8.01.2004

The Sawtooth

What would a Saturday be without climbing another mountain? My friend from work, Ben, and I went with his roommate to climb Mt Bierstadt and Mt Evans, two fourteerers that are connected along a high, rugged ridge. We started on the west, climbing Mt Bierstadt, which is 14,060 feet first. It is one of the easier, and most popular, fourteeners in the state, and it was quite a party of people. The parking area had at least 30 cars, and there were easily 2 dozen people on the summit with us. Most of those people just turned around and went back down the way they came (an easy 3 mile hike, with 2700 feet of altitude gain), but we were on to bigger and bolder things. The ridge that connects to Mt Evans is steep, and contains several sections of what is called “class 3” climbing. To give you a sense of the class system, class 1 is trail hiking, class 2 is still hiking, but usually with no defined trail, or over rocky slopes, class 3 becomes scrambling, where you often need to use your hands and knees to crawl over steeper sections. After that, class 4 is usually roped and is starting to get more like rock climbing, class 5 is rock climbing, and has a lot of sub-numbers, like 5.6 or 5.10a, if you have ever rock climbed before you will know what I mean. Anyway, so there were a few class 3 sections which had large rocks we needed to use basic climbing motions, rather than hiking, to get over. Some of the nearly vertical rocks were 4-6 feet high! After climbing down from the summiut, there is a traverse section known as The Sawtooth, which is this huge cliff face that is shaped sort of like a shark’s tooth on an angle. From a distance it looks impossible, but when you get closer you realize it is much easier than it looks. This is because there is this perfectly placed shelf that gently ascends across the cliff and on average is about 4 feet wide. This width helps you feel a lot more comfortable with the fact that the drop off to your side is over 1000 foot cliff! After that section, which is probably what scares off most of the people from climbing both peaks together, you follow easy slopes to Mt Evans’ west ridge. This is a long high ridge, that stays over 14,000 for the last 1/2 mile on its way to the summit, which is 14,264 feet. It was over 4 1/2 miles one way to Evans from the car, but it could have been a lot less. Mt Evans actually has a road that goes pretty much all the way to the summit, and when you are on the summit, you look down 100 feet below to the parking lot, which was quite full on this beautiful summer day. So was the summit, but not with hikers, with tourists, who drove up the mountain (cheaters…). One of them, noticing our backpacks, asked which way we climbed up and seemed impressed with the tales of our traverse of The Sawtooth. The way back was easier, because we were able to drop into the valley below without having to redo The Sawtooth or Bierstadt. It was fun day, but long. With all of our breaks, including lunch on the ridge, it took us about 10 miles for the 9 1/2 mile round trip, but it was well worth it to have “earned” our summit, instead of driving up it. It’s pretty cool that there is a road up it though, now when I have visitors I can drive them up and give them a taste of the fourteerner experience, who knows, maybe it will inspire them to climb one with me.

After our climb we were starving, so we went to Idaho Springs for pizza at Beau Jo’s Pizza. It was good, and they have this extra wide crust that you can eat with honey, sort of like the dessert I guess. It’s a big place, in an old building that once was a miner’s saloon, so it has this cool sort of “old west” atmosphere. The whole town’s main street is like that, but with more modern shops. It would be a nice place to spend a day, and I’ll have to go back some day and check it out. In other news, as you know, there is a new Cub on the block, Nomar Garciaparra is now the new shortstop. He did well today, and RBI single and a few nice plays on defense. Hopefully this is the spark in the batting order the Cubs need to start to make a nice playoff run!