Peak(s):  Mt. Evans  -  14,268 feet
Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,066 feet
Date Posted:  09/14/2010
Modified:  08/24/2011
Date Climbed:   09/05/2010
Author:  KeithK
Additional Members:   edlins, covfrrider, KirkT, Greenhouseguy
 Life's Great Metaphor   

Mt. Bierstadt (14,060') and Mt. Evans (14,264')
September 05, 2010
East Ridge to Mt. Bierstadt
Sawtooth traverse to the West Ridge of Mt. Evans
Distance: Unimportant
Elevation Gain: Enough
Valued Partners: Brian K. (covfrrider), Brian C. (Greenhouseguy), Scott (edlins), KirkT, Leo, Pavel, Matthew

"You can do anything you wish to do, have anything you wish to have, be anything you wish to be." - Robert Collier

It was beginning to sink in. As I confidently marched along the gentle trail the familiar whoosh of the creek nearby and the aroma of summer's peak in the Colorado Mountains washed the air with a cleansing vigor, providing a soothing backdrop for my reverie. Seven Fourteeners in seven days, including some of the most difficult and dangerous, had left me in an interesting paradox, with the weariness of the effort combating the strength of the accomplishment. With only six more unique mountains to climb, I was close, so close, and yet I could not get my mind around a plan that would take me to the finality of it all. Mt. Evans still felt so far away, with huge Elk Range peaks standing firmly in the path. A clap of thunder introduced steady rainfall, making for a soggy conclusion to the Chicago Basin experience, diverting my thoughts to the present. The future would have to wait.

KirkT was the first character I met on I was merely a fly on the wall at the time, fascinated by the idea of climbing one of the tallest mountains in Colorado, lurking amongst the forums for the most part, but enamored by the route descriptions and trip reports more so. When the Winter Elbert Extravaganza was arranged, I decided to see for myself what the Fourteeners were all about, and Kirk offered me a ride. We became instant friends, and even though we've only managed to climb together sparingly, I still consider him to be one of the most influential of my climbing friends. As my brother and I met him in the early morning hours to begin one last big mission, I couldn't help but think about how much I appreciate his support and encouragement.

Kirk and I on the summit of Pyramid Peak, July 19, 2009...

Kirk's friends from work, Leo, Pavel and Matthew met us in Idaho Springs to follow us up the winding road to Mt. Evans. My first time up this mountain, it was a bit eerie, as I could sense large drop offs to the side of the road at any given time, the darkness providing mystery and intrigue to the experience. Fully an hour behind my intended schedule, we finally passed Summit Lake, where Scott was to be waiting. After a stealth bivy along the west end of the lake, he determined that it was too cold to be standing around, and chose to hike the road to the sharp switchback which provides parking for the Epaulet Mtn. routes, including the route to Mt. Bierstadt's east ridge. As we arrived, we were also joined by Brian C., and our group was complete and ready to begin.

Greenhouseguy was the second person I really connected with that March day on Mt. Elbert. Having returned from the mountain with cold toes, he was stranded in the lot waiting for the guys he had ridden with, so we sat in Kirk's truck and talked the time away. Brian was critically responsible for my flourishing hiking addiction, and we made several forays into the Lost Creek Wilderness that spring, often turning ordinary days into epic death marches involving three foot deep postholes wearing snowshoes. I can vividly remember each and every one of those hikes. Along with the seven Fourteeners that we climbed later that year, including what is still, to this day, the single most epic of them all, Longs Peak. Though circumstances and logistics prevented us from hiking over the next couple of years, I was elated to have him along on this cool September morning. It felt like old times as we talked and hiked, descending the steep, sloppy gully from the low point of the Epaulet saddle, leading down to the basin below Abyss Lake.

Brian C. on the summit of Longs Peak, September 03, 2007...

