Tour De Abyss

Hiking the Tour de Abyss near Denver, Colorado.


I was going to write a more fully detailed walkthrough, but during the hike, I ran into a group of three who posted much better pictures. They have a pretty impressive website and I recommend checking it out: Merely A Flesh Would. That being said, I'll just detail how my hike went with my friend Cameron.

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Getting There

The hike starts at the blue circle. To get there, you drive toward Mt Evans. Along the way you'll find a dirt parking lot with some bathrooms. Stop there and buy a parking pass (they have envelopes for money that you put in a box. the envelopes contain a parking tag with a number on it). Now continue driving down the road until you get to the first sharp curve in the road at the bottom Mt. Evans. You'll see a dirt area carved out for a few cars at the sharp turn. (Very few people hike this route, so it has a small inconspicous parking area.)

Start - The Gully

From the road, hike toward the gully. You'll see a single tall wooden pole marking the entrance to the gully. Be careful on your way down this. Toward the bottom, there's a lot of skree and some steep areas. Both me and Cameron injured ourselves (minor) by scraping off a ledge, though we probably could have avoided that by taking a different route.

The Valley

Crossing the valley is easy and a good moment to take a photo. Lake Abyss turns into a broken river in this part, so at points, you have to navigate across it by jumping from mound to mound. When you get to the other side, you just go straight up the side (there is not specific line) to the East Ridge of Mt. Bierstadt.

The East Ridge To Mt. Bierstadt

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Most of the East Ridge is easy class 3 climbing. The only difficult part is third point, the crux of the ridge. An image of it is above. The picture is from The picture can be misleading. In reality, the 4th arrow should point straight up. For about 3 or 4 steps, I consider the hike class 4 climbing due to its verticality.

Once you get past that though, it's back to easy class 3 climbing the rest of the way, although you still have most of the ridge left to go. At one point, the ridge dropped about 7-8 feet. Instead of hopping down, I chose an easier route around the side. However, I wouldn't recommend it. Although it was easy, Cameron & I had to swing around a boulder over a small gap that hovered over a very tall cliff. It was definitely a no-fail spot (slipping would have meant death). In hindsight, I'd rather do a more difficult jump where failure doesn't mean your doom.

The Sawtooth

When you make to the top of Mt. Bierstadt (the green circle), you'll probably find a bunch of people who took the easier West Ridge hanging out. You'll have little time to rest as you're only a 1/3 finished with the hike and the hardest part is next. Start down the Sawtooth which connect Mt. Bierstadt to the West Ridge of Mt. Evans. At first, there is no clearly defined route. Just stay on the East side (the West Side is practically a sheer cliff). When he hiked, there was still snow. We chose to stay above it. Others went below it (easier, but longer). The Merely A Flesh Wound group went across it with microspikes.

Toward the bottom of the Sawtooth you'll be pushed into narrower routes, the first part goes over the peak of the ridge (we scrambled across it). Eventually it dips back down where you need to look for cairns that will show you the way. You'll cross a little bit of everything here: narrow ledges, down skree, and up steep smooth boulders.

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Finally you'll get to a wide chimney (the red arrow on the first photo), which you must go around to the West Side of the ridge. Now comes the scariest part of the whole hike. After going across more narrow ledges you'll have an option. Take the lower route (solid line in picture above) which is wide but loaded with skree, or take the higher route (dotted line in picture above) which is narrow but solid. We took the higher route, and I highly recommend it. The cliffs here are sheer 1000 foot drops and scrambling across skree here is down right terrifying.

The West Ridge To Mt. Evans

This rest is class 1 then class 2 hiking to the top. You can just cut across (the dotted blue line on the first photo), or hug the ledge if you want a view of the valley the whole time

I hope you've been making good time. We didn't. We were about 15 minutes away fromt he parking lot at the top of Mt. Evans when a hail-thunder storm swept over us. I was ahead, trying to push Cameron to go faster. A group of hikers who were returning down the Mt. Evans peak crossed Cameron. I would have ran, but I was yelling at Cameron to run. When I realized he had taken cover with the others, it was too late, and I took cover by myself. The hail swept in and I immediately felt the freeze. I still had my helmet on, and I kept it on because of the hail. I pulled out my sweater and forced it over, then I put my shell on. I managed to cover most of myself with my bag or with cover, but a part of my back was still exposed and the hail was pummeling the hell out of it. Even though we were in the cloud, it hurt to get hit by the hail.

After 15 minutes of being frozen and pummeled, I called 911 and asked for what the weather looked like. I could endure some time out there, but if it looked like it was going to be all day, I was just going to make a run for it. Luckily, the operator said that it appeared I was in the tail end of it. All in all, it was probably 30 minutes of ice hell and terror before it got clear enough to make a move.

I called out to Cameron, and we both went running. It was actually easier to move since the hail had created a flat plane to run across. He later told me that the group he was with was so panicked that they were reciting the Lord's Prayer together. I don't blame them. You don't understand how frightening it is to be in a hail-thunderstorm until you've been in one. Usually when someone says they're in a storm, they're 14,000 feet below it. We were literally inside the storm cloud. The hail and cold was painful, but the threat of being struck by lightning at any moment was the real heart stopper.

The East Ridge of Mt. Evans

When you reach the top of Mt. Evans, you'll find a parking lot. This is the only 14er that you can drive to the top of, so you'll probably find a lot of tourists up there. To make it back down to the starting point, you just cut across the winding road. If you ever hit a cliff, just hug it until your back to the road. Then keep cutting. This is a very easy ridge to go down and only takes 15 minutes.

In Summary

That's it! If you're in good shape and have done several 14ers before, the entire tour should take about 7 hours. If you're not in the best shape, it'll take about 9 hours. Keep that in mind, and don't get stuck on Mt. Evans after Noon like we did. On most hikes, half of it is going back down the mountain. In this one, you practically end at the top, so you have to start extra early so that you finish before Noon, which is when the thunderstorms start to roll in.