Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Post Date:  04/12/2009
Date Climbed:   04/10/2009
Posted By:  Kevin8020


 Mt. Bierstadt... almost  

Mt. Bierstadt – April 10th, 2009
Starting Altitude: 10,885ft
Ending Altitude: 13,440ft
Elevation Gained: 2,555ft
Total Distance Covered: 9.31 miles

This was my second attempt at the Bierstadt-Evans combo. While I wasn't completely confident in my ability to cross the Sawtooth in snow, I figured it was worth the effort seeing as my first attempt at the Sawtooth back in October (in a bit of snow) ended badly. For this hike, Will, a good friend of mine, volunteered to join me. While his winter mountaineering experience is limited, his hiking experience and knowledge of what this involved confirmed to me that he would be a good partner.

We reached the trailhead and were on our way by 6:15am. There was one shortcut early on the road that was terrible! It covered significant elevation quickly, and required some very difficult maneuvers to get back onto the road. Not recommended. However, the shortcut through the willows when nearing the top of the pass was a nice way around going to the top of Guanella pass and cut off some distance.

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By 7:30, we were at Deadman's lake enjoying breakfast. The road was not too bad, the temperature, mild, and the winds light. The only issue we had was an occasional postholing here or there. Snowshoes are definitely still a must. We forged onwards, blazing a new trail. The few snowshoe tracks that were up there strayed quite a bit further north than I was comfortable with, so I headed straight for the ramp up to the basin.

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-Photo by Will

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At 9am, we reached 12,147ft and found a nice slope at 39°35'26.52"N by 105°41'9.60"W. I originally decided that it would be best to cross the slope 1 at a time for the sake of potential avalanche danger, though quickly discovered the snow to be extremely stable. We spent almost an hour here, and enjoying sliding down the slope and practicing self-arrest techniques. Assuming you don't gain too much velocity, the run-out is safe.

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^Note, not proper technique... we were just messing around...

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-Photo by Will
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-Photo by Will
^For you mountaineer types, I had the axe in my right hand and was holding the shaft in my left, that's why this one looks as though I only have on hand on the axe - I promise, it's both

We left that slope at about 9:45am and reached the upper basin at 10am. It took another 2.5 hours for the two of us, who are in neither bad nor good shape, to reach 13,440ft. Our packs were heavier than usual, and managing the slopes with snowshoes was not easy. We opted to go without them for a bit, and regretted the loss of traction. The snow was quite well compacted all the way to the upper ridge, which we never achieved.

In the end, as the snow clouds moved in and promised white-out conditions, we opted to make our descent. I suggested crampons for the descent, which was a very smart idea. We had a few issues getting them to stay on, but once that had been handled they made fast work of the descent. Perhaps, too fast. By the time we reached our sliding slope, it had started to melt, but we still tossed our packs and snowshoes down before sliding back down ourselves. From there, it was snowshoes all the way back to Guanella Pass.

The trip would have been much fast should AMS not have settled on our stomachs. Unfortunately, the fast descent took its toll and Will was sick all the way back to the pass, where I started feeling the symptoms. With hopes the bathroom would be open, we hiked back up to the parking lot only to find them… quite inaccessible.

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In the end, despite the unpleasant finish, the hike was definitely worth it. The views were great and the workout was well worth it. If nothing else hike up to the slope and try some self-arrest practice – you won't regret it!

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