Sun, Jul 18, 2021
JD had competed in the Sierra Challenge at least a few days each year over the past decade, becoming a regular fixture at the event. He had recently moved to Colorado and had not yet climbed any peaks there, but had heard that I was on my way to his new state. Was it possible for us to get together for a day or two? It was, and we settled on a climb of Bierstadt and Evans, a pair of 14ers I had yet to climb, not far from his home in Evergreen. After a long drive across two states, I'd arrived in the Guanella Pass area late the previous evening. I found a quiet spot to spend the night off a dirt road going to nearby Naylor Lake. In the morning I was up early to drive to pass and meet up with JD by 5a.
Guanella Pass is not the easiest way to do Bierstadt/Evans. Evans has a paved road going nearly to the summit, but due to coronavirus, it has limited access now and a permit is required. But there are advantages to the Guanella Pass route - it has a trail going all the way to Bierstadt's summit, allows a large loop that takes in a number of other summits in the area, and falls almost entirely within the Mt. Evans Wilderness. We had plans to do the Sawtooth Traverse between them, followed by an alternate descent route on the way down. I had downloaded a Patrick O'Neill GPX track of one such option, though we didn't really need it - the terrain is pretty open and route-finding is mostly a non-issue.
It was dark when we started out, headlamps needed for the first 20min or so. We could see a line of other headlamps leading high up Bierstadt's West Slopes - clearly this was a popular 14er route. This was reinforced when we reached the Scott Gomer Creek crossing after the first half mile - there was actually a line to hop the rocks across it. It wasn't difficult, but perhaps a little intimidating for the uninitiated. It began to get light out soon after as we put away our headlamps, passing a few other parties enroute along with a couple of mountain goats that looked completely at home with humans, perhaps hoping for a handout or two from those of us passing by. Sunrise came upon the peaks to the west that included Grays and Torreys, though neither of us were quite sure where exactly they lay. I would be more familiar after climbing them the following day. We spent a bit under two hours covering the 3.5mi of trail to reach Bierstadt's summit before 7a. There were more than a dozen folks milling about the summit, some huddled with jackets on, eating and drinking, others taking in the views. We hung about only a few minutes before turning our attention to The Sawtooth and the next leg of our morning.
The Sawtooth is the serrated ridgeline extending northeast from Bierstadt, connecting to Mt. Evan's West Ridge. Rated class 3, there are ducks leading lower on the east side of the ridge that makes this a mostly class 2 affair. The more difficult sections are at the north end where a convenient ramp of sorts on the west side leads more easily to the plateau, bypassing the difficulties. We enjoyed some decent class 3 as we transitioned from the east to the west side of the ridge, going over the point LoJ identifies as The Sawtooth's summit, though it's really just a lower point on the ridge as it rises to the plateau. Ducks made it easy to find the use trail leading to the exit ramp, and in an hour's time we were through this section.
The going turns to easy class 2 when the plateau is reached, though the scrambling along the West Ridge has yet to begin. We noted several parties to the northeast, wondering which way they'd come up from, as we were one of only a few parties that had traversed The Sawtooth. It turns out they were coming up from the Summit Lake TH, which we learned later was the popular Summit Ridge route. After heading east across the plateau (really just a wide, easy-walking section of the continuing ridgeline), our route joined the Summit Ridge route along Mt. Evan's West Ridge. Here, the alpine grasses disappear as the ridge becomes blockier and class 2-3. Easier going can be found on the south side of the ridge where ducks follow a class 2 path. We were interested in West Evans as a bonus, so stuck to the ridge more directly where the going has more class 3. This, too, was pleasant enough, and we went over the western false summit before landing on West Evans proper, less than 10ft lower than Mt. Evans itself. From West Evans, it's only another 15min to get to Mt. Evans as the ridgeline becomes easier. There were several dozen folks about the Evans summit when arrived around 8:45a, chilly temps but quite sunny.
As we sat about the summit, no clouds threatening anywhere yet, we discussed options for the rest of the day. We would have to return back across the West Ridge, after which nearby Mt. Spaulding seemed like the obvious bonus. It was early enough that I could entertain additional bonus peaks further to the north. Gray Wolf Mtn was one of these, and seemed to capture JD's interest. After a sufficient time for us to take in the fine views and for JD to eat his lunch, we headed back across the West Ridge, this time taking the lower, easier cairned route. At the end of the ridge, we turned north, following the Summit Ridge Trail as it descends to a saddle and then up to Mt. Spaulding. There were another couple dozen folks atop Mt. Spaulding - it seems many folks stop there rather than continuing on to Mt. Evans. Where the trail turns east to descend to Summit Lake, we turned north for the extended cross-country portion of our adventure. We descended easy terrain to a saddle with Gray Wolf Mtn, finding some soggy ground at the bottom that we had to work our way through more carefully to keep from soaking our boots. On the uphill side of the saddle, JD was beginning to show signs of fatigue, slowing to a more sustainable pace while I blithely continued on, not realizing he was flagging. I reached the summit of Gray Wolf shortly before 11a, JD catching up about five minutes later. We found a summit cairn, but no register. Compared to the early morning circus, we had the Wilderness to ourselves without another soul in sight. Not surprisingly, this was the part of the day that I enjoyed the most.
We stuck together for the rest of the outing as we turned southwest and west to make our way to the last summit, unnamed Peak 12,959ft, about two miles to the west. The traverse along the connecting ridge is pretty easy, with the same alpine turf that we'd traveled between the previous two summits. It took us about an hour to get between the two, arriving around noon at Peak 12,959ft's rounded summit. The ridgeline heading north has yet more summits, but they were far enough away (more than two miles) that we gave them little thought - it was probably a good time to start back. At this point we were only two miles from the TH which lay to the southwest, but the terrain to get there was a bit uncertain. We knew from the topo map that there might be cliffs in our way, and there was the pesky business of dropping to a low drainage and climbing our way back out of it, but I remained optimistic. I kept assuring JD that it was going to be a really great route and probably become the defacto standard way of finishing off Bierstadt and Evans, but he remained skeptical. The 1,700-foot drop went pretty well, about as well as we could have hoped, as we deftly avoided the cliff areas and made our way down the slopes, all class 2. We made our way through forest on the lower slopes and approached the creek, finding what would keep this from becoming the awesome route I'd promoted - the drop was not only further down than expected (hoped), but we could find no easy way through the heavy brush that lined both sides of the creek. It was made somewhat easier by following what were probably bear paths through the willows, but it was no walk in the park. Once on the other side, we then had a steep 500ft or so to climb up through forested slopes (thankfully not brushy) to reach Guanella Pass Rd which would lead back to the pass and the TH. The last half mile had us walking on the roadway to get us back to the pass by 1:20p. Our day came in at 12.5mi and about 5,500ft of gain, a pretty full one by usual 14er standards. JD had brought some beers in his cooler that we got out to finish off our day as we relaxed in the parking lot there. We hung around for about an hour before calling it a day and parting ways. JD returned home to Evergreen while I eventually found my way to Stevens Gulch in the late afternoon, the TH for Grays/Torreys the next day...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Bierstadt - Mt. Evans - Mt. Spalding - Gray Wolf Mountain
This page last updated: Sun Aug 22 11:29:34 2021
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