Hike to The Sawtooth

by Dick Gibson

Date: August 10, 1996. Length: Approx. 6 miles. Gain: 2186 ft.
Participants: Dave Wilson, Nathan Way, Alex Krueger, Dick Gibson

The day in Denver promised to be hot, so we sought cool air in the Colorado mountains, driving up to Guanella Pass. We parked on the low, northern side of the pass, near the 11,584' benchmark. This was to avoid the crowds at the main parking area. After a quick lunch of cokes and apples, we headed east toward the small lake that lies just below the pass. There were fairly good trails in this area, though the going was springy and soggy through the bogs, and we had to battle a few areas of chest-high brush. Little red elephants were common bloomers in the wetlands, and there were ducks on the lake.

We had decided to hike into the headwaters of Scott Gomer Creek, where we would choose a route up to The Sawtooth after we got higher up the valley (see map - 35KB image). From the first lake for about a mile to the east, the fighting with bushes was fairly intense. Alex hiked further north and avoided much of it. Finally we got into trees on a granitic knob on the southwest side of the creek. Nate was well ahead, climbing up the draw toward Mt. Spalding, so Dave, Alex, and I went that way too.

This was the steepest part of the hike. About a quarter of the way up, Alex and Nate headed southeast around the cliff face for some challenging climbing, while Dave and I chose to continue up the draw. It wasn't really difficult, just some big-boulder climbing that required occasional use of hands and knees. Apparently Nate and Alex struggled a while, got to one place where Alex "wished he was someplace else," and finally came up a less complex way nearer the draw.

About seven-eighths of the way up the draw, Dave and I stopped for a granola bar (these granola bars had gone everywhere I went in Montana at Field Camp this summer). Dave spotted two mountain goats on the ridge crest to the southwest, watching us intently. Ultimately they and their kids moved off, but they kept us in sight for quite a while. As we were enjoying the goats, a few flakes of snow started to fall. Storm clouds were scattered around the peaks, but it was basically a warm sunny day. So the occasional swirls of snow were fun.

The gentle upper part of the hike was through a felsenmeer ("rock sea") of mostly light-colored granitic rocks. Some were standing on end like mini-Stonehenges, and they gave a ragged appearance to an already beautifully jumbled landscape. Most of these rocks are about 1.67-1.73 billion years old. As such, they are probably at least slightly metamorphosed, and indeed Dave pointed out the crude planar fabric that most of them had. They were cut by thin, unmetamorphosed dikes that we presumed to be associated with the 1.1-billion-year-old Pikes Peak Batholith.

We crested the saddle for an incredible view of Mt. Evans to the east, and Abyss Lake, about 1000 feet below us, down a nearly sheer cliff. It was a simple walk along the arete to the high point of The Sawtooth at 13,770'. Alex and Nate joined us there.

Everyone spit into the void -- to have it fall a few feet and then be taken horizontally by the wind currents along the cliff face.

The return hike was enhanced by an encounter with a herd of 20 or more mountain goats, including several kids. We got within a few hundred yards of them before they moseyed off, munching grass as they went. Our main break on the way down was on the rocky crag above a beautiful little lake north of Scott Gomer Creek.

The rest of the return (especially for Dave and me, less so for Nate, and almost not at all for Alex) was a big-time battle with head-high (or higher) brush. But we made it. We'd seen very few people and had a great time.

The day was capped with an Italian dinner at Tony Rigatoni's in Golden, compliments of Dave and Nate.



1996 Richard Gibson
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Richard I. Gibson, Gibson Consulting - 301 North Crystal St. - Butte, Montana 59701 - Phone/Fax: 406-723-9639 - E-mail