Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  03/31/2014
Date Climbed:   03/29/2014
Author:  rkalsbeek
 Might as well try again - Mt. Bierstadt Snow Hike  

Mt. Bierstadt - 14,060’
West Slopes (from winter road closure)
Round Trip: 11 miles (15 w/ my Friday night camping mishap)
Time: 7.5 hours (4.5 hrs. up, 3 hrs down)

I’ve been looking to get more experience hiking in the snow, and this weekend turned out to be a great learning experience. I climbed Quandary Peak in January, but there was not much snow. The week prior I kept going back and forth on whether I should attempt to summit Bierstadt since storms last Wednesday and Thursday increased the risk for avalanche. So, I was glued to the weather forecast and monitored the CAIC’s avalanche forecast. Knowing that with Friday/Saturday clear, a west wind that wouldn’t put Bierstadt at a higher risk of wind slabs on the west slopes, the relatively gentle slopes of Bierstadt, and the fact I’ve summitted Bierstadt four times in the summer, I should at least go and SEE the mountain and determine from there if I should attempt to summit.

I left work Friday night and drove up to the winter road closure near Guanella Pass campground, getting there about 6:30PM. I ate a quick snack, put on my layers, strapped on my snowshoes, threw on my pack, and headed out on the road to the summer TH at 7PM. Almost immediately I ran into someone who had been snowshoeing along the road. We talked for a bit and he let me know that he had peeled off of the road and forged his own path through the trees to cut out a good portion of the hike along the road to the summer TH. I appreciated the advice for a short cut, but because it was getting dark and that route was unfamiliar, I decided to stick to the road. He shouted as I started walking, “You’re the real deal!” and I replied, “Well, we’ll see about that!”

I had the snow covered road all to myself. The fresh snow meant that I was creating my own path and I could look back and see only my tracks - I loved that feeling! But I was not postholing, snow was 3-4 inches deep before I hit the packed surface from snowmobilers and other snowshoers who had packed the snow down.

Road all to myself

View of Bierstadt from the road as the sun goes down

The plan was to camp at the summer trailhead and set out early the next morning. Reality was much different… I believe it was Mike Tyson who said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." It took me an hour to get from the road closure to the summer TH (I arrived at 8PM) and almost immediately after the sun went down the wind picked up. Soon I found myself in a full on windstorm and struggling to set up a tent that was not at all made for these conditions. I tried for an hour, but my tent just wouldn’t stand up to the winds. Doh!

I packed up my stuff and started the trudge back down to my car. The wind was brutal but fun/exciting. I was kicking myself all the way down to my car- “how could I be so stupid?” was on repeat during the hike down. I also weighed my options and at one point contemplated chalking it up as a failure and just drive home. “No!” I said to myself. “I have to try again tomorrow.”

I slept in my car, got up at 4:45AM and was on the trail (again) by 5:30AM. Temp was 15 degrees when I started. The picture below shows that part of the parking lot is exposed (likely due to the high sustained winds), but that there is still enough snow to block the entrance to the bathrooms at the TH.

Summer TH

I was, again, the only person on the trail and found myself creating my own way up the mountain. The feeling of picking your own way up the mountain is one that is unmatched. I felt free - Bierstadt was my mountain. This feeling is one that has gotten me hooked on winter climbing.

I snowshoed across the Willow Swamps. Most of the time I floated above the willows on a hard frozen crust, but occasionally I fell through and was reminded not only of how much snow there was but also that I was walking on top of what is, during the summer, a muddy, wet, mess. “HaHA! this snow is much better!”

View of Bierstadt as the sun comes up

Looking back across the Willows

Once nearing the base of the mountain, I followed what is normally the summer trail to about 11,800 feet. At that point, I switched from snowshoes to crampons. It was not necessary to put on crampons at this point. In fact, snowshoes would suffice for the entire hike except near the top where you don’t need snowshoes, but I recommend some sort of traction.

BUT, I felt like putting on crampons because I needed the practice and just the idea of walking up a snowfield in crampons is exciting! Instead of continuing along the trail that cuts across the base of the mountain I went straight up through snow/rock mix to the snowfield that makes up the majority of the hike up Bierstadt. I veered away from the drop off to the north, as a cornice had developed and I didn’t want to risk it breaking away. I zig-zagged my way up the snow field until I hit the rocky area just below the ridge to the summit.

A view of the Sawtooth from the West Slopes

View of the summit


As an audiophile, (I think that’s an appropriate term here) the sound of crampons cutting through snow and then scraping across rock was addicting, I hope I’m not the only one who loves that sound! I gained the ridge and then the summit, taking 4.5 hours in total to summit. It was a clear, sunny, beautiful day in the Rockies and I was proud of myself for making it to the top.

Nearing the top

Nearing the top

View of the Sawtooth ridge


Summit Selfie

The hike down was uneventful, besides the absolutely brutal and exhausting wind blowing directly head on as I crossed the Willow swamp. The wind was not as fun this time….

I learned a lot about myself and had an incredible time hiking in the snow. I am hooked to snow climbing for the rest of my life. As always, I climb to create memories and to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s. If you’d like to learn more, please feel free to send me a message or visit my facebook page at

Climbing for Alzheimer's Awareness

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

What a beautiful day!
04/01/2014 13:32
Excellent job not giving up and battling the wind. Looks like it was a beautiful day...besides the wind!


Nice one, Robin!
04/01/2014 13:50
Winter IS addictive, isn't it? Kudos to you for sticking with it.


04/01/2014 18:28
I couldn't have asked for a better day! And winter is most certainly addictive. Looking forward to more!


Dig a Pit !
04/02/2014 15:56
Hey, just a suggestion, but try digging a pit next time before setting up your tent. Congrats on not giving up, perseverance is the game!


04/02/2014 19:24
Hey thanks for the tip. Seems obvious, but I didn't even think about it. The snow wasn't quite deep enough where I was to be helpful though... A friend of mine also gave me the idea to bring up plastic shopping bags and fill them w/ rocks/snow and tie them to the corners of my tent!


Nice job!
04/08/2014 02:04
As already mentioned, good work on the perseverance.


Snow levels
04/08/2014 03:37
How deep was the snow? I was thinking of doing this one as well. Any Avi danger?


Thanks! and snow levels...
04/09/2014 00:28
Alpine - thanks, much appreciated! I'm really glad I went or the summit, it was a beautiful day!

Kupa Troopa(cat) - I'm not one to give advice on avalanche danger. I watched conditions all week and felt safe while I was there. There didn't seem to be enough snow on the steeper aspects of the mountain to slide, I didn't see any cracks, heard no ”whoompf's” and didn't see any signs of previous slides. That being said, if there's snow there's a chance for avalanche! Use your best judgement.

As for snow levels - snow shoes were needed from the winter road closure (2 miles from summer TH) up until about 12,000'. You don't really need snowshoes to float when you're that high, BUT I would recommend some sort of traction (microspikes, snowshoes, crampons, etc.) as it was still slick and I wouldn't want to slip.

   Using your forum id/password. Not registered? Click Here

Caution: The information contained in this report may not be accurate and should not be the only resource used in preparation for your climb. Failure to have the necessary experience, physical conditioning, supplies or equipment can result in injury or death. and the author(s) of this report provide no warranties, either express or implied, that the information provided is accurate or reliable. By using the information provided, you agree to indemnify and hold harmless and the report author(s) with respect to any claims and demands against them, including any attorney fees and expenses. Please read the Safety and Disclaimer pages for more information.

© 2017®, 14ers Inc.