| Mt. Bierstadt in December
Cold air moved into Colorado this week, and the forecast for the weekend was high winds ahead of another cold blast on Sunday, keeping temps in the single digits, and wind chills well into the minus range.
I had been wanting to do another trip with Sen (Misirlija), and the plan was tentatively for Mt. Bierstadt on Saturday. Meanwhile, Globreal, Sgladbach, and the gang were headed over to Massive. The weather looked slightly better there – temps at altitude of 26 degrees and gusts to only 35mph. We were looking at a high of 16 degrees and gusts to 55mph on Bierstadt. Getting off safely would be imperative, as the forecast for that evening was over a half foot of new snow and lows well into the minus Fahrenheit range.
Friday night after work Sen and I made a final decision. I could tell that he was really into it – he likes this mountain – and I hadn't done it, and wanted to climb with him. So we wished Steve and Britt well (knowing full well that if Steve is not suffering under wind chills of -30 he's just not having fun) and I proceeded to pack every article of down I owned, just in case. And two headlamps.
Despite concerns over the weather and not knowing what driving conditions to expect on Guanella Pass, or perhaps because of those factors – we opted for the "sub-alpine" start. I guess we just didn't expect this to go – weather, new snow mid-week, etcetera – we honestly didn't think the road would even be passable. So we met in Grant, Colorado, loaded with chains, ropes, shovels, and plenty of beer, if all else failed.
Turns out the washboards were the worst part of the trip. Up high, the new asphalt was like silk. The roads were dry all the way to the closure, which added two miles and 600 vertical to the route. By the time our packs were on, it was well after 9:00 am.
Here we see Sen introducing Jim to one of his favorite mountains, and the nice wooden walkway they built all the way to the summit. Well, so I mused. I guess it's pretty urban around here in the summer. Glad I got to see it in the dead of winter!
Conditions were really pretty nice, though on the big west-facing slope you had to pick your way between solid crust and some of the more breakable stuff. Sen was moving pretty fast. He is a very strong, level-headed climber, and it was great to make this trip with him.
We finally reached the south shoulder off the peak, nearly 1000 feet above the aptly named Frozen Lake, below us on the east side, where we turned and headed northeast up Bierstadt's beautiful southwest summit ridge. Here we see Sen leading up the beginning of the summit ridge.
There wasn't too much of a cornice off the east side, and I felt a little like hairbaggin' it to get a couple shots.
Truth be told, we were blessed with incredible conditions. OK, it was cold, but the sky was blue for most of the ascent, and the summit was calm, quiet, and gorgeous.
We inspected the downclimb off the summit that starts the Sawtooth. Wow. Yes, it really is that steep.
Just doodling around, here's a "watercolor" of the South Park valley from the summit…
Given the somewhat grossly inaccurate forecast (up till that point) we couldn't help but stay on the summit nearly an hour. However, we could see those long, high, linear clouds gradually blocking out the sun to our south and knew it meant some really cold and probably snowy weather on the way. The sun became obscured by the high thin clouds, lending a surreal look to the afternoon.
It was still clear to the west and north. Here we are back at the TH off the top of the pass.
The sun came out from under the horizontal strata just as we were walking back down the road to the cars, gracing us with some beautiful afternoon light.
Amazing that those winds never materialized. Sen, I have to thank you for introducing me to Bierstadt, especially in winter. It was a great trip.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):