Last Sunday after work I met up with two friends from my Grad School Program to head west for Mount Evans. We pulled into our camp spot around 9:00 p.m. and relaxed a while in the back of a Four Runner until it was time for me to set up my tent spot. I opened the door of the car and the wind almost ripped it off the second it cracked open. Hail pelted the windows and my head and the sky darkened with clouds quickly blowing into the saddle coming up from the valley below. I was nervous about the weather getting worse and decided to pack into the car with two other people for a snuggly night sleep. We woke up around 5 with the wind blowing the car around as if a bear were attacking us and decided to wait a bit longer to see if it calmed down. At 7 am the wind seemed only to have grown worse and the ground outside was covered in hail and ice. We were most likely going to be shut out of an attempt at the loop of Mount Bierstadt and Evans. We decided to drive to the top of Evans and look around before we left. At the top we could hardly stand straight without the wind knocking us off balance. With a this loop being a class three we decided it best to turn back for Boulder and try again another time. On Wednesday when I made it back to the trailhead myself, our decision to turn back was validated by what I found on the route.
- Headed down into the valley.
So Tuesday night I set off for Mount Evans by myself with the plan of sleeping in my car and waking up around 5:30 am to begin the Tour. The weather seemed nice enough to give it a try, but I had to be back for class by noon so this would be a quick turn around if I could do the whole loop. I made it to the trailhead around 10 pm and fell asleep soon after arriving.
When I woke up in the morning the wind was stronger than I hoped it to be, but I got dressed and readied myself for whatever was going to happen. I stepped out of my car and felt the sting of cool air encompass my exposed skin and smiled at the experience that was before me. I found the trail right in front of my car and immediately and began straight downhill on the West side from the saddle I was on. The path almost immediately disappeared and I could tell this was a free-for-all-get-yourself-down kind of hike to get in the valley. I began sliding down scree and picking sturdy foot holds to level myself out as I made my way down the steep bluff. Eventually, I got to the valley and began a quicker pace headed West towards the East side of Bierstadt.
When I got to the base of the mountain I noticed the grade of the climb and took a few breaths in preparation for what was about to happen. There was splotches of grass tucked in around bigger boulders, but most of the mountain side was smaller rocks and scree. Every five steps up I had to take a full minute to catch my breath. After about thirty minutes I made it to a ridge that ran North towards the summit of Bierstadt.
- Reaching the ridge, about to head north.
Here is where the route went from hiking to scrambling. There were massive boulders that shielded my view of what was ahead and forced me either to climb up and over them or scale the side of them. The problem with that was the exposure on either side of these boulders. It was pretty much a knife edge leading North to the summit and the safest way to me seemed to stay high and scramble up and over the boulders as they came. This took way longer than I expected. Up and down I climbed for almost an hour when I noticed the boulders getting smaller and turning into rock fields that gradually led up to the summit. This allowed me to speed up my pace and I made it to the summit of Bierstadt with excellent weather and 360 degree views.
- Looking back south.
I looked East towards Evans and noticed the Sawtooth section and immediately got excited. This was going to be like the ascent up the South side of Bierstadt, but with more exposure and steeper drops. Also, Abyss Lake would be in view the whole time and alpine lakes are just gorgeous.
- The south side of Bierstadt
Shortly after I ascended Bierstadt I took off for the Sawtooth section and met a guy along the way who seemed to have more experience than I on class three climbs. So I followed his every step. We slowly made our way across the expanse and came to what I believe is called the Willows; a huge rock wall at the end of the Sawtooth that leads up to Mount Evans. I’m glad I was with this guy because I had no idea how the hell to get over this wall.
We picked a line that led around the North side of Evans that brought us to some insane exposure with little foot holds and hand grips to steady ourselves along a 200-foot rock wall with gradual divots in the rock that would hopefully catch us if we did fall. Further down below I saw the “normal trail” and cursed myself for following this dude up a crazy climb. However, it was such a blast and so thrilling to have that kind of intensity towards the end of the route.
Slowly, we made our way to the top and finally came out of the Willows to a beautiful alpine field that gradually lifted us up towards Evans. The last mile was a cake walk across a meadow that led to a lighter rock scramble up to the peak. Standing on Evans I could see Bierstadt and the Lake below and parts of the Sawtooth connecting the peaks. This loop is a rush with incredible views along the way. I definitely recommend summiting Bierstadt and Evans along the Tour De Abyss.
P.S.- I made it to class on time.