Colorado 14'ers: Bierstadt, Sawtooth, Evans Combo

BIERSTADT, SAWTOOTH, EVANS COMBO

In the world of climbing, peak bagging, and hiking, Colorado has some of the most accessible routes in the country, let alone the world. Throughout the entire state, there are *58 mountains that are 14,000' or higher. Some of these peaks are easier than others, attracting large crowds on weekends; and I mean it. With the likes of Grays and Torreys, as well as Bierstadt and Evans all within an hour and a half or so of Denver, some are more popular than others. When I arrived in Colorado last year, within 24 hours I had done Bierstadt. 

Before I even moved to Colorado just a week ago, I told myself that I would do at least one 14'er every weekend until I can't anymore, so what a better way to start my 14'er conquest than to do Bierstadt again, but this time do the Sawtooth Traverse and Evans all in one go.

ACCORDING TO 14'ERS.COM:

Exposure: 3/6

Class 3 Scramble

Gain: 3,900ft

Length: 10.2 miles

Start: 11,669'

Evans Summit: 14,264'

A few days before I planned on an attempt at the Combo Route, I messaged Reptar on Instagram to see if he was interested in possibly tagging along on the supposed 10.25 mile route that would tag two 14'ers along the way. At first, he seemed to be a bit hesitant when I mentioned that it included a class 3 scramble, but after some consideration, he eventually agreed and we planned to drive together. We hadn't talked about logistics until the Thursday night, and soon enough we had agreed to camp the night before so we could get a good start on the day. 

I left work on Friday at around 3 P.M and headed to REI first. I needed a new pair of shoes since my Timps are pretty much shot at this point and were beginning to give me some foot problems the last few days on trail. I snagged a pair of Tops Athletic MT2's and headed towards Reptar's place to pick him up and head for the mountains. 

Reptar and I had never actually hung out, but when I got to his place, we immediately started talking about trail and it was like I had just met him on a thru hike. The traffic started when we got on the highway and what would normally be just over an hour drive for us turned into nearly a two hour drive. After snaking up and around the switchbacks leading up to Guanella Pass, we finally arrived at the parking lot that would lead us to Bierstadt. We got out as the sun was beginning to set and packed our bags. We would go find a flat spot to sleep at, take some photos of the night sky, or at least we hoped, then crash. Turns out, the Meteor Shower was beginning to kick up and within moments the Milky Way was shining bright as meteors fell from the sky, creating a striking beam of light across the night sky each time. 

My headlight goes dim and I fall asleep.

Our 4:30 alarm sounded right on time, and as life would have it, when we woke, everything was covered in a thick layer of frost. My down quilt; completely soaked and frozen to the feather. My backpack that lay next to me; frozen. Shoes; frozen. We decided to pack up and go get warm in the car before we even thought about starting to hike. Turns out, we were both pretty exhausted and fell back asleep in the car for another hour and a half. I woke up as the sun was beginning to make its way behind the Sawtooth Ridge. I looked in my rear view mirror and I noticed a line of people outside of the toilet. Cars everywhere. People everywhere. Seems about right.

We hurried and got our bags packed again and started the Alpine Meadow walk up towards Bierstadt.

Our start time: 7:00 AM. 

The first mile or so of the hike includes some extremely mellow boardwalks. The switchbacks begin within a half mile, but don't begin to get steep for a little while. The trail is very well maintained, and as I mentioned above, there were people everywhere. We would pass a group while they were breaking, then we would leap frog as Reptar and I stopped to eat and catch our breath. Although I just got off the PCT, I haven't been at 12,000'+ for a few months. Reptar just summited Grays and Torrey's a couple of weeks ago, but he doesn't spend much time at elevation either as he is working quite a bit. Our packs held not much more than a half days worth of food, two liters of water each, and some extra layers in case the weather rolled in. The forecast was calling for sunny blue skies essentially all day, so I wasn't worried too much about the weather. 

