Hiking Bierstadt, Evans, and The Sawtooth

Colorado Guanella Pass Trailhead

Added by Jeff Richards

  • Conquer two of Colorado's most well known 14ers
  • Be able to tell your friends that you conquered The Sawtooth
  • Enjoy amazing views
  • Have lunch with marmots and big horned sheep
  • Visit the observatory on top of Evans
  • 10.25 mile hike with 3,900' elevation gain

Starting from the oddly poorly marked Guanella Pass Trailhead (Google maps directions to Guanella Campground and then drive about two miles past it to the south), the trail heads southeast toward Bierstadt, and much of your route to the first summit is visible from the parking lot. The trail to Bierstadt starts out at just over 11,000 feet and stays nearly flat for the first mile, allowing your legs to warm up. After this mile, the trail begins to climb, and gradually gets steeper until the summit. A series of switchbacks will make the initial ascent easy, but these run out quickly and you will be left with a straight, very steep trail, as you approach the ridge below the summit of Bierstadt. Although this climbing is steep, it is nothing worse than what is to be expected on any 14er, and should pass by quite quickly as the trail is very well maintained and you will have plenty of hikers to keep you company. Once the ridge below the summit is crested it is a simple quarter-mile or less of rocky trail/rock-hopping to reach the summit. The best course of action is to rest, rehydrate, check time/weather, and eat on the summit of Bierstadt. What's coming next can be quite tricky if you aren't prepared or don't have enough time.

To get to the Sawtooth (which you will be able to see on the entire way up Bierstadt), simply head off the summit directly opposite of the way you came. There is really no trail heading off Bierstadt, and it is quite steep, so slipping on the rocks is a real possibility if you are not careful. After a decently long, steep decent off Bierstadt, you'll be face to face with the giant "teeth" of the Sawtooth. Looking ahead, it might seem quite difficult to pass, and it can be, but if you pay attention, it'll be much easier than it looks. Head toward these "teeth" and stick as high as possible on each one, only dropping down in elevation if necessary. There should/will be carins on this part of the hike, but even with these, the route will not always be clear (it's always easiest if you have/meet up with someone who knows the way and can lead you). This part of the route is also why the hike is ranked at Class 3. On a part of the Tooth called the gendarme, be prepared to use your hands to maneuver some tricky sections across steep drop offs. The gendarme is bad because it contains the most difficult climbing, but good because it symbolizes the end of the traverse. After climbing up the gendarme, you will find yourself in a small gully. Although it looks like it leads to nowhere, you should climb up the gully to a small rock pier, and descend the other side of it. At this point, you will see a trail along a ledge which will lead you out of the Sawtooth and onto some easier trails.

After leaving the Sawtooth behind, follow the obvious trial to the Mount Evans summit. This part is actually quite easy, but after doing the Sawtooth and Bierstadt, your legs and body will tell you otherwise. Take this next mile and half or so to the summit easy and you'll be there in no time. Once you summit Evans, you'll see hordes of people who cheated and took the Mount Evans road to the summit, and you'll probably want to get away from these people ASAP, as they don't truly appreciate the mountain like you do.

When descending, head back down toward where the trail from the Sawtooth turned onto the trail to Evans, This time, instead of heading toward the Sawtooth, head toward and open area between Evans and Mount Spalding on your right. In this open area there will be and entrance to a gully. This gully is, both fortunately and unfortunately, your way out. It is a very steep and very lose gully and must be taken slowly. On the positive side, you do not have to re-traverse the Sawtooth and ascend up Bierstadt again. This gully eventually drops you off right below the Sawtooth, and sends you through willows and marshes.

Although this portion is flat, it can be tricky as the trail can get lost in the willows (I personally did not find this to be true, the trail was quite easy to follow), and it can get quite muddy (knee deep in some places I found out). After rounding a corner, you will see the parking lot off in the distance. At this point your brain shuts off and you will walk as if on auto-pilot toward the car. Once back, if it's a nice day, take a nap and enjoy this beautiful area! I saw many people dozing off by the trail, and was tempted to myself. Regardless of what you do, be proud of the hike you just completed!

Pack List

  • Day pack
  • PLENTY of water (2-3 Nalgenes at least)
  • Water filter
  • Sandwich or something similar for lunch
  • A few nutrition or protein bars
  • Sunscreen
  • Windbreaker/rain shell
  • Warmer layer to put under the shell
  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Trekking poles (optional for way down)
  • Gloves (climbing gloves are useful for Sawtooth)
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Activities:

Camping, Hiking, Photography, Rock Climbing

Skill Level:

Intermediate

Season:

Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:

Out-and-Back

Distance:

10.25 Miles

Elev. Gain:

3900 Feet

Rating:

Features:

Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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How to Get There

about 1 year ago

This is such a fun route! If you are thinking about advancing your hiking into class 3 scrambles, this is a great intro. So much fun. It took me about 2 hours to summit Bierstadt, an hour to cross the Sawtooth with another 30 minutes to Evans, then 4 hours down but that was with a sprained ankle. :(

about 1 year ago

Added by Jeff Richards

Addicted to the mountains and in love with all they offer.

 Boulder, CO

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