| Bierstadt in a hurry - 1st 14'er
(forgive me if this seems disjointed. I pulled it from a huge trip report that once posted I will link here.)
How do you eat an elephant?
Returning to RMNP from our Mt Ida adventure on Friday 7/22, we had a final dinner and enjoyed a fire before our last night at the campground, rounding out a week of hiking/climbing.
Saturday 7/23 we would tear down, pack up and head back to the Hotel in Boulder before departing back to Atlanta on Sunday night at 7:05pm.
With the sting of failure still fresh in my mind, I couldn't help but search for a way to get in another peak before we left. Give me SOMETHING TO CONQUER! My mind kept going back to Mt. Bierstadt. It's one of the "least difficult" "14'ers" in the Rockies. I had done a good bit of research on it before our trip, and thought it was something we could do, but knew it was quite a ways out of the way and wouldn't really fit into our schedule. Or would it???
On Sunday we would have to check out of the hotel WELL before we needed to head to the airport, so what would we do? I sat silent in the car, for perhaps too long, and Jen asked what was on my mind. I told her I wanted to do Bierstadt. I braced for impact...
Jen, being a planning person, said that I would need to figure out exactly how it would work and then we could make a decision. This is where I say how awesome my wife is. I drug her all over RMNP for an entire week, pushing her beyond her zone of comfort both physically and mentally, yet I ask for another monumental feat and realizing how much it means to me, she gives me a tentative agreement.
Back at the hotel I poured over maps, directions, climb routes, and planned it all out. Once I had the information I planned everything backwards. We needed to be at the airport at 5:00pm which meant we needed to leave Bierstadt by 3:00pm which meant we needed to summit or turn back by Noon without exception.
Queue on the other hand was done. He was not interested in climbing anything more, not one inch. He schemed to stay in the hotel or something. Ultimately we told him his choice was to climb, or wait in the car with his iPad & iPhone and whatever entertainment they would offer him without a network connection. Being 16 and capable of sleeping anywhere, he opted for the car.
I re-arranged our packs & luggage, consolidating only necessities down to my pack, leaving Jen without a pack to deal with. I carried water, some emergency supplies, food, trekking poles, rain gear, some layers & a camera. I got the pack as light as I could while having enough to cover our butts if SHTF without having to rely on others.
We also arranged a quick bag with airplane clothes to change into as soon as we came down so we wouldn't have to fumble with anything. I thank my "planner" wife for this insistence as I never would have thought of it, and it made things so much easier on the way out.
3:15am - the alarm goes off...
Groggy eyed, we got dressed, had some coffee (& red bull), piled into the car and headed toward the Guanella Pass.
I was a little concerned that we just spent the night in Boulder, at an elevation of 5400' and we would be climbing to +14,000' but hoped that our previous 6 days of camping & hiking/climbing in 9,000'-12,000' elevations would help. Thankfully, it did.
Following directions online, with a few quick stops along the way we arrived at the trail head at 6:33am.
Bierstadt is the peak on the right.
There were already a pretty good share of cars in the lot, but we managed to find a spot without too much trouble. While getting my pack on I could see something down in the valley at the small lake near the start of the trail head. It was HUGE and dark. Bigger & darker than the elk we had seen previously, I figured it might be a bear.
As we started on the trail, heading down hill, nearing the lake we could hear water splashing. As we came around the corner we saw what it was. On the opposite side of the lake was a huge MOOSE. It was in the water up to its shoulders, head underwater and would flip its head up. His huge antlers throwing water in an impressive shower, creating a wave through the whole lake. I had never seen a moose in the wild before and it was absolutely magnificent.
We pressed on. The first mile and a half is basically flat, if not downhill a bit, reserving the elevation for the mountain itself.
I was surprised to see as many people on the trail as there were. There were a LOT of people. I was also surprised to see a good share of them totally ill prepared for any type of hiking. Little to no supplies, terrible footwear, miserably out of shape, etc. It was interesting to play "leap frog" with people along the way. We'd pass them, walk a bit & take a break and they would then pass us.
The hike/climb was fairly uneventful, but the views were awesome. We could see the summit nearly the entire climb. But it wasn't until at least half way up that we could see tiny people up there. We climbed. The tiny people slowly got bigger. The big cars in the lot slowly got smaller. The trail seemed to go on forever.
Through our visit to the Rockies, the wildlife on my list to see was:
Big Horned Sheep
Out of the list, we had seen a million Elk, a couple Marmots, a Ptarmigan and even a Moose which I didn't expect. I held no hopes of seeing a bear, but still hoped for the Pika and Big Horned Sheep. While we never did see any sheep, we finally got to see the Pikas. Once we got above 13,000' there were Pikas EVERYWHERE. They're like Alpine hamsters on steroids. They were totally cool. However, they were too quick/small/shy to get pics of. But hey, I saw them!!!
Our climb ultimately landed us at the base of the final push. Somewhere around 300' of vertical rock scramble at a pretty sharp angle remained, in maybe 1/4 of a mile. We sucked in deep breaths and pressed upwards to reach the peak.
It was awesome, albeit as crowded as a Starbucks grand opening. Jen took care of signing the summit register as I snapped pics all around. It was awesome to see the lake waaaaaayyyy down below on the back side of the mountain, and see huge birds circling in the air hundreds of feet below us on the front side.
We summited at 10:15am, about 3hr 45min from start. We soaked up the sun as it fought against our sunscreen to fry us in the thin air. The temps were fantastic, and surprisingly we managed to get up this high without a lot of shortness of breath. We hung out for about 30 minutes and started our descent.
Our descent was a non-stop trek downhill, where we passed countless people still heading up and just starting out, despite the threat from some dark clouds rolling in. Our trip back downhill took us 2hr 25 min, landing us back at the car at about 12:40pm. By this point the parking lot was **FULL** of cars, and overflowing everywhere you could think of squeezing a car.
We changed quick, arranged the luggage and started our drive to the airport. Traffic was ridiculously heavy and stop & go for over an hour as we slowly made our way back towards the Denver airport. We grabbed a bite to eat once the traffic cleared and made it back to the airport in plenty of time.
During this climb, as the steps became tough, and seemed endless, a 3rd grade bit of wisdom echoed through my brain over and over. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…
Elapsed time: 6hr 09min 01sec
Max altitude: 14,064'
Distance: 7.2 mi
Max Positive Gradient: 46.9%
Week Trip summary:
Climbing/Hiking days: 6
Climbing/Hiking time total: 33 hours, 48 minutes
Miles total: 40.2
Ascent total (in vertical feet): 10,684'
Max altitude: 14,064
Max positive gradient: 46.9%
Things learned on this trip:
Hiking/climbing/walking/ANYTHING at high altitude is vastly different from near sea-level
Just because you can SEE the destination doesn't mean you can reach it
A hike is a climb, and a climb is a hike. Everything has altitude to it and the distances get pretty long
Everything on the map is farther than it appears
High end gear is worth EVERY LAST DIME when your comfort/safety depend on it
Elk... Much bigger in person
Thanks for the best birthday trip ever baby!