The Rockies: Another Weekend…Another Fourteener…Mt. Bierstadt!

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 which resulted in 2,850 feet to gain 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 feet 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 that 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.  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.  Unable to take cover from a relentless, cold wind, we finally 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.  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, 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, though despite all the cars along Guanella Pass, the trail didn’t feel too crammed. 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 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!!

The Rockies: My First “Fourteener” – Mt. Yale

Colorado is home to fifty-eight peaks that rise higher than 14,000 feet; however, only fifty-three qualify as an “official” fourteener under the Colorado Summit Criterion.  To be ranked the 14,000 foot peak must have a prominence of 300 feet.  The summit’s prominence is its rise above the highest saddle connecting the summit to higher ground.

Prior to the Colorado Summit Criterion being introduced, most 14er lists included 54 peaks…counting El Diente and North Maroon Peaks while excluding Challenger Point which wasn’t named until 1987.  The 55 peak 14er list includes Challenger Point and the 58 14er list includes Mount Cameron, Conundrum Peak, and North Eolus.

Just as the number of 14,000 peaks seem to be slightly controversial in Colorado, how to “bag a peak” is also controversial.  The Colorado rule requires the climber to ascend at minimum 3,000 feet.  The climber may traverse between peaks and the climber must descend 3,000 feet.  Driving are car part way up and only climbing a few hundred feet or 1,000 feet doesn’t count!  Some purists don’t even think traversing between peaks count.

Fourteeners are ranked by difficulty as well…from Class 1 to Class 5, easy hiking to technical climbing.  Most fall in Class 2…more difficult hiking, some off trail that may require placing hands on the ground for balance.

Mt. Yale, 14,196 ft and 21st highest, is part of the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness and the Sawatch Range of the Colorado Rockies.  Mt. Yale was named by Josiah Whitney in 1869 when he led a team of six graduate students from the Harvard School of Mines in surveying the area.  Mt. Yale was the first of the Collegiate Peaks named and was named  for his Alma Mater from which he graduated 30 years prior.

There are two routes, both rated class 2, to take up to the summit of Mt. Yale.  Our group of 24 ladies opted to follow the standard route via the Denny Creek Trailhead.  As such, on Friday, we found a campsite a mile or so up the road and prepared for an early morning departure.  While I would like to say we had a nice dinner around a campfire, there was a burn ban in place, so we had nice dinner by the creek at an awesome campsite.

What an awesome group of girls!  My connection was through book club that my neighbor Polly introduced me to this past winter.  Four girls from book club joined the trip and one of them, Karla was the incredible organizer.  Between neighbors, friends, families, and a few degrees of separation…we had group of mentally strong, physically fit girls bonding for the first time or continuing their lasting friendships.  This was the fifth year for the annual trip, and I am so glad I got to be a part of it.  I can’t wait for next year.

To make things easy, everyone was assigned different meal duties…Friday dinner, Saturday appetizers, Saturday dinner, and Sunday breakfast.  Our dinner at camp was gourmet…a lentil salad, a pasta salad, pulled chicken, green salad, a variety of dips, homemade brownies…there was no shortage of food!  After sharing stories over dinner, we turned in…either into our tents or our cars, depending on how we wanted to camp.

Our morning started around 3:45am.  We went through our checklists…layers, first aid kit, lots of water, hat, gloves, chapstick, headlamp, snacks, camera, cell phone, and lunch for the summit.  We piled into a few cars, arrived at the trailhead around 4:15, posed for a some pictures, and started our trek in the dark at 4:30am.

The path was rocky and steep from the start!  I had to stop and shed my first layer almost immediately.  While most of the girls were from Denver, a few were out of towners, and Robin from Washington stopped with me.  She needed to acclimate a bit more to the altitude, as we started the hike 9,900 feet versus sea level.  Just stopping for a minute caused us to lose the group for about the next mile until we reached a creek crossing.  It was a little eerie walking through the woods in the dark…just the two of us.  At the creek, we met up with the rest of the girls crossed mediocre wooden bridge.

Just before the bridge was about the only part of the trail that leveled out for a few minutes; thereafter, it was all up hill.  We continued another quarter mile until we found a sign directing us to the right.  As we followed the trail upward through the trees, the sky slowly changed from dark night to purple to morning light peppered with pink clouds.  With the light, we got to enjoy the wildflowers that lined the trail…blue columbine, indian paintbrush, bell flowers, asters…just to name a few.

Eventually the trail took us above the tree line at about 12,100 feet.  Here we could see peaks far into the distance, clouds dipped below the summits, an alpine lake, rocky points, and even more wildflowers…forget-me-not, moss campions, and sandwort.  The views were magnificent, the switchbacks ongoing, the summit still a mile and a half away!  While our group stayed relatively close together, we started spreading out a bit more now as girls stopped for water, to eat a snack, or catch their breath.

At one area that required a little scrambling, I paired up with Tanya and we stayed together until we summited.  We kept a slow pace and just trudged along, only stopping for a few sips of water, to put on our gloves, and to enjoy the view occasionally.  We just wanted to get there!  After finishing the switchbacks, we reached about 30 feet of flat space before we had to scale boulders and follow light trail marked by cairns on the right-hand side of the peak.  I wasn’t too fond of this part.  I don’t mind scaling rocks.  I just didn’t like it when I found myself very close to the edge…it felt like one or two boulders between me and a few hundred feet below.  I just kept my focus on my feet and didn’t look up much!  It’s funny because I have no problem bungee jumping, sky diving, or climbing…but I had something protecting me in those cases!

There was a giant cloud overhead and a good breeze at the summit, thus our time at the top was short as sweaty shirts quickly turned into cool rags!  Tanya and I enjoyed our peanut butter sandwiches with Joyce and Serena, two other girls that had summited just before us.  The other four were beginning their descent just as we staked our claim because fifteen minutes at the top is about all anyone could bear without the sun shining!  Just as we were preparing to leave, another part of group summited…so we squeezed about nine of us together for a few minutes.



Serena, Joyce, Tanya, and I all descended together, though Serena and Joyce quickly left us behind as we took countless pictures of the wildflowers, marmots, pikas and creek on our descent.  We even got passed by Karla and Kelsi on the way down…though I do have 80 plus pictures to show for it!  As we descended, we finally started crossing paths with many others.  I think most people started out the hike at 6am.  We started earlier as we concerned about the weather forecast calling for storms by noon.  In addition, for six or seven of us, it was our first time to climb a fourteener, so we were unsure of our abilities and how the altitude might affect us over the 9.5 mile climb.  As we crossed other hikers paths, many commented, “I’ve never seen so many women on the mountain” and “What time did you guys start?”  We also met a group dressed in wedding attire just for the fun of it!

Our entire hike by the creek on the way up was in the dark, so it was nice to be able to enjoy it on the way down.  My favorite hikes have always been by the water, though I will say I was ready to get to the parking lot!

Upon reaching the parking lot, we received a small cheer, joined the few that had already conquered Mt. Yale and waited for the rest of the ladies to join us.

Once the final two rounded out our group of 24, we picked up our gear at the campsite and headed to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort & Spa where we rented two cabins for the night and of course soaked in the pools.  Of course we enjoyed another gourmet dinner and good company before turning in for the night.  What a fantastic weekend with an amazing group of girls!  ETB