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.

Gear Review and Advice: Merrell Trail Gloves and Minimalist shoes

Ah yes, the great debate about footwear continues, only this time, I have a little bit more insight to share with you guys in regards to the minimalist footwear movement, as well as a particular pair of shoes.

If you followed along this past year, or even going into the New Year, you might be aware that I was, and still am, a huge proponent of the Altra Lone Peak shoes. They are what I wore for almost the entire length of the CDT that I hiked, as well as the Long Trail back in October up in Vermont. I personally think that the LP's are one of, if not the best shoe for thru hiking, but I figured I'd put my feet to the test and try out another pair of zero drop shoes, only this time with much less cushion and support. 

After watching some videos and trying on a few different pairs, I ended up picking up a pair of the Merrell Trail Gloves 4's online roughly a month or two back. I was excited to try something different to say the least. 

The Merrell Trail Gloves are a minimalist shoe that are designed to mimic and take their place in the barefoot running movement. These types of shoes aren't new by any means, but have recently become popular, especially with the endorsement of Joe Rogan and the likes. Although I haven't seen many thru hikers in these types of shoes, or any for that matter now that I think about it, I have seen them fairly often in the gym, and on the feet of passerby's who seem to do something physical in their free time. 

TRAIL GLOVES.jpg

As far as SPECS go, they stand out pretty well in the industry:

  • Extremely light at only 8oz per shoe, or 16oz for the pair, the Trail Glove legitimately feels as if nothing is on your foot besides a snug slipper of sorts. Their website actually says, "This barefoot shoe has a sock-like feel for a locked-down fit.". They are unbelievably comfortable, even if for just taking a stroll around the city or a casual day hike at the local metro park.
  • The upper is made from a breathable mesh and TPU material, allowing them to breathe well, and dry out quickly, something that I and other hikers will greatly appreciate. 
  • A "Trail Protect" pad that is built in offers underfoot protection, according to their website.
  • The sole of the shoe, made by Vibram, offers lightly cushioned performance and extreme grip.
  • Only one side of the tongue is separated from the shoe itself, allowing the tongue to constantly stay in place, something I really love about them.

As far as specs go, thats about it that stands out. There aren't any hidden features, any hidden tricks or tips, or any really 'special' parts about the shoe. It's a zero drop, minimalist, well treaded shoe that I was STOKED to try. So I did.

My Experience:

My first few runs in the Trail Gloves went exactly as planned. At first, I was a little weary on how much I was 'feeling' the trail in the shoes. In the Altra LP's, you hardly ever feel a rock protrude into the sole, and if you do, it's generally a decent sized or pointed rock. Makes sense, right? In the Trail Gloves, your feet feel EVERYTHING. No matter the rock, you'll feel it. This was something that I was both excited for, and terrified of, especially if I was going to be on my feet all day during a hike with them. My plan was to strengthen my feet, so what better way to do it by picking up a pair of shoes that forced me to do so.

At the end of my first week of running with the Trail Glove, I had logged about 30 trail miles in them, and wore them as my primary shoe around town as well. My feet felt good. I was already up to speed on the zero drop, making it that much easier on my calves and achilles tendons. My testing continued on the following week.

I put another 30 or so trail miles on them the following week, and still, no complaints. The mesh held up well to rocks and roots, the tread was great, allowing me to fully grip slippery rocks or roots and get good traction on the ascents and descents. Even after a long run in them, they stayed as comfortable as ever, fitting snug to my feet, allowing no movement or rubbing, and staying true to size. My interest was peaked at this point.

In my first testing phase of the shoe, I only noticed one small defect in the shoe. This is generally the first thing to wear on any trail shoe I've found, but the front toe cap began to peel backwards after kicking so many rocks and roots. It was only pulled back a little, and didn't show any signs of getting worse, so I didn't pay too much attention to it. Other than that, after 60-80 miles of running, and walking around town, the shoe was essentially in brand new condition still, showing no signs of wear or tear on any part of the shoe other than the toe cap. 

Fast forward to the end of January. I planned a spur of the moment trip to the Grayson Highlands, a state park in Virginia along the Appalachian Trail. I was excited to really put these shoes through the ringer of a simulated 'thru hike'. I planned to do a moderate amount of miles in them per day, and to hike as if I was thru hiking. Then, and only then, would I be able to tell if this shoe would be halfway decent for thru hiking. I knew that I could run in them, up to 10 miles while still being relatively comfortable, but I wasn't sure if I could hike for 8-12 hours in them while keeping that same comfort. 

I packed my backpack, and headed to Damascus, VA to start my section hike. My plan was to hike an average of about 15 miles per day for four to five days, allowing me to see the Grayson Highlands, and have an easy way to get back to my car. My good buddy, Wankles decided to hike with me the last couple of days, which as you'll find out, really helped me out as well.

Day 1:

A mere 6 miles to my campsite made for an easy afternoon on trail. My feet felt wonderful, no signs of any pain or abnormal happenings. Even with an added 18lbs or so on my back, my feet were feeling as good as ever. No added tears, rips, or movement on the toe cap. The shoes held up well to the roots and rocks that the AT throws at you.

Day 2: 

An 18 mile hike to Whitetop started in the early morning sun, and went until about 4:30 P.M. The first few miles felt as if nothing changed. The shoes were holding up, my feet felt great, and all was well. Fast forward to mile 12 of the second day: My right foot began to develop a bit of pain on top of my foot, near the tendons that connect to the toes. At the time, it didn't really feel as if it would get worse, but I was starting to compensate for the bit of pain I was feeling. I shrugged it off and kept hiking. Over the course of the next six miles, the pain worsened. Nothing a little sleep couldn't fix, right? Wankles arrived that night, and we began our hike into the highlands the next morning. 