As the group assembled for a rest at the base of the East Ridge, there was much discussion of skipping the route and heading straight into the basin to Abyss Lake, with the intention of joining the Sawtooth Route in midstream. We were running later than I wanted to, and weren't at all confident that we could make the best time to the summit of Bierstadt. Kirk wasn't really having it, though, and began the march up the surprisingly steep, grassy slope. This was some of my favorite type of hiking, stepping from rock to tundra to rock, piecing together a class two route in its purest form. For around forty-five minutes, we wandered upwards, finally funneling into an obvious notch on the ridge, where the interesting scramble could begin.

The East Ridge begins to light up... (image by Brian C.)

Brian K. and I prepare for the scramble... (image by Kirk)

The scrambling along the East Ridge was fun and exciting, solid and challenging, with surprisingly tangible exposure as we crossed the first two obstacles before confronting the crux pitch of Point 13,641, the most obvious of the difficulties along the entire ridge line. Everyone was having fun as we explored the route, piecing together cairns, aiming for the obvious ledge systems depicted in the route description. A few airy moves were required as we systematically found our way, doubling back to the ridge crest and confronting the most difficult climbing at the top of the point. The rock was delightfully solid, grippy and convenient, and I was definitely having fun for the most part, in between very brief "ooo" moments when an unexpected cliff would fall away to one side or the other. I could see how this route could be a bit dangerous when wet or if one was not paying attention. This was NOT the Mt. Bierstadt that the majority of us have experienced!

The first point is a good warmup...

Looking ahead to the crux... (image by Kirk)

Working our way up Pt. 13,641'... (image by Kirk)

Fun scrambling at the top... (image by Brian C.)

The route unfolds before us...

For some reason Scott was not having the best day, moving slower than normal and seemingly out of sorts. I remember wandering around my office one day three years ago, and noticing a cube covered in blown up pictures of mountains, mostly Longs Peak and Crestone Needle. For the longest time I wondered who sat there, as it seemed empty more often than not, until one day I caught the occupant and finally struck up a conversation. Scott has truly become a close friend, joining me for some of my most memorable days in the mountains, including failed attempts of Mt. Shavano and Mt. Columbia, and true epics on Maroon Peak, Crestone Peak and Snowmass Mtn. And his antics at the 2008 Fall Gathering cannot be forgotten by those in attendance that evening. We've really had some fun times.

Scott bivies on the summit of Crestone Peak, August 30, 2009...

The ridge mellowed out, and progress was steady as we worked our way onto the steepening summit block. Rugged talus made up the face but did not present nearly the challenge we had already overcome. Just after 9:00 a.m., my fourth summit of Mt. Bierstadt was windy and on the cold side, and we hunkered down for a well deserved snack break. Some entertaining characters arrived on the summit from the standard route, and at first I thought we had somehow time warped into the wrong weekend, expecting Sean of "doggler" fame to arrive at any moment. It turned out to just be some other silly souls, and Brian C. was less than impressed, expressing his disdain for their behavior and appearance. I thought we might have to throw down, but fortunately the guy wearing nothing but white briefs below his jacket took it all in stride. Phew, didn't want to have to pummel him, or his friend wearing the half-shirt and "daisy dukes".

Looking back along the East Ridge...

Next stop, Mt. Bierstadt...

The descent down Mt. Bierstadt's north face was less than exciting, involving the loose, dirty scree trail segments that are so common on the Fourteeners. The view of the Sawtooth Ridge as we began our trek was more intimidating than I had expected, and in reality, longer and more rugged. Dropping low enough from the summit, the "trail" began to follow closer to the ridge, with plentiful cairns to guide the way. The unrelenting wind from earlier in the day was less noticeable as the ridge shielded us, the hot sun actually starting to make things unpleasantly warm for me. Just as I began to remove my jacket, we arrived at the prominent notch that marks the beginning of the crux of the route, and the wind returned with a vengeance. So much for de-layering, I thought, as my brother, Scott and Brian C. forged ahead, anxious to see what kind of traps lay ahead. Looking back, I could see that Kirk and his friends had slowed considerably, and sadly, I would not see them again for several hours, after the summit celebration.

