Mts. Bierstadt & Evans, 14ers, Colorado
Participants: Gary & Lynn Clark, Chris Horley, friends, and Kenai the wonder dog.
This was Chris idea: the time-honored Bierstadt-Evans traverse, via the Sawtooth Ridge that connects them. Lynn & I needed these two peaks for our 14ers collection, so we readily agreed. We found an ad-hoc camping site a few miles south of Guanella pass to spend Saturday night. Leaving the cars Sunday morning around 6:20, we arrived at the top of Bierstadt via an uneventful trail in about 2 hours. This trail passes through an impressive stretch of willows, with plenty of opportunities to lose you boots in the muck if you steep in the wrong place. It is currently being widened and improved with board walks, and is already much better than the current guide books indicate. Kenai the Wonder Dog had considerably more energy that the rest of the party put together while I wheezed and puffed up into the rarified air I had fantasies of him pulling me on rollerblades.
We took a nice break on the summit, then dropped down the Sawtooth (North) Ridge, headed for Mt. Evans. I had read a couple of accounts that made this sound like a serious undertaking, and expected something akin to the Crestones connecting ridge or the Little Bear to Blanca traverse. It might be challenging with snow on it, but without snow it is a hike. The dog required an assist in a couple of spots, but the guidebook advice of having a rope and small rack along would apply only if you have no route-finding ability whatsoever. There was only one spot we paused to think as you arrive at the Evans end, the route is inobvious. The guidebook told us to drop down on ledges to the west, and we were on our way.
We expected a quick hike to the summit of Evans, but it is about a mile, almost all of which is above 14000 feet. A couple tanks of oxygen would have been welcome, but finally we came to the Hillary Step (OK, I was fantasizing a bit we actually arrived at the parking lot.) It was a light day with only a couple hundred tourists pointing video cameras in every direction. We spent about 1/125 second on the summit (the shutter speed of my camera), then headed back. Skies were very cloudy, but not terribly threatening yet.
On the way down we met a party that came up via the north trail from Guanella pass, our planned descent route. He complained that they never found a trail through the infamous willow bogs. We had seen other references to how awful the willows were, so resolved to find a better way. The better way consisted of traversing above all the willows well to the north of the regular return route. We spent most of our time on side slopes bedecked in wildflowers, which was nice, but as we neared the end we had to drop into a fairly deep gully, then climb steeply back out to intersect with the road. Hiking south up the road back up to the pass, we arrived just after Chris and the rest of the party, in spite of the fact that we had left the summit about an hour earlier! The coup de grace was to learn that they had found a perfectly fine trail on the return. Oh, well . . .
These are both easy peaks, but we didnt waste any time and still spent about 8 hours completing the tour de deux. It is about a 12-mile round trip, with at least 3500 feet of climbing even if you dont climb any false summits on the way over to Evans (which of course, everyone does). We added a couple miles and another 400 with our detour. Not a particularly easy day, but then few 14ers-collecting excursions could be called easy.