The last time I was at Guanella Pass was just short of a year ago…my first Colorado “climb” was here at Mt. Bierstadt. Funny thing, I had a bit of trouble finding the trailhead due to darkness and construction; it was light the last time I was here. I turned around twice at the top of the pass before I settled on parking next to a giant mound of dirt in a construction zone next to the TH. The car that had been tailing me followed suit. It was about 5:30am.
The driver and I discussed the construction and weather as we geared up. His partner showed up shortly after, and the two of them headed out. I took a bit of time to hydrate and was on the trail at roughly 6am. The first light of the day was beginning to show behind Mt. Bierstadt…the sky was overcast and a strong wind was blowing. I hoped that the wind wouldn’t blow anything nasty this way.
I was moving quickly and passed the two-some before exiting the Willows. As I began to gain altitude, I could see the wind was blowing some serious cloud cover through the gullies to the South/Southwest…it was very cool to watch the cloud “mass” move steadily out of the ravine and across the Willows.
Pushing upward at a quick pace, I was at the beginning of the heavily cairned summit pitch by 8am. By this time, the sun had come out and burned away all of the cloud cover I was worried about. However it was still cold and very windy. As I looked back down the approach, I saw nearly twenty hikers scattered along the route…I was just glad there weren’t more that early. I reached the summit of Bierstadt shortly afterwards, but the winds were so bad that I decided to sign the log and get off the summit.
I dropped into the Sawtooth and was very nervous…I was so glad I had my trekking poles for support. Shortly after I began, I was overtaken by another hiker who asked about the traverse ahead. Not having researched the route as well as I should have, I didn’t have much information for him. He took off ahead, moving amazingly smooth on the ridge, as I struggled along. I wanted to track where he was heading to make sure I was on route, but he was out of sight shortly after he passed me.
I followed a lightly worn, yet cairned route that dropped down instead of staying up on the “teeth.” I was sure that this wasn’t the true “Sawtooth” traverse, but I was uncomfortable with my situation as it was, so I figured that dropping would be a better idea for this trip…I’d come back and do the route when I had a partner and was more comfortable on rock. I forgot to mention the wind, which was blowing full on into the ridge.
I reached the base of the Sawtooth and moved to the other side where a steep scramble back up awaited me. I stowed the poles, and began climbing up. The slope was damp and loose at first, then eased into a solid boulder field. There is some definite potential for great snow routes up above between the Teeth. I fell into a rhythm , and climbed steadily until regaining the ridge at 10am. The climb had left me exhausted, so I found a bit of shelter from the wind behind a rock. I had thought about hiking over to Mt. Evans from this point, but fatigue and the wind convinced me otherwise. I had heard Mt. Evans has great snow routes, so I made a note to come back again when the snow fell. Mount Spalding was much closer and along the descent path so I headed North and ran into about 8 people coming down from Spalding’s summit. They were bummed when I told them that the wind was worse where they were heading!
I was on top to Spalding by 10:30am. Once again, I took refuge to rest and take some photos. The descent from Spalding proved to the most interesting part of the trip. I began switch backing West down the slope. About half way down, I ran into a herd of mountain goats, which was nice because I hadn’t seen any last year when I climbed Bierstadt. I neared the brook and saw two people walking on the other side. I hustled down to catch them, and was surprised to find two guys in full camouflage with rifles. I decided not to ask, but instead chatted a bit about the awesome day and the “fucking” wind.
We concluded, and I headed down towards the beaver ponds. Unfortunately, in my haste to see people, I had left the trail on the other side of the stream. I had walked myself into the heart of the Willows. I struggled to keep on a faint trail that cut down the dense hillside. Those before me must have been off trail as well; the trail dead ended several times at some kind of cliff or impassable section of willow. I worked my way down to the river, and upon crossing, was on a more worn trail through the Willows. The ground was very soft and muddy, forcing many backtracks and cut a crosses to avoid undesirable moisture.
The Willows broke just before the first river crossing of the Bierstadt Trail and I was relieved to be on the last leg of the trip. I was one of many groups who became log jammed on the trail due to the massive number of people just heading out.
It was 12:30pm when I reached my rig…the 2 parking lots that I had missed in the dark, as well as the makeshift I parked in, were completely full – it took some tricky 4wheel reversing to avoid the Lincoln Town Car that nearly boxed me in next to some impassible dirt mounds.
After some much needed rest and re-hydration, I was on the road back down to Georgetown, vowing to come back for the real “Sawtooth” route someday.
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