The Sawtooth Ridge, as seen from the summit of Mt. Bierstadt... (image by Scott)

The tedious descent...

It suddenly occurred to me that we are trying to get all the way over THERE...

The crux of the Sawtooth traverse proved to be more difficult, exposed and challenging than I had ever expected. Though fairly short, we still found several hundred feet of class three and difficult class two terrain to negotiate, including a class four down climb that had me completely out of my comfort zone. Later, Scott would suggest that climbing up and over the crux section would offer a bit easier passage, but we had chosen the lower route, veering to the right along the ridge at a slightly descending angle. Not only was the climbing pushing me, but I was tiring as well, really beginning to feel the day. This is definitely a big route, even though it's low in statistical stature. More importantly, it was one of the most fun routes I've ever done. Approaching the last class three slab section of the day, we could see the exit gully that would lead us onto the famous Sawtooth, and its daunting west face.

Aiming for the crux, just to the right of the imposing gendarme... (image by Brian C.)

Scott looks back as I hang from my fingertips on the impromptu class four downclimb...

Up there we'll be able to see what's on the other side...

My brother Brian has seen and done it all, at least most of it. As children, we built a BMX race track in our back yard, and for as long as I can remember he's been riding a motorcycle of some flavor at any given time. During my teen years I would watch him literally run off the side of the Bookcliff with a hang-glider attached to him, floating away into the sky and over the Grand Valley; I would drive down to the river bed below to retrieve him at whichever landing point he might find. From kayaking to street luge racing, there are few adrenaline charged activities he has not tried; today you might find him mountain biking, road biking or scuba diving. He proudly served in the military, and has forged through hard times and good times, always finding a way to improve. I remember foraging through REI for rain gear when he decided to climb Longs Peak as his first Fourteener. At the time, I really had no concept of what he was going to do. On this day, about to cross onto the dark side of the Sawtooth, I found myself profoundly appreciative of the fact that I was looking forward to this mystery, while he voiced an apprehension. I was no longer worried about exposure, heights or one thousand feet of empty air to my side, I felt that I had truly surpassed any expectations I had of myself only three years earlier, almost to the day, on what was at the time the scariest Fourteener I thought I would ever attempt, Longs. I was more than happy to be there, on that narrow ledge with three people that have all been important in this journey, but I was also anxious to climb onto the flanks of my final Fourteener, only minutes away.

Brian K. and I on the summit of San Luis Peak, August 23, 2009...

The notorious Sawtooth!

Scott looks back as Brian and I traverse the ledge...

Kirk captures the west face...

Making our way to the exit ramp... (image by Scott)

The abrupt exit of the Sawtooth spat us onto the broad, nearly level plain between Mt. Evans and Mt. Spalding, where we knew the most difficult times were behind us. Still with no signs of Kirk and his friends, which we affectionately referred to as the "KGB", we strolled across the tundra, climbing gently to the trail for the West Ridge route, where only a mile of easy hiking remained. With weary legs, Scott and I fell a bit behind, stopping frequently for brief rests. The trail had an annoying habit of dropping a few feet, then re-climbing a few feet, then dropping a few feet, and we both decided that we did not approve of that behavior. I could hear my brother on the radio, finally able to contact his girlfriend, who was waiting on the summit with our parents and my girlfriend, and it started to really hit me that I was about to achieve this goal, and more importantly, share the moment with the people that I most wanted to have with me for the occasion. It was difficult to contain the emotion.

Number 58, dead ahead! (image by Brian C.)

The KGB emerges from the Sawtooth! Did I mention it was only their 2nd and 3rd 14ers? (image by Kirk)

The guys catch a breather as we reach the trail...

