Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,066 feet
Mt. Evans  -  14,268 feet
Date Posted:  06/27/2020
Modified:  07/02/2020
Date Climbed:   06/27/2020
Author:  harryschmach
 Bierstadt-Evans via Sawtooth Traverse June2020   

The plan was to go up Bierstadt and complete the Sawtooth Ridge Traverse to Mt. Evans and then descend back to the Guanella Pass lot. I did a sunrise Bierstadt hike in 2019 (QUICK TIP - you can't see the sunrise from Bierstadt since Evans is in the way!). I saw people attempting the traverse that day and thought it'd be fun.

The execution went well! We parked a bit down the road from the Trailhead lot since it had already filled up at 5:45 am. The dawn light was beautiful and let us start the hike without headlamps. It was a pleasant temperature in late June and we didn't need jackets or gloves until clearing the treeline.

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View from the trailhead. Lines not 100% accurate. Do not use as a map or guide.

The Bierstadt trail was packed with hikers. With everyone quarantined for months and months, it makes sense that the early 14er hiking season would attract many people to Bierstadt. Heads-Up the switchbacks on the lower slopes of Bierstadt were remarkably slick with the snowmelt refreezing each night and many hikers breaking up the ice into little streams that run down the trail. Would definitely recommend heavier shoes early in the season even if this is considered a relatively straightforward 14er - keep the ankles alive.

The skree field to summit was less slick than the beaten trail below and we were greeted by many others who had earlier starts than we did. We even took a photo for one guy who hiked up with a Coors Banquet to crack on the peak. We forgot our carboard sign so I had to edit it in post production from the comfortable air-saturated elevation of 5280 ft.20279_0320279_12

The view was great and we scoped out the Sawtooth Traverse. Some others we talked to who originally planned to do the traverse opted out due to the icy Bierstadt trail. We figured that with the Crux of the Traverse on the west face and well-shaded, the snow would be less disturbed and prone to freezing overnight. The high alpine lake was a beautiful greenish blue between Evans and Bierstadt.

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We descended to the ridgeline with some mild 2nd class moves. Our intention was to avoid the snow at all costs since we figured this area would be sun-exposed, melted, and frozen constantly which could create some less ideal conditions. On our slow descent, we encountered a guy returning to Bierstadt. He was solo hiking and told us that he attempted one of the snow gullies to the right of the actual traverse to the saddle.

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The pink line is a general path we took. Good trail judgement and the photos on the website are a much better way to navigate this trek, not my Microsoft Paint + Touchpad trail marker.

There were two cairns that marked the traverse line at a fairly clear junction where the snowed-in gullies lie to the right. We started the traverse. The exposure was high, and there was a bit of snow on the path. With careful footing, we were able to successfully complete the traverse with another group of 3 following our tracks.

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Looking back toward the Bierstadt trail with a glimpse of the snow pack on the traverse.


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The end of the traverse looking back

We didn't use microspikes, poles, picks, or crampons on the traverse as we felt comfortable in our boots.

Onward over the windy saddle to the Evans ridgeline! We stopped a few times to appreciate the view of the south from the ridgeline. We certainly were hoping for goats but instead saw many a marmot along the way. We powered through a bit of under-hydration through the Evans west ridgeline until we saw the parking lot and eventually summitted with a great view of Colorado.

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I think this is a totally acceptable cardboard articulation of the peaks. Change my mind.

There was a forecast of late-afternoon storms rolling over the front-range so we stomached as much as we could and took some water. We began to backtrack and had a much easier time sticking to the Evans ridgeline trail until we reemerged on the saddle. Fortunately I was using a Garmin watch to have a GPX course to follow which lead us to the lovely (/s) gully descent into the marshy willows. Experience report - the gully descent from the saddle to the Willows is not to be taken lightly!20279_14

The descent to the grassy willows was slow. The loose dirt and occasional medium sized rock presents a risk of rock slide especially after fighting the fatigue of traversing 3 miles at above 13000'. We cautiously made our way down the dirt trail and found ourselves among the marmots of the marsh. I call it a marsh since we very often found ourselves in ankle-deep mud.

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View from the lower grasses leading to the swamp.

We trekked through the mud keeping our eyes south as there would occasionally be a small footpath to avoid the muck. We powered through with the images of water in the car waiting for us.

We made it back onto the Bierstadt trail! It was quite a shock to see people in sandals strolling around the lower trail after the taxing traverse and descent we had just experienced.

Overall, a great start to the season and a very rewarding experience!




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