No added wear or tear to the shoes other than a few scrapes to the mesh. I was surprised as I had kicked a few rocks during the hike.

Day 3: 

The pain seemed to have subsided in the early morning. I was hopeful, but still weary. We were planning 16 miles that day, so only time would tell. No major problems were noticed on this day. The tendons were definitely swollen in my right foot, and I could tell that it was directly from the amount of stress they were under due to the lack of cushion on the shoe itself. The pain stayed only in my dominant foot, and only in my tendons that were being overworked from the shoe. By the end of the 16 miles, my right foot hurt no more than it had that morning, something I was surprised by. 

The toe cap began to peel back as we ended Day 3 of our hike. I had knocked a few rocks earlier in the day, and with the toe cap being already peeled a little bit, it was easy for it to come off that much more. A small tear on the right side of the the right shoe formed after rubbing against a few more rocks. 

Day 4: 

We were planning another 16 or so mile day, which would have left us around 10 miles to get to Marion the following day, but as the day continued on, the forecast got worse and the impending rain was on its' way. We decided to pull a 27 mile day to get into Marion before the rain hit. With the pain already there, I wasn't sure how my foot would handle it, but it was time to figure that out! Over the course of the 27 miles, my foot began to ache, scream, and swell. The tendons were being worked in overtime, and at around 16 miles, our original destination, I wasn't quite sure if I could physically walk on it anymore. The pain had transformed into an unbearable amount with each step. The bottoms of my feet felt fine, and sure, they were sore from the lack of cushion, but what I wasn't expecting was the pain and tendonitis it would cause in my foot. We hiked on, and after another 2 and a half miles, I couldn't take it anymore. Wankles and I sat on the trail, debating on what to do.

I didn't want to get wet,  but also, my foot was in severe pain and I was at risk of really damaging my tendons if I continued on. Luckily, Wankles is a good friend and legitimately offered to trade shoes for the remainder of the hike. For the following 8 miles, I wore his Altra Timps, while he tried out the Trail Gloves. The Timps made it bearable for me to put my weight on my foot, especially with that enormous stack height that they provide. 

By the end of the section hike, my left foot was nearly perfect, a little sore, but no major aches, pain, bruising, or straining in the tendons. My right foot however; extreme pain in the tendons, bruising on the top of my foot, and really just in bad shape. We made our way to the motel, ate some grub, and passed out. The hike was over. My first real 'test' of the Trail Gloves was complete.

Conclusion:

Although my first real hike in the Trail Gloves left me with a bit of tendonitis in my right foot, I'm still convinced that I enjoy these shoes. Although I could hardly walk at the end of the 27 mile day, and 4 day section hike, I'm still convinced that I could use these for a thru hike. I briefly talked with my good friend Neemor about the shoes afterwords. He had really put them to the test this past year as he hiked from Springer to Harpers on the AT as well as some other treks, so I knew his insight would be useful for me. He also did a review of these on his YouTube channel, check it out.

He immediately informed me that, he too, had experienced the same pain in the top of his foot near the tendons in his toes. At this point, I realized that it wasn't the shoe that was directly causing the pain, it was the simple fact that my feet were not strong enough in that area to support these shoes for the extended time I was hoping. The tendons in my foot have never worked that hard before during a hike, which then resulted in the pain that was shooting through my foot. Over the last week, the pain has subsided, and my foot is back to normal. I'm back in the shoes, attempting to strengthen those same tendons that left me hobbling a little over a week ago. 

I will continue to wear these shoes during training runs, smaller section hikes, and any other form of activity until I'm confident that I could thru hike in them. 

After roughly ~200 miles of running, hiking, and walking in the Trail Gloves, the toe cap has peeled back much more than originally stated, there is one tear in the mesh upper, but nothing major. No significant rips or places on the shoe that seem to be prone to 'failing', so I'm fairly impressed so far. The tread has held up impeccably, showing no real signs of wear at any place in the sole, reinforcing my opinion that these will hold up during a thru hike. 

The shoes remained comfortable as far as fit goes throughout the entire 65 miles, and during all of my training runs/hikes. I'm greatly impressed with the shoes ability to dry out quickly, even while on the feet. 

Advice:

If you plan on switching on over to a 'barefoot' or minimalist shoe, I highly recommend training in them as if you would be hiking in them. Log the appropriate miles in them. Make sure you prepare yourself for the amount of time you'll be on your feet. Sure, I ran and trained in them for a few weeks before I went out on a hike, but I never simulated being on my feet for that long. The same goes for switching to a Zero Drop shoe. The muscle groups that get worked while using a barefoot, or zero drop shoe are completely different from the muscle groups you'll work when running or hiking in lets say, a Brooks Cascadia, or Hoka One One shoe. 

Take your time while breaking them in. Gradually up the mileage until you're confident that you've made the appropriate gains in the muscles and tendons to support the strain that will inevitably be put on those muscle groups. 

Whether you're planning to try out the Trail Gloves, Bedrock Sandals, Luna Sandals, or any other form of minimalist 'Barefoot' shoes, I think taking the appropriate prevention action is of the utmost importance. 

Although they take a little more time to get used to and to break in, the end result and benefits of switching to a barefoot/zero drop shoe are tremendous. In my case, zero drop has improved my gate, strengthened my leg muscles, and has made me much more aware of the way I walk and run.

Zero drop and the minimalist shoe might not be for everyone, but I urge you to try them out! 

 

*If you purchase ANYTHING through the amazon link above, whether it be the Trail Gloves, a different shoe, or dog food for that matter, I get a small percentage and it will continue to support my site, hiking, and gear reviews. Thanks!