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Switchback after switchback eventually led us to a plateau where we had some of the most surreal lighting on the Sawtooth. We stopped for a bit once again to take photos, and enjoy the hike up. We needed to pace ourselves so we had energy for the ridge and Evans. One more push to the base of the rock scramble would get us in striking distance. We slogged up and eventually passed nearly 75 people as we made our way to the base. Low and behold; another 25 at the base of the summit. Maybe more. At this point, Reptar and I were both pretty perplexed. I did Bierstadt last year on a Saturday and I don't recall this many people being on the mountain, but hey, its just as much theirs as it is mine. 

A sea of people awaited us at the top, and within a few minutes of getting to the top, we were on our way down with a new friend we had just met, Polar. His real name is Mark, but he was in the military and he mentioned that people used to call him that, so thats what I'll refer to him as. He asked if we were doing the Sawtooth and he questioned, "Mind if I tag along with you guys?". "Not at all!", we replied. Another set of eyes is always good to have while route finding, especially on a route you've never been on.

We began the descent towards the Sawtooth from the summit of Mt. Bierstadt at around 11 AM or so, give or take. The first thing we all noticed was the lack of any real trail. Exactly what I expected, but daunting nonetheless. We found our way down the talus field and eventually began to traverse boulders more comfortably with each step. Scree lay below most of the talus, so I stuck to the hopping and continued up, down and around until we got to the first outcropping. All three of us felt very confident up to this point. There isn't any real exposure on the descent towards the saddle, but a lot of the talus is quite unstable. Footing is very important here. We meandered slowly up and down, painstakingly making our way towards the west ridge where the class 3 begins. Polar was leading the route for a bit, but before we all knew it, I was in front and stayed in front for the remainder of the hike. I prefer to jump from boulder to boulder, so I left most of the scree routes up to them. I would rather traverse a few class 3 moves than go down a scree field, so catch me on the boulders. 

Sawtooth from Bierstadt

Sawtooth from Bierstadt

Now mind you, I had the route and the photos saved onto my phone so I could access them even in airplane mode, so I frequently was checking them to make sure we were on route. Each time I rounded a corner, or hopped onto a loose rock, I would relay the outcome back to Reptar and Polar. 

We finally reached the las outcropping. We had two options for a route to get around it and to the West Ridge. Either up and over, which is shorter, or around, which is the longer way. We opted for around just to be sure of the terrain and keep the risk to a minimum. Although it did take longer, it was worth it to know that there wasn't a huge risk of getting cliffed out on the other side of the outcropping. We each successfully navigated the last outcropping and got to the notch where we would begin the Class 3 section of the traverse. Although Reptar is apparently afraid of heights, I didn't see anything that would to elude to the fact up until we got to the West Ridge where the catwalk and scrambles were. Once we finally arrived at the true traverse and the crux, I could see that Reptar was beginning to let the fear get to him. He had been talking about how nervous he was all morning, but to be honest, he was much less afraid of the descent off Bierstadt than I was. Loose talus and scree worry me more than a few class 3 moves, but to each their own. 

Third and Final Outcropping

Third and Final Outcropping

Reptar ascending the talus and scree field

Reptar ascending the talus and scree field

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I continued to lead the class 3 route. Reptar was behind me, and Polar behind him. The West Side of the Ridge includes a few traverses, some extremely narrow catwalks, and a few actual class 3 moves. From a distance, the Sawtooth looks much more menacing and fear inducing, but when you actually arrive to the ledges, it's fairly stable. I avoided the scree at all costs, causing me and the rest of the group to take the high route on the last traverse. One can either hike under the overhang and up a steep slope of scree, or hike up and above the boulders, and traverse a few ledges which eventually turn to solid ground with plenty of space to feel secure. 

