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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Crowds suck - a summer weekend on Bierstadt, Sawtooth, and Evans.

Date:   July 20, 2013
Mission:  Summit Mt. Bierstadt (elevation 14,060') then traverse the Sawtooth to Mt. Evans (elevation 14,264')
Who:  Myself and my friend Raj
Length:  9 miles
Elevation gain: 3900 ft.

A baby mountain goat on Mt. Evans.

Raj and I met at the Guanella Pass trailhead at 4am.  We were not really surprised to find at least a couple dozen cars already in the parking lot.

We made decent time up to the summit of Bierstadt, particularly considering this was the first 14er that Raj has hiked in several years.  The views on the way up as the sun began to rise are always worth the early start.

Raj making his way up to 13,300 or so on Mt. Bierstadt.

After a quick and fun class 2 scramble, we are on the summit.  

My third summit of Bierstadt, and maybe my last.
On the summit, I picked up at least 6 pieces of litter.  A granola bar wrapper, a banana peel, a hair tie, etc.  People that do not adhere to the Leave No Trace principles really piss me off.  To add to my annoyance, there is someone blasting music from their phone at the top of the summit.  I love music just as much as the next guy, but you will never see me blasting tunes from anywhere in nature.  It just seems to kill the silence and peace that so many, including me, strive for when being in nature.

Raj decided to skip doing the Sawtooth and was just going to descend Bierstadt.  I continued onto the Sawtooth by myself at about 7:30am  trying to escape the growing posse of tourists and ill-prepared city folk that hike Bierstadt each Saturday. 

A look at the Sawtooth ridge from Mt. Bierstadt.

The route across the Sawtooth is basically a difficult class 2 scramble with a couple of short class 3 sections.  The route can be made more fun, or difficult depending on how you look at it, by staying closer to the ridge line.  I followed the route that drops a bit lower on the east side for the most part, but definitely had some class 3 fun along the way. 

On the way up Bierstadt I had started to notice that I was possibly getting a couple of blisters.  This is fully what I deserved for taking a brand new pair of boots on a 10 mile hike without breaking them in.  Now, halfway across the Sawtooth, I am not just noticing these blisters, they hurt, and a lot.  Add to that the fact that my recovering ankle is bothering me and my pace slowed significantly.  I was still having fun though, chatting with the occasional person I would meet and just soaking in the nice weather. 

If you zoom in on this photo, you can see a crowd forming at the summit of Bierstadt.

The worst of the exposure on the Sawtooth, it's really nothing crazy when dry.  I could probably rollerblade down this ledge.

Looking back at Bierstadt from the ledge pictured above.

After making it across the Sawtooth, my blisters were bad, and my ankle was worse.  This was not a good sign either since this was supposed to be a warm-up hike for the next weekend when I had committed to doing Longs Peak with a member of  Either way I knew I had a good buddy that would come get me from the summit of Mt. Evans, so I wouldn't have to descend.  So I called my friend Joel from somewhere on the west ridge of Mt. Evans and he kindly agreed to meet me on the summit and drive me back to Guanella Pass to get my car.   For those that do not know, you can drive to about 13,900 on Mt. Evans on most days in the summer. 

Bierstadt and the Sawtooth from Mt. Evans.

As I reached the summit parking lot of Mt. Evans I realized my plan to have Joel meet me up there had a major problem.  The road was closed for a bicycle race.  I tried to call my friend Joel to cancel my friend-taxi but of course in typical Verizon style, I had no cell signal now.  Go figure.  I had a signal at 13,700' or so, but not at 14,100'.  Anyway I talk to some race officials and discover that the road will open at 2pm.  It is only 11:45am.  I decide to just start walking down the long road in hopes of hitchhiking down with one of the race vehicles, a ranger, etc. 

I walked for almost a mile and a half as many bicycles sped by me at probably close to 50mph.  I finally managed to get a van to stop.  This van was full of bicyclists who did not want to ride their bikes down the mountain.  The driver told me I could sit on the floor in between the van door and the seat or the wheel well.  I opted for a small piece of floor space.  Some kind Russian guy in the seat next to me offered me some water and I quickly accepted since I had run out of water about an hour prior on the west ridge of Mt. Evans. 

My ride down the mountain was a blessing, but to be met at the road closure by a friend who was patiently still waiting was even better.  Joel drove me back to my car and I retrieved my car from a Guanella Pass trailhead that was now 100% full.  In fact the road going up from Georgetown had cars parked on both side for at least 2 miles.  Insane crowds.  Bierstadt is not for the person seeking isolation, solitude, or any semblance of a nature experience.  It's really sort of sad that crowds litter and destroy such places.

Anyhow the day was a sad one from many perspectives like the litter, the crowds, the blisters, and the ankle.  Looking on the bright side though, it was a great day from other perspectives, like hiking with a friend Raj, having friends good enough that will drive 3 hours round trip to pick you up on a summit, kindness from random strangers in giving me a ride down Mt. Evans and some water too. 

Life is really how you choose to see it sometimes.  On this day, I chose to see both, but I'll remember the good stuff and the negative stuff fades quickly from my memories.

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