Andy in the Rockies

Trip reports, videos, and photos from hiking, climbing,
and mountaineering adventures in Colorado and beyond.

Mount Bierstadt
September 7, 2002

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My dad and I left his house at 5:50. Originally Michael and Jennifer were planning on coming, but they wussed out at the last minute. After my experience on Longs Peak earlier that summer I wanted to get an early start. I didn't want to get caught in any afternoon thunderstorms. I knew the trip up Bierstadt was going to be easier than Longs, but I didn't know how much easier. I also didn't know how The Sawtooth would be and I wanted to leave us time to turn around and re-summit Bierstadt if The Sawtooth was too technical for us.

After an uneventful drive up to the trailhead we got our gear together and hit the trail at 7:20. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were only about 10 cars in the parking lot when we set out on the trail. The lower slopes of Mount Bierstadt were very easy and crossing the infamous willows was a breeze with the boardwalks in place. I'd read accounts that this was a nightmarish bushwhack before the boardwalks were put in only a year or two before our trip. By about 9:20 the trail steepened as we reached the transition from tundra to talus. Up until this point my dad and I had only passed one couple and their dog and been passed by nobody. It was nice to be alone on such a popular mountain. However, we can see several groups of hikers crossing the talus that we will have to pass.

The last several hundred feet were an enjoyable scramble and we were on the summit by 9:40. This hike was incredibly easy compared to the only other 14er I'd done up to this point?Longs Peak. I wasn't winded and had barely worked up a sweat. Dad and I hung out on the summit for about 20 minutes while we enjoyed some snacks and the great views. There were already 15 to 20 people on the summit when we got there and more were arriving all the time. I was glad we got an early start and that we'd be descending off the north side of the mountain where there was nobody.

At 10:00 we left the summit and headed down The Sawtooth. The climb up to the summit of Mount Bierstadt had been rather boring and I was ready for a fun scramble?I wasn't disappointed. Instead of staying right on top of The Sawtooth ridge we dropped a little ways down its eastern face. I thought this would be fastest and easiest. We saw a couple with their dog coming directly down the ridge, but it looked like solid class three down-climbing and we made much better time the way we went. This portion of the hike was mostly class two scrambling. At the beginning it was hard to follow the cairns as we dropped several hundred feet. After losing most of the elevation we needed to, we angled over so that we were hiking directly along the ridge. Once we on The Sawtooth ridge it was easier to follow the cairns. The views on either side of the ridge were terrific and the drop from the west side of The Sawtooth was dramatic. It was several hundred feet nearly straight down. By 11:20 we made it about halfway across The Sawtooth.

Up ahead we saw some sections that were going to be a little more difficult. There was one section that we had to climb up using hand and footholds. It wasn't too bad going up, but it wouldn't have been much fun coming down. About this time we met a group of climbers coming the other way. There were about 10 of them and they were wearing helmets and carrying coils of rope. It kind of looked like they stayed on the east face of The Sawtooth the whole time, but I'm not sure. We didn't stop to chat.

At noon we followed the cairns across The Sawtooth to the west face. The slope of the east face was relatively gradual. The west face on the other hand looked like a pretty shear drop for at least 500 feet. On the west face, there was a little trail on a ledge that ran along The Sawtooth for several hundred feet. The ledge was about eight feet wide so there wasn't any risk of falling. Nevertheless the dramatic drop off was a little frightening and I had a little knot of fear in my stomach. I think dad was having similar issues because our pace slowed dramatically and we were passed by two groups of climbers. One was a father-son team who had ascended Bierstadt from Abyss Lake. I think they drove to the top of Mount Evans and then dropped down into Abyss Lake and then climbed up the other side of Bierstadt, but I'm not sure.

The final stretch off The Sawtooth was a little scary and my dad was pretty freaked out. The previous stretch hadn't been so bad because the ledge was several feet wide and there were lots of rocks to hold onto for a sense of security. This was not so for the last couple hundred feet. The path we were following got pretty steep and climbed up a slope of very loose scree and dirt. There were no reliable hand and footholds so we just had to swim up it and hope we didn't slide down and off the edge? It probably wasn't really as bad as it felt at the time, but I would advise those who are afraid of heights and/or inexperienced with shear drops combined with loose scree to think twice about doing this. Also, I personally would never want to come down what we had to come up. If you're going to do The Sawtooth, I highly recommend doing it from Mount Bierstadt going north. I could tell Dad was having a rough time because he was moving at a snails pace. However, we both survived and made it off The Sawtooth at 12:30.

After our hearts stopped racing we hiked up to the top of the cliff at the north end of The Sawtooth. I went a little ahead and Dad snapped a pretty cool picture of me standing on the edge of the cliff. We had some more snacks and rested a bit before our descent. The first part of the descent was a nice gradual tundra slope and we descended it leisurely down to the gully we would take down into the valley below. We reached the top of the gully at 13:30. They gully was rocky and steep, but nothing difficult compared to the last part of The Sawtooth. Near the top we also saw a mountain goat. I'd read how prevalent they were in the area and was really hoping to get to see one. This was the first mountain goat I'd seen in the wild.

As we climbed down the gully clouds started to gather and the sky spit a few raindrops on us. Luckily clouds never opened up and there was no significant rain. There was also no thunder or lightning, nevertheless I was glad we were off the summit and didn't have to worry about it.

After the steep descent down the gully the valley opened up a little where there are some tarn nestled up against the western face of Mount Bierstadt. The descent had taken its toll on my knees and I wished I had some trekking poles. We continued down the grassy slopes of the moraine until we hit the beaver ponds and willows at 14:10. At the top of the valley there was a trail through the willows so we followed that as we made or way down, but soon the trail disappeared into the willows so we ended up fighting through them. It was now about 14:30. Sometimes there were little trails through the willows (possibly made by animals), but most of the time we just had to push through them. Luckily the ground was firm and dry so we didn't have to battle mud too.

We finally made it through the willows and popped out onto the trail past Scott Gomer Creek. In another five minutes we made it back to the car at 15:00. Now there were tons of cars in the parking lot and cars were lining both sides of the road. Once we had left the summit of Mount Bierstadt we'd only encountered three groups of people. Since we left the north end of The Sawtooth we saw nobody until we met back up with the trail. So that was pretty cool. I'll bet the summit of Bierstadt was probably a zoo at noon.

We made it back to my parents' house at 14:10 in time for a shower and a nap before a much needed dinner. Although I was pretty tired, I wouldn't be sore the next day as I had been after Longs Peak. I must have been getting stronger.

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