For me, the Class 3 moves were no problem, and since I don't generally have a fear of heights, the traverse wasn't that bad. For Reptar, who is afraid of heights, it was a different story. He powered through each and every obstacle, but I'd be lying if I said he did it with ease. I could tell the exposure was getting to him, especially as he crawled on all fours under rocks and over rocks to avoid going near the ledge. After each catwalk, we would take a break for everyone to catch their bearings. I would constantly yell back to the group with reports on the boulders and sections ahead. We were constantly communicating our moves, which is essential in these types of adventures that include some dangerous terrain. With the possibility of a rockfall, a slide, or any number of other issues going wrong at any point, it was nice to have constant updates, especially when a member of the group is not so keen on exposure. 

Class 3 Scrambling on the Sawtooth

Class 3 Scrambling on the Sawtooth

At last, we reached the notch where we would start our ascent towards Mt. Evans. The route at this point goes from a Class 3, immediately to Class 2 hiking as the ascent begins. It's a fairly steep grade, and with no real trail for a few tenths of a mile, the route throws some more navigating at you. Giant pieces of granite lay across the plateau and in the distance Mt. Evans is waiting. In between the crest of the ridge to the actual summit lay a couple of miles of boulder hopping, rock scrambling, and cairn following. Eventually, you pop over a bump on the ascent and begin to climb slowly towards the top on the outskirts of the mountain.

We began the ascent towards Mt. Evans at around 1:30 P.M from the end of the Sawtooth. We had taken much longer on the Sawtooth than we expected, and at this point, we were behind schedule by quite a bit. We didn't really have anywhere to be, so as long as the weather held up, it could take us all day and we wouldn't really have cared.

The slog up Mt. Evans began and at first we enjoyed the slow ascent towards the actual ridge line, but soon enough, as it always does, the trail got steeper, rockier, and more technical. Although it's only Class 2, the talus makes for some fairly unstable footing. We took a break roughly every quarter mile at this point. Reptar and Polar were feeling the altitude, lack of water and food much more than I was, but I wanted to stick together as a group. We only packed out two liters of water and some snacks, and we were starting to run a bit low on everything. The breaks were beginning to stack up, and by the time we got within striking distance of Mt. Evans, it was getting close to 4 o'clock. We were expecting to be down at the car no later than 5. We summited around 3:30 after getting some water from a couple at the parking lot. 

Looking back towards the ridge line from Mt. Evans.

Looking back towards the ridge line from Mt. Evans.

We enjoyed the summit of Mt. Evans for awhile. After all, it took us a hell of a lot of time to get there. Although there were more tourists on Evans than Bierstadt possibly, it is a helluva view. The ridge descending Evans back towards the plateau is fairly prominent, and with a few extra steps you can get some awesome views from nearly every direction. Reptar and I had packed out a beer each to enjoy on the summit, so we cracked them and cheersed. Although we were done with the ascent of both mountains, the descent was apparently just as tricky and possibly even more dangerous than the ascent. How great!

We ended up pounding our beers and all three of us headed down the ridge and descended Mt. Evans at around 4:00 P.M.

Mountain Goats!

Mountain Goats!

Another one!

Another one!

14'ers.com says that after descending the ridge off of Evans back towards the notch, you head NW into the open area towards a Gulley. We did just that. I eventually ran off down the mountain and made sure that the Gulley I was looking at matched up with the photos on the app. It sure did, but it is MUCH steeper than the photos make it look. I was surmised we had to hike down the gulley in front of me, but before I knew it I was off and the others were right behind me. After all the time I spent avoiding the scree on the Sawtooth, I was rewarded with nothing but it on the descent! Rocks slid, moved, and crumbled beneath me as I made haste of the first section of the descent. It seemed to be about a 1,300' descent in far less than a mile. I could feel the pain in each of my knees as I put more and more pressure on them as the terrain became less stable and even steeper. The trail eventually began to disappear and in place of it was more scree. The gulley just kept going. Boulder after boulder. Loose rock, with more loose rock in front of it. Eventually, we started to make out the parking lot off in the distance. The gulley would spit us out at the opposite side of the meadow as the Bierstadt Trail. This means that once we got to the end of the Gulley, we would have to navigate our way through roughly one mile of thick willow trees. It just so happens that these willow's are right next to a river, which creates plenty of mud pits, or a bog if you will. 

