“An excellent introduction to scrambling while knocking off two Front Range 14ers.”
— Tyler Prince
River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
This alpine journey takes you up the standard route of 14er Mt. Bierstadt before throwing you to the wolves on the classic alpine scramble affectionately known as "the Sawtooth". After an awesome introduction to more technical routes, summit 14er Mt. Evans. On a clear day, soak in the awesome views of Denver before descending a loose gully and walking through scratchy willows before finally making it back to the parking lot.
While Mt. Bierstadt will be crowded, The Sawtooth
and this alternate route on Mt. Evans Trail
usually aren't as bad, especially if you get an early start.
Need to Know
Generally, even fast hikers should expect a 6+ hour trip, and plan accordingly. Bring sun protection, rain gear, and at least 2 liters of water. The Sawtooth
, while an introductory scramble, still has exposure and requires climbing on all fours at some points. If you're terrified of heights, you'd best skip this one.
From the summit of Mt. Bierstadt, you can return to Guanella Pass or continue to Mt. Evans via a low third class traverse known as "the Sawtooth."
Hikers continuing over The Sawtooth
should descend NE off the summit, walking down a vague trail just to the right of the ridge defining the Sawtooth. Scramble down to the Bierstadt-Evans saddle at 13,300 ft. None of this terrain should be too hard - the rock should be solid and exposure moderate at worst. If things get difficult, you have likely stayed too high on the ridge.
Once at the notch, you'll encounter a large gendarme. Stay to the right to avoid class 4 terrain, scrambling up the right side of the first crux. Once over this, you'll almost immediately encounter a second crux. For the first time, drop to the left of the ridge, walking along a catwalk. This is the most exposed part of the climb. Hikers may elect to stay to the right of this catwalk to avoid exposure and loose rock, or to stay to the left to avoid the low-grade scrambling required by this route. After a class 2+ scramble off the catwalk ramp, angle to the right to regain solid ground.
Walk on nearly flat, rocky but often undefined trail to gain the Mt. Evans Trail
. From here, the summit of Mt. Evans is less than half a mile away. Walk along reliably cairned rocky trail at around 13,700 ft towards a false summit. From here, drop to the right, remaining on similar trail and slowly ascending Mt. Evans from the west. The trail will bring you near the Mt. Evans road, from which you'll make a couple switchbacks and gain the summit.
Despite reaching two summits, you still have a lot of work ahead of you. Continue back toward the junction with The Sawtooth
, this time bearing right and being funneled into a loose gully. From here, the hike becomes less pleasant. There's not much of a trail, but staying to the right side of the drainage keeps you on slightly more solid ground. Tread carefully - loose rocks abound, and it's easy to injure yourself or a hiking partner lower down the slope. Descend about 1,600 ft in the gully before the terrain flattens out.
Don't get too excited - there's still quite a bit of suck ahead of you. While there is a trail near the gully here, it's incredibly difficult to locate, and it doesn't do you much good. Pass through about a half mile of muddy terrain, getting scratched up by willows in the process. Staying closer to Scott Gomer Creek should keep you at least slightly dryer.
Once finally through the willows, navigate on flat ground back to the trail. This will eventually rendezvous with the Mt. Bierstadt trail, taking you back to Guanella Pass. Cross the same footbridges you did in the morning, this time cursing trail developers for not paying the same attention to the willows you just slogged through. Once back at the car, feel free to celebrate one hell of a day.
Flora & Fauna
Willows at the start and end of the hike retain a lot of moisture... be ready to get wet. The 14ers Initiative does an excellent job of keeping them from getting too unruly, but plants certainly have a tendency to grow back.
Don't feed the marmots - they're feisty little creatures. Expect to see pikas and the occasional mountain goat or bighorn sheep as well.
History & Background
Mt. Bierstadt is named after its first summiter, Albert Bierstadt, a German-American painter best known for his dramatic landscapes of the American West. At 14,065 feet, it is the 38th highest peak in Colorado.
Mt. Evans boasts the highest paved road in the country, running from Idaho Springs all the way to over 14,000 ft. It's just a short jaunt from the parking lot and observatory at the top to the summit. Just because some people on the summit are wearing sandals doesn't mean you were overprepared...they likely drove up and missed half the fun.