6:30: I set out on the Mount Bierstadt Trail. It's a very foggy and damp morning. I wonder if this trip is going to work out, as I'm worried about the weather. The forecast called for a 30% chance of storms after 1:00pm. 6:30 was later than I intended to start, so I decide to really push it to the top of Bierstadt.
8:00: I top out on Mount Bierstadt, taking only an hour and a half. I actually pushed a little too hard up to this point, and I take a little break and eat some food. This was decision point #1 for me. When I topped out, I was engulfed in thick clouds, and visibility was no more than 10 feet. Suddenly, the clouds break and I can see again. The Sawtooth beckons me on. I decide to go for it. At 8:10, I put on my helmet and begin to descend to the Sawtooth.
The Sawtooth looks fairly daunting from the summit of Bierstadt. Rather than keeping to the actual ridge, I see some cairns that head a little to the right and follow them. The talus along this descent is very loose, and slows me down considerably. When I descend more, I see some grass benches that would require me to lose more elevation, but offer a quicker path to the first rock tower along the Sawtooth. I choose the faster path.
The grass benches are a welcome relief from the loose junk. Before I know it, I'm just below the first tower. I found no cairns here marking the route, but I knew I was lower than most guidebooks indicate. I spot a weakness in the tower and climb it. It's easy Class 3 climbing for about 25 feet. Above the tower, I can see the route to the cross-over point. I descend a little into a gully, and then climb straight through the gully. Cairns mark the route well here, and there's only one or two moves of Class 3.
Soon I come to the cross-over point. It's a striking view on the West side of the Sawtooth. From the cross-over, the route on the big ledge is clear. This route is also well-cairned. The exposure on this side of the Sawtooth is staggering. This would be a real bad spot to make a mistake. Despite the exposure, the ledge is very large and easy to climb. I don't even think it's Class 3. I rarely had to use my hands to climb.
9:30: Above the ledge, I reach decision point #2 as I exit the Sawtooth. The weather still doesn't look great, but there's no wind and things seem stable. I decide to go for Evans, but tell myself to hustle.
There is actually a faint trail from the Sawtooth to the West Ridge of Evans. I follow it and gain the ridge. Initially, I climbed to the ridge proper over rock that seems way too difficult compared to what I've read. I glance to my right and see two climbers well below me following a cairned trail. I downclimb to the trail and follow it. It's very good all the way to Evans' summit.
10:15: I reach Evans' summit. I spoke to a few tourists and then leave within 5 minutes. There are some clouds building to the West, and I'm a little worried I made the wrong choice at the top of the Sawtooth. I quickly retrace my steps on Evans' West Ridge, and soon find myself near the Sawtooth exit. I spot my exit gully to Guanella Flats, and start to descend. So far, the clouds are still far away. I'm fairly confident I'll be low before any storms hit.
The exit gully is pretty loose, but I'm still making good time. Along the way, I meet another climber who is descending the same way I am, and we go together. When we reach the valley, we take a few minutes to plot a route through the willows. Neither of us sees a good way to go.
Initially, we stay high on a little ridge to keep our feet dry. There is a faint trail, but we still do a fair amount of willow bashing. After a lot of up and downs, we find a more defined trail. I quickly realize that we are at the junction where the Mount Spalding trail goes up the West Ridge of Mount Spalding. We spot where this trail is coming from, and follow it. It drops us into the valley floor.
The skies open up with rain. Donning my rain jacket, I give up any hope of keeping my feet dry. The trail we're on is easy to follow, and we wind our way through the willows. It's very wet.
1:30:The trail we are on actually drops us off into the parking area at Guanella right in front of my bumper. Somehow, we totally missed a crucial intersection that would have taken us to the Mt Bierstadt trail, saving us some swamp crossing. I'm completely soaked at this point.
All in all, this is a great trip except for the willows. If I do the Sawtooth again, I'll probably do it from the Evans parking area to avoid Guanella Flats.
In my opinion, the Sawtooth was way easier than I anticipated. The only part I would call sustained Class 3 was negotiating the first tower. Beyond there, it's mostly Class 2 with a Class 3 move now and then. The ledges are really, really exposed, which is probably why some people find them difficult. I don't have a fear of heights, so the ledges were a breeze. There really isn't any reason to get near the edge, and the climbing is very easy.
Evans' West Ridge
This is a great alpine hike over mostly stable rock. If you know to look for the trail along the south side of the ridge, it's very easy.
This was the crux for me, at least mentally. I was pretty beat at this point, and a nice trail walk would have been nice. I don't think there is a really good way to negotiate this area. It's a maze of game and climbers' trails. The torrential downpour definitely didn't help, but the willows are a real pain in the ass.