We waded through the willows for what seemed like much longer than a mile.

Reptar and I pushed on ahead and ended up waiting every 10 minutes or so for Polar and our new friend Jacob to catch up. Jacob caught up to us as we were getting ready to enter the Gully, and he had no idea of the route he was taking down. He said he was all too stoked to find other people on the way down, otherwise he was planning on taking the wrong ridge he said. 

The minutes kept ticking, and soon enough, the sun was beginning to set on the horizon. What we thought would be a six to eight hour hike, was turning into a 12 hour day. We weren't expecting the Sawtooth to take so long. We took the entire hike fairly leisurely until we really had to when it came to the Class 3 moves. 

The willows ended and we found ourselves back at the car just around 7:00 P.M, nearly 12 hours after we left the car earlier that morning.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE ROUTE:

Although 14'ers.com said that the route was only 10.2 miles, both my GPS tracker and Polar's said it was closer to 13.5-14.0 miles. It definitely was longer than 10.2, I'll tell you that much. I would plan for a long day if you're not acclimated to the altitude or to the terrain. The route is fairly difficult in some sections, but a lot of the Sawtooth is much more daunting from the car than it is when you actually get on it. 

I really enjoyed the route, especially the scrambling and the Sawtooth. Polar and Reptar weren't too big of fans of the route until we actually got done with it, but it was different. The route kept throwing us curveballs from the start to the finish. We had an exorbitant amount of people to wade through on top of Bierstadt. The initial freight of looking down at the Sawtooth. Dealing with the unreal amount of scree and talus on the descent. The Class 3 scramble. The West Ridge and it's exposure. The nonstop, relentless boulders that kept coming on the ascent to Mt. Evans. Mountain goats. The wildly steep descent down the gulley to the willows. This route had everything and I would most certainly do it again. I thought the route was well put together. It thinned out drastically once we descended from Bierstadt, so it was nice to have a more relaxed change of pace rather than the sea of people up top. 

Overall, it was a challenging, but very rewarding hike with some exposure that I felt comfortable with, which made for an epic day. Thanks to Reptar for joining me on the route!

Next up: Gray's and Torreys via Kelso Ridge / Keep an eye out.

One for the Books | New Adventures are on the Horizon...

I've been relatively quiet as far as writing and blogging goes in the past few weeks, but it's not because I didn't want to write. It was actually quite the contrary. I wanted to sit down and write at my favorite coffee shop just a block over, but I haven't had the chance. I've been busy. Actually, I've been so busy I haven't had the chance to do anything but get through the holidays. I've been focusing heavily on my photography as well as strengthening and maintaining relationships with people who are close to me, and combining these things with the Holiday Season, well, you can imagine; I've been tired.

Leading up to the New Year, I had pretty much exhausted any last bit of energy I had left after this years hiking season. When I got home in late October of this past year, I wasn't sure what the hell I was supposed to, or even going to be doing for that matter. I was home almost a month earlier than I expected with no plan, or really any interest in forming a plan. I had zero clue in which direction I wanted to take the first step in. Slowly but surely, however; things have fallen and are still falling into place.

Slowly.

This past year was one for the books quite honestly. I finally traveled out West starting this summer off with Moab, the Pacific Northwest, and then eventually leading me to the start of the CDT in Glacier National Park on July 7th.

