Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt proximity to Denver, makes them exceedingly popular. To simply get away from the crowds, I opted for the seldom climbed east ridge of Mt. Bierstadt, followed by the famous (and more crowded) Sawtooth-traverse to Mt. Evans.
I woke up to a sunny day at Echo Lake Campground, but the wind was icy cold. I had arrived this campground the evening before by taking exit 240 on Interstate 70 in Idaho Springs west of Denver city and then continued for approx 20 kilometres (13,4 miles) on Colorado 103.
After breakfast I left the campground and drove up the Mt. Evans road, where I had to pay 10 dollar at the entrance. The road is paved and really scenic, so the fee can be justified. I parked near a switchback at an elevation of 4048 metres. The road continues all the way to the summit of Mount Evans, but I had already cheated enough as it was…..
My first target for the day was Mount Bierstadt, which I could see across the Abyss Lake basin. I started to walk 08:45 and headed down to the Evans-Epaulet saddle. Unfortunately I misjudged the guidebook and went down the wrong scree gully, which is a little bit north of the correct gully. As I continued down the gully I started to get alarmed by the increasing steepness and the fact that I could not see the lower part of the gully. I anticipated a huge drop, thus I was relieved to find out that the terrain was rather manageable. Still I had to be very careful the last few metres on the steep and slippery slabs.
I had safely reached the basin, and then I continued across the basin to a little unnamed lake. By this time I had almost lost 300 metres of elevation since I started from the car, and my Suunto altimeter showed 3770 metres.
From the lake I started to hike up the steep grassy slopes that leads to the east ridge of Mount Bierstadt. Then it was easy scrambling on the ridge to reach Point 13.420. From there I could see the rest of the challenge, which is an improbable ridge rising up to Point 13.641. To begin with I tried to climb the ridge directly via a steep slab, but it became too exposed and I abandoned that. Then I tried a route slightly to the right of the slab, but once more I figured out that it was too risky to continue without belays.
There has to be a class 3 route around this obstacle, I thought. But I did not bather to pick up my guidebook from the backpack, so I started in the most obvious direction and traversed on a ledge on the right side of the ridge. After 50-100 metres I could see that the difficulties above me started to relent, and I climbed back to the ridge crest and a few steps later I reached Point 13.641. This route was class 3 and not too exposed.
There was some class 3 scrambling behind Point 13.641 as well, but it soon became easier and the last kilometre on the broad ridge was easy hiking to the summit of Mount Bierstadt, which I reached at 11:00, more than 2 hours after I started from the car.
After having talked with some people at the summit, I continued on the Sawtooth-traverse, which is a famous part of the ridge between Bierstadt and Evans. There was a climber’s trail down to the saddle where the challenge begins. This trail bypassed also some initial gendarmes on the left side. But the next gendarme had to be climbed more directly, and there was a rather easy class 3 route up on the right part of the gendarme, avoiding the steeper and more exposed parts on the left side. I did not continue to the very top of the gendarme, instead I did a rolling traverse on the right side, to regain the ridge behind the gendarme. In this notch I went to the left side and traversed on a ledge well below the ridge crest. This ledge ended in a wide scree-gully, and I ascended the loose scree and then started to climb the diagonal ledge to get on a big shoulder that leads to Mount Evans west ridge. It took me 55 minutes to do this traverse. The ledge route is well cairned and does not exceed class 3, but it is exposed in some places.
I was on my way to bag a 13000-feet summit en-route as well (Mount Spalding) but I decided to abandon this because of the rapidly deteriorating weather. Instead I speeded up to reach the west-ridge of Evans, and I found a trail that went well below the ridge crest on the right side. I judged it to be a lot safer here during the upcoming thunderstorm. It was raining and snowing as I walked along the trail, and the visibility declined. After a while I reached a parking lot close to Mount Evans summit, and I found out that the trail actually had bypassed the true summit. Rather frustrated by this situation I was tempted to go back immediately. But it was flashing around me, so I decided to take shelter near the parking lot and go back to the summit later when the thunderstorm was less threatening.
I waited for one hour and during this period the weather had improved a lot. I started to walk from the parking lot and reached the summit of Mt. Evans five minutes later. It was an abrupt drop down the northface, and a really thrilling experience to sit on the edge and peer down the huge northface of Mount Evans. I also did a short traverse to a neighbouring summit on the ridge, just to be sure that I had been on the highest point (I measured this neighbouring summit to be just a few metres lower).
I went back to the parking lot, and then started to walk down the paved road to the switchback where my car was parked. I reached the car at 16:00, and the whole trip had taken me 7 hours and 15 minutes to complete (including all the waiting). 2 summits completed, and only 28 left for the next 25 days.
(I’m referring to the YDS class rating system throughout this article)