Friday, October 22, 2010

Mount Bierstadt & Mount Evans

Mount Bierstadt  & Mount Evans
 August 28th, 2010

Bonus time!  I managed to arrange one more trip for the season.  I had not planned trying anymore 14ers this year, but Jon suggested that we should do a 14er, and from there it somehow morphed into 2 14ers.  Unfortunately, during this time I also lost Jon, but Doug agreed to come along.  His presence was reassuring, as he had done the Sawtooth Ridge between Bierstadt and Evans before, which was my planned route.  I had first seen this route, when I picked up Roach's book on 14ers (I think).  It is such a striking line that I knew I would have to do it.
Doug and I drove up after work on Friday and bivied just above the upper parking lot.  The night was warm, and clear and the sky was alive with stars.  I woke up a few times during the night and had to fight off the urge to stare at stars.  Our alarmed chimed at 3:30 a.m. and we were out of the bivies quickly.  The full moon was still up, so we were able to hit the trail with no headlights.
On reflection this may have been a bad idea.  The no headlamps, almost ended our hike before it even really began.  Not it wasn't a trip over a rock or a root, something much more alive.  Doug lead out of the trailhead and within 100 or so yards of starting the trail, we walked passed to large rocks.  Just as Doug got with 15 yards of the rock, they began to move.  With only the moonlight, to see by, we had to do a double take.  As we did the rocks morphed into two moose standing just of the trial.  Doug froze and I began to slowly move backwards.  Sorry Doug, but better you than me.  After some calming words, for the moose and myself, we worked our way through the willows off trail, and around the moose.
The remainder of the way up Bierstadt was uneventful.  The moon provided plenty of light to see by, so we never needed to break out the headlamp.  We did not have anyone pass us on the way up (a first for me), but as we approached the flat before the final push, we had a solo hiker catch up to us.  I decided that I did not get up, at OOOOOOOO to early, to have someone beat me to the summit, so I shifted into high gear and high tailed up the final push to be the first person to summit Bierstadt that day.  Doug quickly joined me.  We snapped a few pictures just as the sun's rays were warming the peak.  From the peak we could see the Sawtooth Ridge, the actual challenge of the day.

The way to the Sawtooth drops off the north side of Bierstadt.  The exit gully from the ridge down to the Sawtooth drops steeply.  We had to pick our way down loose scree, being careful not to slip out.  We roughly followed the cairns marking the route.  We ended up traversing below the crest of the Sawtooth by about 40 yards or so.  This was where the fun really started.  We had to do some route finding, which made the traverse much more interesting.  About half way across the ridge we encountered the gendarme.  We  decide to work our way along the lower eastside of it.  Looking back we probably would have been fine taking the direct route up it. But the lower route provided a great experience.  Once around the gendarme we worked back up to the ridge, where we crossed over to the backside of the ridge. 
This was the side that I had been worrying about.  Even though the trip reports I had read said this section was much easier than it looked, my first glance left me doubting these.  The pictures I saw did not instill me with much confidence.  Doug took off quickly once we reached the west side.  He figured that any hesitation on his part, might have lead to second thoughts.  Once I started this traverse I felt much better.  The trail was not as narrow, or as close to the edges' drop off as I feared.  With each step my confidence grew and I found myself make quick work of this section.  The final stretch up the ledges, is much more solid than it looks from any of the pictures that I have seen. 
For anyone thinking about doing the Sawtooth, I highly recommend it.  It is not nearly as intimidating as it seems from pictures or trip reports.  It truly was the highlight of our trip.  DO NOT pass it up!!!!!!!!!!
Once passed the Sawtooth we worked our way through alpine tundra studded with rock around to the south side of Mount Evans.  Doug and I dubbed this section of the hike as "The Trudge" - " To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on. (Chaucer - A Knights' Tale)".  This summed up the traverse along the east side of Mount Evans up to the summit.  Just before the parking lot at the summit, we ran into a small band of mountain goats.  They looked beautiful.  Their coats we already to begin to fill in with the thick, full white coat of fall.
The summit was a little anti-climatic.  With easy access from the parking lot just a mere 100 yards from the summit, anyone a goofy pair of golf shorts can summit a 14er. Yes he was there, but he was a really nice guy.  A few of the folks we talked to had actually hiked up from Summit Lake, first summing Mount Spalding. 

To get off the summit we had to repeat "The Trudge". The second time was almost as bad.  Not hard at all, just tedious and tiring.  Instead of returning back over the Sawtooth, which would of required a really step climb back up the descent gully, we headed down a gully just to the north of the Sawtooth.  Just as we entered this gully, we spotted a band of 14 Big Horn sheep.  This really surprised me, as I would not have imagined big horns and mountain goats living so close together. 
This descent gully was slow going.  Most of it wad steep, lose scree.  It probably took us an hour plus to work our way down it.  I would be interested in seeing what the next gully to the north is like.  It did not look as steep or as rock strewn, at least from a distance.
This gully lead us into the dreaded willows.  From the trip reports I read the willows were the stuff of legend.  But once again I did not find this to be true.  This late in the season there were clear paths worn through them.  I imagine that early season before the paths are worn down it would be tough, slow going, but today they were not too bad.  We did have to go through a few swampy areas, one of which left me knee deep in a mud hole.
We eventually made our way back to the main trail, and we joined by the masses working their way down off of Bierstadt.  I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that I achieved something today, that many of these folks could not, would not even dreaming of doing.