Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mount Bierstadt

I took advantage of a 5 day weekend in order to summit a couple of easy 14'ers in Colorado. The original plan was to re-climb Longs Peak, but snowfall during the past few weeks has made the Keyhole route a bit too treacherous for my current skill level. So instead, I found myself driving up through scenic Guanella Pass on September 23rd toward the Mount Bierstadt trailhead. The Aspen trees carpeting the foothills that rise southward out of Georgetown are now producing leaves which display a glorious shade of gold in the late day sunlight. I arrived at the trailhead parking lot at the top of Guanella Pass about an hour before sunset, and spent the next few hours taking pictures of the fading light reflecting off of Bierstadt and the Sawtooth. As the dark replaced the light, I threw my sleeping pad and bag into the back of my truck, jumped in the sack, and slowly drifted off to sleep under a million stars. I watched the occasional satellite gliding past my field of vision, which were mixed in with meteorites streaking across the sky every 15 minutes or so...it was perfect.

I woke up early on Saturday the 24th as a couple of hikers pulled into the lot to get an alpine start on their summit attempt of Bierstadt. My sleeping bag is rated to 0-deg F, and easily kept me warm through the night. However, it also made me reluctant to climb out into the cold morning air (I was sleeping at 11,669-ft...it was chilly!). Luckily, I quickly warmed up as I started moving around, putting on my boots, gloves, and jacket. Soon after, I hit the trail, first hiking across a field of willows. This part of the trail is easy and flat, with boardwalks interspersed along the way (I'm guessing these were built in order to avoid particularly muddy portions of the trail?). After crossing Scott Gomer Creek, the trail then begins to ascend the western slopes of Mount Bierstadt. After slogging upwards for a couple of miles, I encountered a ridge which rose to the summit of Bierstadt. Some easy boulder hopping is required during this portion of the hike, perhaps involving a few class 2 moves, but certainly nothing difficult. Before I knew it, the boulders were behind me and I was a few feet away from the summit. There were 3 other people scattered along the summit with me, and we simply sat and enjoyed the morning light illuminating Mount Evans and the Sawtooth to our north and east, and marveled at the sight of Grays Peak and Torreys Peak off to the west-northwest. The view of Guanella Pass and the trailhead parking lot far below the summit were also spectacular.

It took 2.5 hours to ascend the 2850' to the summit over a distance of 3.5 miles. I was glad to have started early (about an hour before sunrise), because the large crowds heading up the mountain, which I encountered on the way down, would have taken away from the serene experience that I enjoyed at the top.