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Mount Blue Sky (formerly Evans)
Elevation: 14,264 feet
Climbed: Sep 30, 2006; Jul 11, 2009
Mountain Range: Front Range
Colorado Rank: 14th
Class Rating: 2
Latitude: 39.588600
Longitude: -105.643000

Trip Report

Jul 11, 2009
This trip involved climbing Mount Bierstadt from Guanella Pass, traversing The Sawtooth, climbing Mount Evans, and then returning to Guanella Pass by descending a moderately steep gully.

The rating I assigned to this climb reflects that Mount Evans is relatively easy to climb. However, when factoring in the traverse of The Sawtooth, I would bump the effort required to Moderate+ with Exposure.

My partner for this climb was Jeff, my co-worker who climbed Mount Huron with me in October 2008. His toughest climb to this point had been a trip to the summit of Mount Lindsey. Through reading route descriptions and trip reports, Jeff was familiar with the difficulties we would encounter during The Sawtooth traverse. However, it had been several years since either of us had viewed The Sawtooth from the vantage point atop Mount Bierstadt. More on that later.

We met up at the Park-n-Ride in Monument, CO, at just past 3 AM on Saturday morning, July 11, 2009. After taking the I-70 approach through Georgetown, we were hiking from the Guanella Pass trailhead at 5:30 AM.

We signed in to the Mount Evans Wilderness, which includes Mount Bierstadt, and began to descend to the boardwalks which cross the willows leading to Scott Gomer Creek. Before we realized that a light coating of frost covered the boardwalk, Jeff slid on the slippery surface and tweaked his knee. Fortunately, Jeff was able to proceed up the trail toward Bierstadt, though he said he felt the tweaked knee during the descent.

Crossing Scott Gomer Creek was a bit dicey, but we hopped across strategically-placed stones without getting wet. From that point until reaching the summit of Mount Bierstadt, we kept a steady pace, stopping infrequently to adjust layers or perform other housekeeping.

We encountered snow on the ridge leading to the summit, but the snow was easy to walk up or to bypass, depending on your preference. We were standing on the summit of Mount Bierstadt shortly after 8:00 AM.

The Sawtooth looked daunting from our perch on top of Mount Bierstadt. Jeff soon announced that he was having second thoughts about attempting the traverse. After some discussion, Jeff decided to take the keys to the vehicle and return to the trailhead via Mount Bierstadt's standard route. I would tackle The Sawtooth solo. It would be 7 1/2 hours before Jeff and I saw each other again.

The initial descent from the top of Mount Bierstadt into The Sawtooth was somewhat steep and a bit loose, but with care, no rocks were dislodged. I soon needed to cross the top of a long snowfield to stay near the top of The Sawtooth ridge. I had left my ice axe at home, so I carefully stepped across the snowfield using a bare hand for support. This was the last snow field I had to cross on my trip through The Sawtooth.

The downclimbing was pretty straightforward as I stayed near the top of the ridge or just below the ridge on the left side. A couple of times I stood on top of notches in the ridge that let me see through to the west slopes of Mount Bierstadt.

Soon after I reached the lowest notch in The Sawtooth, a gendarme rose up to block the route. Apparently there are a couple of ways to circumvent the gendarme on the right side, one low and one high. I took the low route.

The most serious climbing of the day was trying to drop below the gendarme and then regain elevation on the other side. Several times I encountered areas where I had to backtrack and drop even lower. Eventually I got past the lower parts of the obstruction and needed to find a way to regain my elevation. Testing several options I didn't particularly like, I eventually committed to the option that seemed the most reasonable and started up.

The notch I needed to cross to get from the east side to the west side of The Sawtooth was now visible. This notch is not the lowest notch in The Sawtooth saddle, but one notch north of the lowest.

Climbing into the notch brought the rest of The Sawtooth route into view. A ledge worked its way across the west side of The Sawtooth, soon becoming an ascending ramp that would lead out of The Sawtooth to the gentle terrain beyond.

The tougher climbing was on the east side of The Sawtooth, although the exposure was much higher on the west side. I took my time and kept my attention focused on the trail. Once I had to move away from the cliff wall on my right side to avoid some snow, but I was careful not to wander too close to the left edge, which dropped steeply away.

After I got higher on the ramp, I checked and found I had a cell phone signal. I called my wife to report on the spectacular and wild terrain that surrounded me. I then called my parents to share with them the inspiring position I had reached in The Sawtooth.

I ended the phone calls and started hiking upward. To my surprise, I rounded a corner just ahead of me and I was out of The Sawtooth.

Although I had worked hard crossing much of The Sawtooth, I found I still felt pretty good once I reached easier terrain. Since the weather was cooperating, I decided to climb the west ridge of Mount Evans to the summit of that mountain. The most inspiring part of that climb was the time I spent directly on top of the ridge as I approached the false summit of Mount Evans. I then dropped off the ridge on the right (south) side and followed the cairned route to the summit.

After the relative solitude of The Sawtooth, the crowd on top of Mount Evans was jarring. Most of the people had driven up the Mount Evans Highway, but several had hiked to the top via various routes. At least a few had crossed The Sawtooth, as I had.

After the obligatory summit photo on top of the summit block, I made my way back down the west ridge route. Dark clouds had formed and I could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. I kept moving, keeping one eye on the weather, until I finally reached the gentle slopes that led to the gully I would descend.

The gully was fairly steep and my knees took a beating as I hiked down. The only time I lost my feet all day was during my descent of the gully.

After what seemed like an endless descent of the gully, I reached grassy terraces below. I still wasn't down, but the steepest sections were behind me.

My brief enjoyment of the grassy terraces lasted only until I reached the willows. Suffice it to say that the last mile or so to reach the main trail was not pleasant. The willows grabbed at my arms and pant legs and my boots occasionally were swallowed up by the black, gunky mud that seeped over the tops of my boots.

I was extremely happy to finally intersect the main trail that leads from Mount Bierstadt to the trailhead. I worked my way down the trail to Scott Gomer Creek, which was much easier to cross when I didn't really care if I went in. The water would have washed some of the black mud from my pants and boots.

I did not fall into the creek, so I then hiked the last gently-ascending section of the trail as it rose from the creek to reach the trailhead.

Jeff was sitting in my Nissan Xterra when I arrived at the trailhead about 4:00 PM. He had arrived at the trailhead from his descent of Mount Bierstadt at 10:30 AM. He then spent time eating breakfast and lunch, napping, and reading Gerry Roach's book, "Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs."

Jeff had a satisfying day on Mount Bierstadt, feeling much stronger than he had during our climb of Mount Huron the previous October. His time at the trailhead sounded like a relaxing way to unwind after a good, early-morning climb.

My climb of The Sawtooth fully lived up to my expectations, containing a little of everything: a snow traverse, challenging climbing, obstructions to be solved, rugged views and exciting exposure.

The Sawtooth is a "classic" route I would do again.

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