Peak: Mt. Bierstadt
Route: West Face
Approach: Guanella Pass Road, South Side
Length: About 13 miles RT
Vertical: About 4000 feet
Ascent Party: Solo.
Tradition... It wasn’t the first 14er I did nor is it my favorite. Not even close. But for me, it is all about tradition. And I believe that tradition is important.
I have done Bierstadt on - or near - my birthday for the last 35 years or so. Plus when an out of town friend wants to do a 14er, well, Bierstadt fits the bill. It’s close to Denver, very accessible (in the summer) and pretty easy. This year, I had to do it the day after my b/day as on the 21st, the wind was blowing so hard I couldn't see the road to drive up.
My birthday is about 10 days before Memorial Day. And since the Guanella Pass road has not been plowed to the top until Memorial Day for the last several years, the ascent becomes a bit tougher. But I still do it and take pleasure in the day. And I hope some of you will take some pleasure in this report.
From the Grant side, I was able to drive as far as the old Geneva Basin ski area which is not quite 3 miles from the top of the pass. With a 5:00 AM start, I was hoping to top out and be back down before the snow turned to mush. I didn’t put my snowshoes on at first, but found I needed them after less than a mile.
Just starting out, looking back down
It was snowing some as I started out which accounts for the spots on the photos, but the snow didn't last long.
The Jeep that was there most of the Winter was still there
My snowshoes were on at this point and I needed them the rest of the day with the exception of the last few hundred feet to the summit.
Looking back down at my tracks.
Almost to the normal Winter closure and the clouds are starting to lift
A speed trap for sure!
Once on the top of the pass, the Sawtooth commands your attention.
As many times as I have been up Bierstadt (this was my 49th , plus or minus a couple), I look for different routes to take. This time, I took a modified approach to the standard trail going up – deviating slightly to the right of the wooden sidewalks and then taking a hard left towards the Sawtooth and then going back right to meet the standard trail on the obvious ledge.
Back on the standard trail on the ledge
As with all fourteeners, the views just get better and better as you go up. Or maybe it's the lack of oxygen that just makes it seem that way...
Note my tracks – not your typical snowshoes. As I stated at the outset, I am something of a traditionalist and I still use wooden snowshoes. When I first started snowshoeing (about 50 years ago in Boy Scouts), they were the only kind available. I find they give me better flotation than any other kind I have tried and the only real drawback is on very crusty snow on steep hillsides where they don’t have the traction that newer models do.
Square Top Mountain - a favorite of mine
I put the white nylon cords around the frame to give me a little better traction on the crusty stuff.
And yes, the left shoe HAS been repaired with popsicle sticks and bailing wire
I have 3 different size snowshoes. Dancesatmoonrise (aka Ansel Adams reincarnated) was kind enough to crop this picture for me. I normally use the middle ones. The pointed toes are especially nice for negotiating willows although if one sticks through the webbing, a face plant can be instantaneous.
You just can’t take your eyes off the Sawtooth – with Evans in the background
Nearing the summit ridge and the blowing snow gives it a surreal effect
I made the summit about 9:30AM and didn’t stay very long. The wind was blowing quite hard and with the sun out, I was worried about the snow getting very soft on the way down. I did take the time to snap a few shots and take a short vid and phone my 86 yr old Mother (another tradition on my b/day) before heading down.
In the clouds
On my way down, I went more or less in a straight line from the summit to the pass. There is one section just before you reach the creek that is a little steep (and you can’t see it coming) but it isn’t too bad. As evidenced by my tracks on the lower right hand side, the snow was still holding up pretty well. And my snowshoes do better in soft snow than most do.
A last look...
There was one person going up from the Grant side that I did not meet but I did parallel his/her tracks on my way back down. This provides an example of how well my old woodies do in the flotation department.
Difference in tracks
In the summer, Mount Bierstadt can be as crowded as DIA at Thanksgiving, but it is a rewarding winter climb for anyone who cares to try it. And if next May, you see a guy in wool clothes (yep, traditional there, too) and wooden snowshoes heading up Bierstadt whistling “When I’m 64”, please say Hello.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Be safe out there!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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