As we turned the corner of the ridge and saw the summit for the first time, I realized the spectacle of Mt. Evans. With cars glimmering along the road for as far as I could see, and hundreds of people roaming the summit block, it was a far cry from most Fourteener summits. I was thinking about this incredible journey, and those that have been so important along the way. Otina and Darrin, Caroline and Lance, Steph and Kiefer, Vicki, Derek, Chad and Mark... and of course, Bill Middlebrook, undoubtedly the single most important person to this endeavor. Without and its incredible community, I would never have reached this point. Thank you all for your support, encouragement, companionship, and most of all, friendship. It means the world to me.

A perfect pano of our route... (image by Brian K.)

Seeing the man-made structures on Mt. Evans for the first time...

Sensing the end... (image by Scott)

Scott and I waded along the crowded trail, eventually finding the welcoming party, who made their way ahead and allowed me my moment of pride as I stepped onto the last of the 14,000' peaks in Colorado, with a meaningful introduction by my brother as the casual onlookers clapped and cheered. I knew what I wanted to do first, and only after some very meaningful embraces did I accept the bottle of champagne my brother was carrying and showed everyone in attendance how completely inept I am at New Year's Eve celebration. Still, the feeling of spraying the bubbly all over the summit was fantastic, as was the feeling of completion. After a few more pictures, I wanted nothing more than to get down to the parking lot, where the most important celebration could take place. Neither of my parents could make it up the summit pitch; I doubt either has ever been much higher than Loveland Pass, and I'm not so sure that's even the case. Sharing this moment with them was the absolute culmination of the journey, and ultimately why I allowed Mt. Evans to be the fifty-eighth peak on my list. The day was as near to perfect as it could be.

Entertaining the onlookers...

The climbers...

The most important thing in life...

The most important person in my life...

Hiking became mountain climbing, and mountain climbing became an obsession. The Fourteeners of Colorado became symbolic of a greater need within me, a need to succeed, to accomplish, to fulfill. Each climb made every day life just a little more bearable, and the difficulties of the world just a little less difficult. I've learned compassion, humility and appreciation, and hopefully become a better person. For some this may be a hobby, and for others it's a passion. For me, it's been the answer.

Comments or Questions
Your best trip report....
09/15/2010 03:58 saved for your finisher ! Awesome, Keith. I really enjoyed reading this. Congrats, and may you continue to enjoy the mountains for many, many years to come. This is only the beginning for you !

is it normal...
09/15/2010 04:17 tear up at TRs?! Keith, you're an amazing man and I've been blessed to have you in my life (even in a sadly diminished capacity). This truly is only the beginning for you. Congrats, buddy!

Sometimes, the answer is in your backyard...
09/15/2010 04:35
Having known you longer than anyone here, watching you grow from single digits, into adolescence and finally adulthood, there was never a prouder moment for me than introducing you to the strangers on the summit of Evans, as a man who has climbed all 58 of Colorado's highest. You have conquered so many demons on this journey, too many to list here... but putting each of them behind you has made you a better man.

I witnessed over the last three years, an unbelievable transformation, a new found confidence in yourself and the world, that I knew was always there... it just needed a quest to unleash it. I'm grateful for all those who helped you along the way.

Congrats brother!

Definitely your best report!
09/15/2010 04:37
As I already said, it was indeed a great day of hiking. I'm honored to be included in your company. Only regret was not sumitting at the same time with you, but I was there in spirit! It truly was an amazing day. Thanks for the kind words. Definitely your best report! Congrats again!!


Nothing But the Best
09/15/2010 05:11
It was great to hike with you again, and I'm glad that I could be there for your finisher. The symmetry was awesome - including some of your oldest hiking partners, and passing over your first fourteener (Bierstadt) on the way to your last (Evans). You get style points for that!

emcee smith
Thanks Keith
09/15/2010 12:37
Way to wrap up on a very solid route to a very easy mountain. Nice duality for a finisher.

Your TRs are an encouragement to us all; it is great to read about a mountain from a ”normal” guys perspective, with all of the hopes, fears, and accomplishments. I'm sorry I never ran into you up here, but appreciated getting to know you through your reports.

I still cannot read your San Luis report all the way through.

