to ensure that we found our way back to the main route. We got lost a couple of times, but luckily I had my gaiaGPS, and the four of us did our best to stick to the route. It was a huge relief when we found the standard route trail because it meant that we were done stomping through muddy, wet landscape. This section was likely my least favorite part of the hike, but again, the views of the surrounding mountains made up for it.
From here, it was only another mile or so back to the car and we made quick work of the remaining hike. We reached the lot, and it was about 3:30. There were just a few other cars at the lot because we arrived so late and most people just take the standard route up and down Bierstadt, which only takes a few hours.
Review: The Sawtooth was a pretty cool route, though I can't say that I would do it again. The parts that I enjoyed a lot were the ridge, and the beautiful scenery in the basin below Bierstadt and Evans. I much rather would have done the Tour de Abyss to avoid hiking the crowded west slopes of Bierstadt, and also did not love descending the gully/hiking through the Willows. These parts were not terrible, and I still enjoyed the hike as a whole. There was fun scambling on the ridge, and some technical variants to make the route more spicy, and again, the scenery was really awesome. This is a great hike for combining peaks, and a longer day that incorporates solid hiking and fun scambling. I learned a couple good lessons about remembering my helmet, properly figuring out logistics, and being confident in the route.
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