MT. BIERSTADT 14,065' AND MT. EVANS 14,265'

MT. BIERSTADT 14,065' AND MT. EVANS 14,265'

01 July 2012

Whoa. Sweet. Bierstadt and Evans were pretty unimpressive in and of themselves, but the Sawtooth traverse between the two was awesome.

I tackled the relatively easy hike from Guanella Pass up to the Bierstadt summit, then dropped down off the east face, picking my way down a steep, sketchy slope. I’d already read enough about the Sawtooth standing between me and Evans to know that the traverse immediately ahead was child’s play compared to the crux. (Or was it?)

I’ve been intentionally working my way up in difficulty. The Sawtooth would be my toughest encounter yet, though only class III. This section was my favorite so far. The route splits at one of the gendarmes where I could choose either the high line or the low. You can imagine which I chose. Why go down when I’ll just have to go up again anyways? I did some scrambling and was rewarded with a great view of the Sawtooth looming ahead. I was filled with anxiety and briefly entertained the notion of retreating back over Bierstadt to the parking lot. That queasy feeling in my stomach took a moment to pass, but when it did, I was filled with resolve.

I crossed through the notch, marking the start of the Sawtooth traverse. It was daunting. To say I was intimidated would be a drastic understatement, but I kept my feet moving forward. As I got closer, I could see the line more clearly. It was considerably less technical and exposed than it had appeared from afar. Again I drove the idea of retreat from my mind. I took a moment to compose myself, then I worked my way across the talus field to the ledge.

It was exhilarating, the kinda thing I never would’ve even considered doing just a few short years ago. And today I cruised it with hardly a second thought. (Well, once I saw what I was actually in for.) The towering shear face is certainly more technical and exposed than Angel’s Landing in Zion, but I completed my traverse almost effortlessly. I stood alone atop the Sawtooth filled with pride. The top of the world today was neither Bierstadt nor Evans, it was the Sawtooth. And it was the most fun I’ve had hiking in a long, long time.

I began my ascent at 4a this morning with clear skies and brilliant stars. I watched the sun rise over Evans as I conquered Bierstadt. And – perhaps most importantly – I was leading the crowd. Well until I got to Evans, anyways. It was after 9a before I was able to tie in with the Mt. Evans trail, which by that point was hosting its own trekkers. Evans is one of those peaks where you can drive right up to the summit. It reminded me depressingly of Pikes Peak in the Springs and of Washington back east in New Hampshire. Now I’m not completely innocent. I drove to the Pikes summit during my road trip a few years ago, but I don’t count it as a bagged fourteener. I just can’t, since I didn’t hike it. I’ll get back there to do it right sometime.

I closed out my circuit today by dropping down a highly impacted, eroding gully and traversing an equally impacted bog. I felt guilty contributing to that impact, though I didn’t know its condition when I set out. My intention is to be better-prepared and more aware in the future.

There were more cars at Bierstadt this afternoon than I have ever seen at a trailhead that isn’t in a national park. The people were all kinds, big and small, old and young, prepared and not so. I couldn’t believe that people were still beginning their hikes as I was completing mine. It was almost 12p, mind you. And I could clearly see weather building overhead. Since the trailhead is basically right at treeline, you’d have to get all the way back to your car before you’d be safe from a lightning storm. No thanks, good luck and power to ya. The precipitation began as I neared the parking lot, almost as if on cue.