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 As the year crept along, I found myself so completely enthralled with the CDT that I didn't think I would ever want to quit hiking. As the jeep roads twisted and turned throughout Montana and Idaho, I found solace in the wide open expanse of Big Sky country. I met unbelievably good, kind hearted people who were all in search of something different out on the CDT. I scrambled across miles of scree and talus to get to the peaks that lay within the Wind River Range. I lost myself to the night skies in Wyoming each night. With millions of stars lighting up the sky each night, it was hard to not contemplate everything about my existence. I pushed my own limitations in the high desert of the Great Basin where I found what I was truly capable of. I enjoyed every minute of my walk from Glacier National Park to Winter Park, Colorado, which is where I left the CDT in search of something more. When I left, I wasn't quite sure it was the best decision. After all, the CDT was a beautiful, magnificently open trail that had hundreds of opportunities awaiting. However; proceeding on the CDT at that time would have put me in a situation I didn't want to be in, hence leaving the trail to pursue a thru hike on the Long Trail in Vermont, one of my favorite states.

Here I am though, writing this, completely into the idea of what would have happened if I finished the CDT on the road, jeep roads, or skipped ahead. Who knows. Just thought I'd add in that its always in the back of my head. Every day.

At the Wyoming Border

At the Wyoming Border

I said goodbye to Red Bass, Mayor, Stomp, Hummingbird and Merlin, and within seconds, everyone I had learned to care about over the last few months was gone. Along the roads of Colorado, my friends dispersed into their own, utterly terrifying place in time. When it all came down to it, as I knew would happen at some point, everyone wanted, and needed, to follow their own ideals. To continue on whatever path they desired. For whatever reason, I felt at ease when I finally sat there alone, smoking a cigarette, actually talking to myself. I waited for someone to respond, but no one did. I stood up, walked to the coffee shop with my pack on, and began writing on a napkin. I called Scooter and things fell into place.

I left the CDT in hopes of finding something more than the road. Something more challenging than just skipping ahead or walking around the problem, and then at the end of it all claiming something that I don't even feel happened. Seriously, I feel like if I would have skipped ahead, walked around, or taken some sort of bullshit route through 400 miles of Colorado, I would have felt cheated. I would have felt like a piece of the puzzle was missing. So I didn't do it. I took a flight from Denver, CO to Philly the next day. 

The funny thing is, when I was in the Basin in Wyoming, Scooter and Wankles had been taunting me with text messages of the Long Trail. However; at the time, I really couldn't fathom getting off the CDT, so I pushed it away in the back of my mind, but left it to hover, to manifest slowly in hopes that something would come of it. Although I wanted to hike the LT, originally, I was trying to convince them to do a Winter LT hike, but it didn't catch on. Surprisingly enough, I'll talk a little more about this later.

So there I found myself, in the airport for the first time to catch my first ever flight. Yes, I've never flown on a plane up until this year. You heard it right. No planes. Not once. Never. Not because I didn't want to, but because it never was an option I suppose. I arrived in Philly not too long after my brief conversation with Scooter and Wankles. The following day, all of a sudden we were in New England. The day after you ask? On the Long Trail. Within two days, I had left Colorado, flown to Philly, drove to New England with my buds, and hopped on the Long Trail. It was bound to be good.

Northern Terminus of the Long Trail

Northern Terminus of the Long Trail

The Long Trail brought a lot of much needed change to my year. I was so wound up and focused on beating the weather on the CDT that I kind of forgot how much I enjoy everything that revolves around hiking, not just the actual hiking. With Scooter and Wankles on the LT, we had big plans to not only have as much fun as possible, but to also produce something creative. Have something tangible that we could hold, or show people from the trail. The Long Trail is the oldest hiking trail in the US, but honestly, there isn't too much info, photos, or detailed accounts of it. It's not hiked nearly as much as the AT, PCT, or other trails, mostly because it's incredibly difficult. So anyways, after 20 days on the Long Trail, 273 miles were hiked through the rugged Green Mountains. Wankles was on trail for 65 miles, all of which were insanely hysterical, enjoyable, and one of my favorite weeks on trail. We were sad to see him go, but family took hold back in Indy and he flew out a few days after we stayed at his Aunts house. 

