Tour D'Abyss
(Mt. Bierstadt SE Ridge/ Sawtooth / Mt. Evans)

29 Aug 2003 - by Douglas Cook

August 29, before the road to Mt Evans was closed for the season, I drove to the second right-hand switchback above Summit Lake where there is a small parking area and trail that leads west toward the cliffs above Abyss Lake. I'd scouted this route last year but if you park on the wrong switchback, it's easy to end up on Mt Rosalie! Bob Dawson recently posted a trip report on this circuit route on Fourteener World - I'd never heard the Tour D'Abyss name, but it's appropriate. I decided to try and find the route. Dropping down about 700' through the cliff bands was tricky and required a lot more 4th class down climbing than I'd preferred - maybe there's a better gully for the descent. I traversed across the drainage below Abyss Lake and south of a small tarn to the base of the steep looking slopes leading up to the ridge. The hike up the slopes ended up being quite easy on a mixture of alpine grass and rock. There was no obvious trail. Once on the ridge, the fun begins. It took me nearly 3 hours to negotiate several steep rock bands and run the ridge to the summit of Mt Bierstadt. Plus, most of the day you are above 13,000'. There is no trail or cairns and the routefinding is very complex and difficult. Many times, after climbing into dead ends, I had to make 3-5 moves up the least intimidating short section of 4th-5th class rock. I never found the ledges on the right side of the ridge as described by Gerry Roach in "Colorado's Fourteeners" under the Mt Bierstadt East Ridge route description. At the most difficult rock section below 13,641', I friction climbed a smooth 10-15' section of 5th class rock on the right of two very prominent parallel cracks/body width gullies. After 13,641' the climbing is easier 2nd-4th class hiking and scrambling up to the summit of Mt Bierstadt. I imagine you could run this ridge several times and not be on the same route. Mainly I remember almost always finding the easiest passage by staying to the left of the difficult sections on the ridge.

The Tour D'Abyss now leads down the NE ridge from Bierstadt to the saddle and the beginning of the Sawtooth - there's a well defined trail not on the ridge but traversing on the right side of the ridge about 50' below the ridgeline. One arriving at the saddle, the Sawtooth begins. This was the first time I've climbed this route, and the trail is well defined with maybe a couple sections of 4th class climbing with narrow footholds on small ledges. At the top of the Sawtooth, you scramble down to the saddle between the Sawtooth and the NE ridge to Mt Evans. From here, the route is easy 2nd-3rd class scrambling for what seems forever until you intersect the road/parking areas just below the summit of Evans. Hike the short trail to the summit of Mt Evans and you've completed two Fourteeners! Hike down the slopes hitting the west side of several switchbacks in the road until you reach your vehicle. You've completed one of the more difficult ridge runs and succeeded at complex route finding.

The Tour took me 8 hours, with 3 hours spent picking my way along the ridge to Mt Bierstadt. TOPO! shows the route as 4.8 miles and 2834' vertical. My Suunto X-6 recorded total ascent as 3740' which is likely more accurate with all the ups and downs on the Tour. To test your routefinding skills and confidence climbing short 4th and 5th class sections of rock, this Tour is hard to beat! Depending on the experience and confidence of the climbing party, a short section of rope, harnesses, and helmets could be wise equipment for this route. It's a very committing route with few bail points - best to be completed with good weather.

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