Mount Bierstadt, September 21, 2002

My first "fourteener"!

This would be my first attempt at hiking to 14,000 feet. Colorado has 54 peaks over 14,000 feet. I would be climbing Mount Bierstadt, elevation 14,060 feet. Since I live in Illinois, and since I had a headache when I hiked to Pawnee Pass two weeks ago (elevation 12,250) I decided to spend the night at the trailhead so I would be better acclimated to the altitude. I brought hiking gear with me when I drove to Denver from Illinois, but I did not bring camping gear. So I slept in my car at the trailhead. It was sooo cold! I was anxious to hike at dawn just to warm up.

These photos will not be shown in the order they were taken. Since the trailhead is west of the peak, the morning lighting was poor. So some of the pictures of the view on the way up were really taken on the way down.

Take I-70 west from Denver to the Georgetown exit. Go through Georgetown and follow Guanella Pass Road 12 miles to the trailhead. The road is in pretty bad condition considering the amount of use it receives: my Saturn was not pleased.
Here's a picture of Mount Bierstadt (right, elevation 14,060) from Guanella Pass Trailhead (elevation 11,669). (This photo was taken after the hike. It was still a little dark when I began my hike.) I am told it is only 2.7 miles each way. It was the longest 5.4 miles of my life!
The trail immediately drops into a small valley. That valley is commonly referred to as "The Willows" as it is covered with willows about 3-5 feet tall. (I think the willows look more like manzanita.) This was a very difficult portion of the hike until Volunteers of Colorado improved the trail and built many boardwalks over the willows and water and mud.
This photo was taken on the way up, looking back to the parking lot at the trailhead (barely visible in the center of the photo.) As you can see, the sun is still low. What you can't see is that it is very windy and very cold!
A view to the southwest. Still quite some distance from the summit.
I walked right past these ptarmigans and wouldn't have noticed them if they hadn't made some noise. Note how well they blend with the tundra. They were the size of a small hen.
I almost stepped on this one! I am told they turn completely white in winter.
The tundra wasn't particularly appealing, but the vistas from the higher elevations were terrific.
Almost to the saddle, then the final ascent. See all the boulders? Much harder to walk on and around than they appear, particularly when you are just shy of 14,000 feet.
An example of "the trail" near the peak. I'm not as light on my feet as I used to be (understatement) and I was quite slow through this section. Going down was worse than going up as it is more difficult to maintain your balance.
Rock cairns mark the way. Sometimes.
I made it! My first "fourteener"! But three hours??? Yeech! On the plus side, I did not have any altitude related problems.
Looking down on Abyss Lake from the summit. Abyss Lake is between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans.
Another view from the summit. Looking southeast.
Yet another view from the summit. Looking southwest.
Finally, a view to the trailhead from the summit.
For those of you who have never been to a summit, it is common to find a "register" with paper so you can sign in.
Another photo of me on the summit. Brrrr.
The return trip took me just as long as the trip up! I'm used to trails: I simply don't do this enough to be confident in my footing on the boulders. And what was snow on the way up was sometimes mud on the way down. I can't say I enjoyed the hike, but I did enjoy the view from the top. And I finally made it to 14,000!
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Qualls. Last updated September 21, 2002.
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