I was supposed to do this route with my favorite climbing buddy, but he bailed. Like you, I've learned that driving and then car camping is much preferable to waking up at 0h dark hundred and driving up. So for this climb, in my brand new car, I left Denver and camped till the AM. Unfortunately, since I sleep so well camping, I slept till noon, but since I'm not used to setting an alarm while camping I didn't wake up. I didn't start out from the "north" trailhead till the afternoon! Luckily I had pretty decent weather. The first part of the climb was immediate elevation gain among scree and mine burst, as you said, but once I got to the ridge it was a blast. This is when the weather started to blow in (it was ~300pm at that time... I got a really late start) so I chilled, ate my tuna and crackers, and headed back to the vehicle. Great route, though, can't wait to go back *earlier in the day* and complete the whole route! When I did the Sawtooth, btwn Bierstadt and Evans, the exposure got me a bit, but the Pacific east ridge should've been a good warm up, like you said.
I bought a $5 alarm clock that I keep hanging inside my tent; it helps. I hope you get to try it again soon! I am yet to try to the Sawtooth, but I--probably due to poor routefinding--did find some areas of considerable exposure on this ridge.
Good luck! :)