(This is the first report I wrote up for rec.backcountry.)
These were my first 14ers (actually, my first time above 13,000 as well), so I didn't want to be too ambitious. The plan was to go up Mt. Bierstadt, and then if the weather and myself were OK at that point, I might do the traverse to Evans. I got up at 3:30, left Laramie at 4am, and made it to Guanella Pass at 7:30, on schedule. There are two parking lots about 1/4 mile apart here, and I wasn't sure which one I wanted. The south lot had a marked trailhead but the I didn't recognize the trail name [Rosalie, as it turns out]. There were more cars at the north lot, and there was an unmarked trailhead there, so that's where I started.
By this time it was 7:50. The first part of the trail goes downhill into the Scott Gomer Creek drainage. This area is covered with short willow trees, from a couple feet tall to a little over my head. Roach warns you about having to cross this 'sea of willows', but there were several good trails through them in this area. The two miles past the willows are on a good trail, and this is where you start gaining altitude. The summit pitch is a short stretch of fun bouldering hiking. I summited exactly two hours after I started. When I got there, there was a group that made it just before me; a 30-something couple, their 10 or so year old son, and a 30-something female friend. The man handed me the register and said that he counted 80+ names for Sunday, so I was really glad that I had waited until Monday to do this. (We ended up seeing about 10 more people summit Bierstadt from our various viewpoints.) They had come up Bierstadt (which they had done before) to do the 'Sawtooth' (which they hadn't). This is the traverse between Bierstadt and Evans. They offered to let me join their group, so I decided to go for it.
As we were making our way down to the saddle between Bierstadt and the Sawtooth, I found out that this family had bagged over 30 of the 14ers, so I felt like I was in good company. The descent to the saddle between Bierstadt and the Sawtooth was partly on good rock and partly on scree and took us down to 13,150ft. The climb up through the Sawtooth (the Class 3 part) was a lot of fun. I didn't feel that it was very exposed, although you could walk over and look down 500-foot cliffs in places if you wanted. Roach was certainly correct in saying that it's easier than it looks, as I never would have guessed it could be done as a scramble.
After making it up the Sawtooth, we were on the grassy west slopes of Evans at about 13,700. After a little hiking, we reached the rocky Evans ridge. Although I think Roach's route is across the summit ridge over the 14,200+ false summit, we stayed on the south side of the ridge and boulder-hiked our way to the real summit. At about 14,000ft we encountered two mountain goats, an adult and a baby. I summited my second 14er at about 1:20pm, 5 1/2 hours after leaving my car. Of course there were plenty of people around who had driven up "the highest paved road in the world".
Shortly after 2pm, we headed down. This required retracing our path back to the grassy slopes near the Sawtooth, but then continuing down this slope (West Slopes Route) to hike back to the trailhead. The weather had been good in the morning, and the wind was remarkably light, but ascending Evans, storms were starting to move in and we could hear occasional faint thunder. On top of Evans, these storms had fizzled out quite a bit. However, heading down Evans at about 13,800ft we ran into some snow flurries/snow pellets. These abated, but by that time more weak storms were moving into the area and we could see some of the precipitation in the Scott Gomer Valley reaching the ground and heading our way. There were a few lightning strikes about 5 miles south of us, but nothing very close and most of the lightning was in-cloud. However, around 13,400ft we ran into a pretty good shower of snow pellets and some gusty winds. We had occasional flurries and possibly some sprinkles until about 13,000ft when the weather cleared somewhat.
By this time I was getting really tired, but we still had several miles to go. We crossed Scott Gomer Creek near a nice little waterfall and had great views looking back at the imposing Sawtooth. Once we were down below 12,000ft, we started running into the willows again. Near the bottom of the valley they got their revenge for the morning's easy hike through them. We were east of the parking lot instead of southeast and the trails weren't very good. Thus we had to plow through willows for about 15-20 minutes, and the snow we got at high altitude was rain in the valley and heavier than we got, so the trees were wet and we got soaked in front from the waist down . But this was at the very end of the hike and it was in the 50s at the bottom so it wasn't too bad. We reached the parking lot shortly after 5pm, 3 hours after leaving Evans (which we had expected), and over 9 hours after I started.
I was exhausted and I still had 3 1/2 hours of driving ahead of me (my companions were just from Denver), and I wasn't sure I could handle the drive or not. I left the parking lot around 5:20, turned on the heater to dry out my clothes and halfway down the Guanella Pass Road I started to feel better. I stopped and got gas in Georgetown. By that time I was feeling OK, and the drive home was uneventful. Although it had been a long day, I was feeling a lot better and was really stoked about the climb, so I listened to music and reflected on the day until about midnight. It was really a great day and I can't believe how lucky I was to run into people with a lot of mountain hiking experience; I'm not sure if I would have had the guts to do the Sawtooth alone.
To the chronological trip index
To the Mount Bierstadt page
To the Mount Evans page
File last modified: 11 May 2005