Scooter and I pushed through the LT in a relatively moderate pace, pushing some days, chilling most of the others. We had a blast staying at a hostel or two, taking our time on days where we were a little more resentment for the cold, one hundred percent focusing on having a blast, but also making our deadline. Time was of the essence, but we still managed plenty of time to shoot, record, push ourselves, and have a blast. We finished the trail with a glorious feast at Papa Johns, and went our separate ways. Those 3 ish weeks were three of my favorite weeks. I think I can speak of the both of us when I say that the LT was a blast. Life on the Long Trail is something that you can expect to see a lot of coming up.

Scooter and I at the Southern Terminus of the LT. 

Scooter and I at the Southern Terminus of the LT. 

My hiking season was suddenly over. From July 7th to October 24th, I hiked roughly 2,000 miles through 5 states, multiple different environments, and with a damn good group of people. I expanded my horizons, both physically and mentally while pushing every limit I had. I was challenged by not only the relentless weather, stress, and danger on the CDT, and even more so by the never ending ascents and descents of the Long Trail. Sure, physically, it was a tough year. The CDT requires big mile days, and the weather is volatile, but really, the mental fortitude this year took surprised me. I wasn't expecting to have to make the decision of getting of the CDT, but I did.

This year has really been all about realizing that my own intentions and ideals require my, and only my thoughts and opinions. The transition of hiking, and living for others to doing something solely for myself has been interesting. It takes a little bit of time to get used to the idea of giving up social interaction to better yourself, but in time it all feels right and falls, and has fallen into place for me. Taking that step to leave the CDT has really been the turning point for my goals and aspirations for not only the hiking I'd like to do, but my life in general. It's hard to take that step, especially when it requires a sacrifice that you don't necessarily want to make. Nonetheless, it's been the right decision for me.

I'm back home in Ohio now, dividing my time between Columbus, and Canton. My friends and passions lie in Columbus, however; my photography work is mostly in Canton where I grew up. It's been a productive few months since I got back from the Long Trail. I've honed in my skills on both photography and rock climbing. Robo and Beehive both are incredibly determined climbers, so being around these guys constantly really boosts my confidence and drive. All of my friends down here in Columbus are all like minded individuals who want to work together to better themselves and each other. We all have the same common goals and interests. From our conversations, I've made improvements and taken steps to better myself and I owe it to them for being there for those moments and being such a big part of it.

From Robo and I’s trip to Chattanooga this past week. 

From Robo and I’s trip to Chattanooga this past week. 

With the changing into 2018 comes new adventures. This year is going to be a long, strenuous, mentally taxing year. I have a lot of miles in store for me, and along with the miles will come many smiles. Everything will be changing this February. In right around a month, you'll see what I'm talking about. Other than the unexpected coming up in a month, the PCT is on my agenda as well as finishing the CDT. This year is all about continuing that search for whatever keeps me going. Sometimes it's photography, sometimes it's hiking. Both of those things together have made for a good combination thus far, and I'm looking forward to pursuing it even more. My plan for February involves a good friend of mine and something that hasn't been done before. We can't disclose too much information yet, but I will say, when we do, and if things go as we hope, it'll be worth the wait.

With a new year and new adventures comes new obstacles and challenges. It's not all just sunshine, rainbows, beautiful vistas and awesome campsites. To be honest, those are few and far between on the long trails of the US. Time is once again going to be of the essence this year. I'm going to have prioritize appropriately throughout the entire year if I want to accomplish my goals. 

All in all, 2017 was the best year of my life. With everything that happened, I'm surprised it turned out the way it did, but I'm ecstatic that so much occurred in such a short amount of time. I think with time comes appreciation, and the more I hike and the more I travel and form relationships with people, the more I'll appreciate the very reasons I hike. Time is going to keep ticking away, but I plan on making the most of it.

Cheers to another epic year spent doing what we each love.