Posted by: Nathan | July 8, 2009

Summiting Mt. Bierstadt

J and I were privileged to have my siblings and their respective significant others at our house this last week. We did a lot of great stuff together, some of which I may blog about later, but I begin with the last thing we did: Justin’s and my ascent of Mt. Bierstadt. My brother had been talking about hiking of 14er almost since we began planning their trip out here. I admit I was leery at first. I worried I was not fit enough to attempt it, and I had no idea what sort of challenge it would be. I did some research and found a 14er that was purportedly one of the easiest to summit: 14,060-foot Mt. Bierstadt, which is about an hour and a half away from Denver. We planned to go with K’s new beau Joe (not to be confused with Beaujo’s pizza, which is delicious), but lack of sleep and other schedule conflicts pushed the hike to Monday–the morning he and K were flying out.

Justin and I got up early for two reasons: 1. It’s always smarter to hike in the morning due to unpredictable, inclement afternoon weather, and 2. We heard the road leading up to Guanella Pass (where the trailhead is) closes sporadically due to road construction. This rumor turned out to be true, contrary to any of the information found on the web. For those would-be hikers of the mountain, the road on the east side of the pass closes from 8-11am, and 1-3 pm as of July 6, 2009. You have been warned. We made both time windows, as it turned out, which was wonderful.

We got to the trailhead and started our hike right at 8:00 and summited at 10:10, which I still can’t believe. We hiked 3.5 miles up 2,850 feet in just over two hours. Whew! I’m not sure I recommend this pace. If you’re hiking anywhere, go at the pace that suits you; stop when you need to. My bro and I are in relatively good shape (he much more than I), and we have long legs. On the descent, we left the top at right around 11:00 and were at our car by 12:30. Yep, going down was much easier, though it was harder not to fall.

The trail itself is pretty decent. I heard two different accounts of people who got lost taking a phantom trail that goes right (south) away from the main trail. Justin and I saw no such path. There are a few miniature side trails, but it’s pretty easy to figure out what the main trail is. At first, the path descends gently until you cross a stream (there’s a small footbridge made of two logs), then it gets progressively rockier as you go up. Surprisingly, there is not an absurd amount of swichbacks, though there are many; the path goes straight up quite often (read: you quadraceps will hate you). Since we went in July, there wasn’t a lot of snow left, but we did cross a couple of snow fields. Toward the top, you climb over piles of boulders without any real trail to speak of. The final ascent is another rockpile. It was the hardest hike I’ve ever taken, but it was worth it. Picture time!

Bierstadt02NW

Looking southwest from Mt Bierstadt. I've never seen so many white-capped mountains in one place.

Bierstadt03N

Now looking west. Those two peaks in the middle are Gray's and Torrey's, which are two other popular 14ers.

Bierstadt04S

This is the view to the southeast. That flat expanse in the distance is South Park. A man we met on the top could identify the Collegiate Peaks beyond that.

Bierstadt05E

Now we're looking north at Mt. Evans, which dominates the view of the front range from Denver. That lake a few thousand feet down is Summit Lake, I believe.

Bierstadt01N&J

Hail the conquering heroes!

Bierstadt06medallion

This is the US Geological Survey medallion at the summit.

Bierstadt07parking

The view down the mountain to Guanella Pass Road. Our parking lot is the cement blip up and to the left of the lake.

Bierstadt08boulders

The penultimate boulder pile. As you can see, some people slid down through the snow rather than hike that bit again.

Bierstadt09justin

Justin nobly surveying the beautiful valley. We're pretty far down the mountain now.

Bierstadt10fullview

Mt. Bierstadt from the parking lot. Yep, I stood on top of it.

If you’re thinking about hiking a 14er in Colorado and want one that’s doable, I definitely recommend Bierstadt. We didn’t need any gear to get to the top–just a jacket, water, some food, and determination. Hiking boots are also highly recommended; my treadless sneakers weren’t much help on the snow. There is a lot more information and larger pictures of the route and the surrounding area at 14ers.com.

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Responses

  1. Awesome. I’m adding this to my do-before -I’m-old list.

  2. Wow. Those pictures are breathtaking. What an amazing thing to do!

  3. An impressive accomplishment! Very, very cool.

  4. Thanks for the amazing trip report. The snow fields in July remind us of a great line from a park ranger at the Alpine Lodge at the top of Trail Ridge Road, RMNP: “Up here we have two seasons — winter and July”. Congratulations on the hike with Justin, and your anniversary with J as well!

  5. Good summary and great pictures! Next time we should bring a sled. I would much rather be hiking it again right now than sitting in my office…


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