Congrats KeithK!
09/15/2010 13:31
You are truly a member of the Trip Report Writer Hall of Fame! I've really enjoyed your trip reports over the years. You do such an amazing job of capturing all of the elements of the experience. Way to finish strong this year! You are an inspiration to many on this site.

another good one!
09/15/2010 14:30
Congratulations Keith, and great job on writing this trip report! look nothing like your brother. Are you sure you're related? ;)

The 13ers are waiting...

Five Big Stars!
09/15/2010 14:49
Excellent! I bet that first photo with you and Kirk is one of your faves Keith!
Wow- such a fantastic way to finish! Sweet idea and such a great tribute to end in a place family and friends and non-climbers alike can join- perfect. It was easy to tell you have a talent for writing when you first came around, and was esp touched by your report with Arlo. They are all so well done. You're right the mountains are humbling, and such a great place to learn and grow.
Sorry plans didn't work the last couple of years... I still hope to meet up and do a peak with you some day. I'm sure you've made others' 14er adventures much more enjoyable and rewarding.

You can now begin your new career as a 14er guide!

Doctor No
09/15/2010 17:25
Great work on the finish, Keith!

Well Done
09/15/2010 17:31
, friend, well done.

Mel McKinney
09/15/2010 18:13
Please keep on writing your great trip reports! I teared up reading this. Glad you could have such VIPs in your midst on the last 14er.

Nice Job!
09/15/2010 18:40
Hey - way to go!!! Excellent job... I'm sure there have been a million milestones along the way but as a casual observer it seemed like the Pyramid outing last summer really marked a tunring point. Again, awesome job!

So... are you thinking about what next? Not that you haven't earned a rest.

By the way - you and your brother look nothing alike - ha, ha...

09/16/2010 04:33
...I don't even know what to say. I think the most selfish thought is I'm bummed you've wrapped the taller ones up cuz there may be fewer trip reports from you. I'd miss that.

I fall a lot
09/16/2010 13:11
Amazing dedication and hard work, congratulations! I've always enjoyed your TR's...

09/16/2010 14:12
I remember when I firsted started lurking around here you had 11 or 15 peaks and now you've completed them all. Good work Keith. I've enjoyed the stories that accompanied your adventures, this being no exception. Looking forward to what comes next!

Great Job!
09/16/2010 18:20
The whole thing makes a great story and your TR brings your personal evolution, planning for the end, and the whole accomplishment, to life.

I loved this route when I did it earlier this year; it really is a fun day.

Thank you!
09/17/2010 13:14
Not much more I can offer, but a sincere thank you to anyone and everyone that helped me along the way, whether it was on the trail or through their support on this site. You all make it fun for me to write these reports.
Joey, keep me posted on your plans, I'm sure I can tag along next year as you try to get them done! I know of a couple of people that will be climbing Capitol next summer, so maybe we can coordinate.

Thanks for sharing your journey
09/19/2010 18:53
and for the motivation you provide to attempt the more challenging peaks! Congrats on your accomplishments!

Beautifully written!
09/21/2010 11:00
Wish I could have been there to celebrate! Again, a huge congrats to you and I am glad I could be a (small) part of your journey! Well done.

On top of the World!!! At least Colorado!!!!
09/24/2010 20:30
Keith, congratulations!!!!!! I wish I could have joined you but had work. This is the accomplishment of a lifetime and you should be proud. I can not thank you enough for your mental encouragement when I was struggling with the mountains. The force is strong with you, thats why you made it. Time to Celebrate and keep reaching for the sky!!!!!!

Ridge runner
02/01/2011 00:24
Another great report, Keith! From the route you chose to the summit celebration, looked like a wonderful and memorable day. I'm so happy for you! Ever think about putting all your trips reports together for a book?

Who knew that rocks piled into random assortments could teach us so much about life and ourselves. Here's to many more adventures in your future!

09/26/2012 02:50
Amazing pictures and awesome report!!
Thank you for your encouragement this year to me as well!
It has been fun hiking with you....hope to have more!

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