Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,066 feet
Mt. Evans  -  14,268 feet
Date Posted:  11/11/2019
Date Climbed:   11/10/2019
Author:  cotezi
 Bierstadt/Sawtooth/Evans - 1st Class 3 in Winter Conditions   

My first CO winter summit was Bierstadt back in 2017. Me having only summitted a couple 14ers by then looked down at the Sawtooth ridge and thought "Holy crap, it'd be so cool to do that!". A couple of years and a few 14ers later I was standing on that very summit, heart pumping, getting ready to descend...

MK and I left Boulder at 4:45 AM and got hiking from Guanella Pass Trailhead at 6:50 AM. The hike up to Beirstadt was straight forward and just how I remembered it. Trail was all snow covered but hard-packed with a very clear direction as to which way to go. On the way up we made friends with another hiker and ended up convincing him to do the traverse with us. The three of us were on the summit at 9:25 AM.

Guanella Pass TH at sunrise with our objective in view -- Bierstadt summit on the right, followed by the ridge, and the prominent Sawtooth on the left.

MK leading the way. You can see the snow covered gully we'd descend on our way back up on the far right (with 13er Mt. Spalding to the left of it).

Closer look at the gully from as seen from higher up on the Bierstadt west slopes.

As seen from higher up on the west slopes, Bierstadt summit is the highest hump. Not much snow on here!

On the summit things got windy, luckily it was coming from the west. Things were getting real at this point and I was a bit nervous but also excited. At first we didn't really know where to start! As in we couldn't find any indication of where the exact descent began so we just started going down any which way with the most prominent saddle of the ridge as our target. The climb down Bierstadt was a little spicy with its steepness and the current shoulder-season snow but manageable nonetheless. It's hard to say exactly where we were coming down Bierstadt unless someone took a picture of us from far away but I'd say we were about 50 ft east of the actual ridge, getting closer and closer as we made our way down the whole descent.

On the summit of Bierstadt looking at our next objective. "The pointy saddle in the middle"
A closer look...

MK working his way down to the saddle. Our new friend Olec ahead not pictured.

Once we were at the saddle the remainder of the traverse across the ridge was a bit easier technically just slow going still because of all the snow between the large boulders/rocks. Cairns were pretty prevalent at this point. After a short snack and sun-block break, we started climbing.

Having a snack break at the saddle. Bierstadt summit in the distance.

MK took this pic while he was ahead just past past the saddle and on his way up the gendarme. Picture is Olec and I very tiny on the bottom near the drop off.

MK with his spirits up leading the way up and around the gendarme. Can you find him?
Good thing we're not on the west side of the ridge.

Once we came up on the final notch that leads to the ledge I was scared to see what was on the other side but was relieved to find that it did not look bad at all. In fact I was glad to see there was barely any snow on this ledge and really just a smooth dirt trail -- no more boulders for a second, woo! And as we moved onwards we saw that the ramp up to the Sawtooth was clear too! To avoid the scree on the ramp, however, we decided to take the slightly higher route as described in other reports. There was a gully we traversed right before that with a bunch of snow and exposure on it but it was very short. In hindsight, I don't think we needed to go up this high to get us to the high route ramp option but it led us to our end goal either way. Once across this ramp we got to the final notch you go up and over indicating we made it... (At least past the really scary stuff!)

Olec walking across the ledge. Surprised to see that it was mostly clear and straight forward! Just don't look down!

The scree ramp mostly free of snow too.

MK leading up the ramp - we came from the higher route not up the scree.

MK looking back at me on the higher route - the scree ramp below me not shown in this pic.

The hike from the Sawtooth to Evans took longer than expected. Trail at this point was mostly visible, but with more and more snow nearing Evans. It wasn't bad at all just VERY LONG. Cairns and mountain goats prevalent throughout. We stayed on the right side of the ridge the whole time. When we got to the road just after 2 PM we were exhilarated despite our pains. We took shelter within the empty visitor center brick walls and inhaled a quick lunch. We knew we needed to keep pushing because it was not over yet! We left the summit of Evans at 2:30 pm and began making our way back.

MK looking at Evan's west ridge which we stayed to the right of. (Evan's summit NOT pictured.)

Looking back at Bierstadt and the Sawtooth ridge.

Met a couple of these guys.

Evans Summit! WOOHOO!

Instead of going back up the Sawtooth we headed towards the gully as mentioned in the official route report. We actually didn't see any signs leading to it or any trail but we just kept following the topography until we found ourselves at the beginning of it, marked by cairns, just at 4 PM. It was not hard to find. We were very tired and our legs pretty beat at this point so getting all the way down this gully was rough. It was VERY steep too and never ending. All in all though it was not as steep and terrible as I was excepting it to be. (This is one of the reasons I brought my ice axe actually but it wasn't necessary). Gully is currently a mix of scree and (mostly) hard-packed boot track. Once we got to around 12,400' we decided to stay on the left side of the gully (hiker's right) until it wasn't a gully anymore and just grass/dirt. We could see the boot track continue down below in the gully and then off to the right (hiker's left) and up a hill. We decided we would gradually lose elevation on the left side where we were first and then cross over later. We joined back up with boot tracks but at this point it was pretty dark as the sun had set a bit ago.

Out of the gully, we walked across this slope for a bit. Gully near top left.

Looking down we saw tracks down there. We kept gradually walking while descending to join these tracks.

Looking ahead in the direction of the TH/parking lot. You can see MK and Olec just below me in the middle of pic.

We then battled the willows in the dark for what seemed like hours as well as rescued MK's mud-swallowed shoe at one point! Lots of tracks in this entire snow-covered section of the route (from bottom of gully to where it merges back to normal Bierstadt trail) so it can be a bit confusing. We used GPS, had headlamps, and extra socks so we were fine but still tedious. Made it back to the car at 6:30 PM with my first Class 3 winter 14er/route in the bag!

Bright headlights and bright moon. See you later willows!

NOTES: We used microspikes for most of this hike except at the beginning from TH to Bierstadt summit. I packed my ice axe but never had to use it. Trekking pole was very useful for me descending the gully on the way back to car. Wore my trail runners for this hike as well as snow gaiters. Studying previous route reports (as well as the official one here on this website), downloading route photos to my phone as well as uploading the GPX file for the entire route ahead of time was very crucial to the success of this hike! Also, getting a somewhat early start.

PS: I am still recovering the next day as I type this :P.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
11/12/2019 08:36
Very nice photos! This was a good read, thanks a lot for sharing!


Thank you
11/12/2019 12:28

Nice report!
11/13/2019 15:31
That was a fun day, wasn't it?

11/13/2019 19:37
So much fun!!! Even the willows hehehe.

Nice tr
11/13/2019 21:18
But it ainĂ¢‚¬„¢t winter yet.

Very cool post
11/19/2019 21:59
WiNtEr cOnDiTioNs

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