Jeremy and I left Fort Wayne, IN (elevation: 781 ft.) on Saturday, July 23, 2005 at 4:00 in the afternoon. We took turns driving and drove straight through to Georgetown, CO (8,512 ft.), arriving at 11:00 the next morning. We chilled out in Idaho Springs and got some provisions for the next day’s climbing at the local Safeway. During the afternoon, we watched as storms with lightning hammered the mountains above, hoping that Monday would hold better weather in store.
At 6:00 p.m. we headed up Guanella Pass to the trailhead (11,669 ft.). It was raining and quite chilly in the parking lot. Jeremy and I sat in the car trying to get a cell phone signal so that we could call his wife and my girlfriend to let them know that we had arrived safely. We looked like a couple of dorks with our phones and faces pressed against the windshield where the best signal seemed to be, but tenacity prevailed and our calls went through! At 8:00 we tuned into a NPR radio station that I assume was out of Denver that was playing what I would describe as nature music (sounds of rain and such) that seemed to put us both in trance and made sleeping possible while reclined in the car. Throughout the night I occasionally awoke to turn the blasted heat down and look outside to see the moonlit, cloud-covered Bierstadt, wondering if the weather would cooperate with us.
At 2 a.m. we awoke to the alarms on our cells and started preparing for the trek ahead. We got our packs set and our boots on and were on the trail at 3. I brought my headlamp which proved unnecessary with the moon lighting the trail ahead. It was actually warmer than when we had gone to bed which made for a pleasant pre-dawn hike.
Our first discussion of the day was on the benefits of Gore-Tex boots which brought about an immediate jinx as I missed a rock and stepped into the creek, feeling a rush of water go down my ankle into my impenetrable boots! At this early hour we were the only two on the trail….we didn’t see any mountain goats or marmots, nor did we even hear my favorite, the elusive pika. Everything on the mountain was calm. Because of our lack of acclimatization, the going was slow but we learned from our past mistakes (see my Pikes Peak trip report) and didn’t dilly-dally and just kept moving. We arrived at the summit at 5:45 just as the sun was rising over Mt. Evans—what an amazing sight!
Jeremy and I took in the scenery along with a few pictures. It was quite cold at this hour atop Bierstadt. I turned on my phone to realize that I had a voice mail. Sweet Stephanie from back home had called at 2:30 to make sure I had woken up. I saw that my phone had a signal at this high elevation (14,060 ft.) and so donned my gloves and called her back. Jeremy and I stayed on the summit for about a half an hour. The original plan had been to do Mt. Bierstadt and then traverse over the Sawtooth to Mt. Evans. We decided before starting the day that we would do our climb in three segments, assessing the weather before each segment and not trying to force ourselves further than the weather would allow.
Because of our early start time, it looked like we would be afforded a window of opportunity to cross the Sawtooth, so we started our descent. I brought route photos along from 14ers.com which we used to try and find our way across the traverse. We lost the route on more than one occasion and had to try and locate cairns to find our way across the ridge. There was a lot of up and down which caused Jeremy to have some motion sickness and a few dry heaves. I worried about him for awhile but there really is no turning around on the Sawtooth, and Jeremy is a trooper so we just slowed it down a bit and pressed on. We soon found the spot where one crosses over from one side of the ridge to the other and at this point there is a good deal of exposure for the remainder of the traverse. It always amazes me that back home I have somewhat of a fear of heights when it comes to things such as atriums but when it comes to natural settings such as mountains I am relatively unaffected by exposure. It wound up taking us about 3 hours to cross the Sawtooth.
Once across we headed up to the uppermost point and took some pictures, me sitting on a ledge with Bierstadt in the background and Jeremy, much to his wife’s dismay, doing a handstand on a ledge with Mt. Evans in the background! Although the weather was still holding up and appeared to be granting us a large enough window to cross over to Evans, we decided that because of the grueling trip so far (drive and all) we didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew and so decided to head back down.
We found the gully that acts as the descent off this mountain. Boy, were we in for a treat! This gully was basically a chute of loose rock. We spend most of the time on our hind sides, slipping and falling. Sometimes I managed to fall without even moving! Ankles were tweaked, knees overextended, hands landed on thistle-type plants, and I managed to impale myself on a rock….fun! After the long and grueling gully, we finally found ourselves out in the open and had to figure out our way back to the trailhead parking lot.
After scanning what lay in front of us, Jeremy spotted the parking lot and I couldn’t believe how far we had to go. Aaron Johnson, Hoosier Trekker consultant and Summit Post extraordinaire had advised us to try and avoid the willows. Unfortunately we were unable to do this and so had to navigate through them. It was actually not as bad as many trip reports had made it out to be. For the most part there was a good trail through the willows. There were portions that were quite swampy and somewhat reminiscent of Lord of the Rings II where Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the eerie marsh.
Jeremy and I finally made it back to the Bierstadt main trail and ran into our first hikers of the day, which is amazing considering that this mountain with its close proximity to Denver is sometimes regarded to as the shopping mall of 14ers. The solitude was definitely welcome. We arrived at the trailhead at 2 p.m., making for an 11 hour day. After stopping in Estes Park for the requisite Penelope’s hamburger we were back on Hwy 80 on our way home. I started going a little delirious in Nebraska from sleep deprivation, mistaking a smoke stack for a tornado and thinking that a bicycle on a car rack also had with it the rider, so Jeremy took over driving until we stopped for the night at North Platte. The next day he confided in me that he too was a little delirious as the highway had taken on the appearance of a trail the night before. We got a late start and drove 15 hours arriving back home again in Indiana a little before 2:00 a.m. Tuesday morning. After the exhausting drive I was SO glad to be home.
All said and done, the trip took us 82 hours, 40+ driving, 11 hiking, and the remainder for a little sleep, eat and everything else! It was definitely an experience that I am glad I had but in all likelihood will not repeating anytime here real soon.