Of the Colorado’s fifty-three fourteeners listed in the Colorado Summit Criterion, Mt. Bierstadt is considered one of the fourteen easiest. The standard route that begins at Guanella Pass, is ranked a class 2, just as Mt. Yale is, though I must say, it is much easier than Yale. Mt. Bierstadt is also one of the most popular fourteeners to climb due to its closer proximity to Denver, being located in the Front Range. The peak was named for Albert Beirstadt, a praised painter of the Colorado Rockies in the 19th Century.
The trail begins at 11,669 feet and descends through a valley of wildflowers, weaves through willows, and crosses Scott Gomer Creek before it starts its ascent up the mountain. In fact, the first mile of the trail is quite simple. All that meant, however, is we were going to gain 2,850 in the upcoming 2.5 miles! The one thing that stumps me about this fourteener is the Colorado rule, that a hiker must gain 3,000 feet for a fourteener to “count”. 2,850 is a little short of 3,000, so I don’t know how this one makes the official list, but it does and I’m counting it!
The next mile began moderate switchbacks up the slope which were much easier than the hike to Bill Moore Lake Kelley and I did just a few days ago. So far, this hike felt like a breeze. As we were discussing how Mt. Beirstadt was one of the easier fourteeners, a bystander chimed in, “There is no such thing as an easy fourteener.” She is probably right. Things change in thinner air! We hadn’t reached the steep part of the trail yet and we were probably only at 12,500 feet.
The next mile and half to the summit was tough as the trail continued relatively straight up at this point. Up until this point our group of nine: Forrest, Theresa, Brandon, Scott, Justin, Kristin, Kelley, Eric, and I, had somewhat hiked together, stopping every now and then to regroup. In the thin air, everyone had to hike to their own ability. I prefer to just slog along at a slow pace. Others go…stop and rest…then go again.
We all spread out as we lunged over large rocks, dodged watery parts of the trail still wet with melted snow, and yielded to other hikers going up and down the trail. Eventually, Scott, Brandon, and I led the way. We reached the highest point before the bouldering area, and waited here for the rest of the group trying to take cover from a relentless, cold wind until we couldn’t take it anymore and carried on.
Mt. Bierstadt required a significant amount of bouldering. I enjoy the bouldering. It is fun to look for the cairns and to try to decide the best way up to the summit. It requires some concentration, though it isn’t hard, and it gives the legs a rest from the ongoing incline. I probably also love it because I’m minutes away from summitting and my adrenaline is pumping!
Today was so gorgeous that we shared the summit with several other happy hikers. In addition, we started our hike as late as it is considered safe to start a fourteener…8 am. Brandon and I found the summit register, a waterproof tube attached to a rock with a cable. A register wasn’t included, but some hikers who had summitted a few weeks ago had left their sign in the tube, so we scrawled our name on it and snapped our photo before we backtracked fifty feet or so to find a warm spot on the summit, out of the wind.
As Brandon cracked open a beer and I pulled out my PB&J, our group slowly joined us over the next forty-five minutes. We enjoyed the sunny weather on the summit for an hour before heading back down. If we thought the wind was relentless earlier, I’m not sure how to explain it now. It was nearly blowing me sideways at times. I had to look straight down to keep my hat from blowing off…many others lost theirs.
Once we got a 1,000 to 1,500 feet below the summit we were blessed to see the rare shaggy, mountain goat grazing on the green tundra. It was so exciting! Our only other mammal spotting was a quick glimpse of a marmot. We were surprised to see any animals with all the people around. The parking lot was so full that Guanella pass was lined with cars. I was pleasantly surprised that despite all the cars, I didn’t feel particularly crammed on the trail. Everyone was amazingly spread out over the 7 mile round-trip.
Our climb to the summit took 2:40 which included some wait time, and our hike down took about two hours which included stopping to watch the mountain goats. With an hour on the summit, our overall hike was close to six hours which made for an awesome Sunday!
As with my Mt. Yale hike, the stats from the “Map My Hike” app don’t exactly match up with the stats from the 14ers.com website. Map My Hike gives me far more credit in distance for hiking…perhaps I weave a lot at 14,000 feet! Regardless of the distance, time, elevation, or ranking, each hike over 14,000 feet feels like an accomplishment, and it is becoming an addiction. I’m wondering who I can talk into going with me on another. I’m ready to bag another peak!!