Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  03/03/2009
Date Climbed:   03/01/2009
Author:  KeithK

 Never say never!  

Mt. Bierstadt (14,060')
March 1, 2009
West Slopes from Guanella Pass Closure (~10,900')
Round Trip: ~8.8 Miles
Elevation Gain: ~3,197'
Mike(smoove), Kevin(fishstick), Matt(native_mntguy), Mike S.(Eagle Rising), Derek, Keith

So that's three. A far cry from the "I'm really not interested in climbing 14ers in the winter" statement that I've made on numerous occasions in the past. Eerily similar to the proclamation that I would never climb Longs Peak, that it was beyond my ability. Five months later, I stood on top of Rocky Mountain National Park. I guess it's about time to stop saying these things; will anyone ever believe me again?

I met Mike, Kevin and Matt in the not-so-wee hours, and we were off on I-70, headed west under clear skies on dry pavement. There is something to be said for the proximity of Mt. Bierstadt, and even with our later than intended departure of almost 6 a.m., we were at the winter closure and geared up before 7:30. Mike S. arrived, introduced himself, and joined us as we began the journey.

It may be awhile before anyone busts through that…

Matt and Kevin choose their outfits…

With a pleasant temperature of nearly freezing, we set off up the road. Snowshoes, skis and snowmobiles have all conspired to create a well packed highway up to the pass. There is an obvious switchback shortcut that we took on our way up, but I'm not convinced that the effort of climbing through the trees was better than just staying on the road all the way. No matter which way you choose, Mt. Bierstadt does not wait long to make its appearance.

There's our mountain, providing that first exciting view that makes us forget that we were awake at 3 a.m.!

For some reason, I thought it would be longer to reach the pass from the closure, but in no time we were nearing the final S-curve, where the trench was already in place to shortcut across the dreaded willows and meet the summer route, what there is of it.

A glorious day dawns over Mt. Spalding, the Sawtooth, and Mt. Bierstadt…

We followed the fairly packed shortcut track across the willows, with only minimal sinking and the occasional snowshoe posthole. Within minutes we were suddenly following the summer trail, and the snow was really a non-issue. You could probably boot the whole thing, but snowshoes make much more sense, and keep the track in better condition.

The famous Scott Gomer creek willows…

Approaching the shoulder, where the willows end and Mt. Bierstadt begins…

Mike, Kevin and Matt began to push the pace, while Mike and I maintained a slower, but still steady rhythm, working along the very well packed, sometimes icy, and sometimes dry trail.

Ascending the shoulder below the west slope…

Snowshoes became unnecessary, and I strapped mine to my pack. I like the training weight! Mike and the guys wore theirs almost all the way up to the summit ridge. Either way works fine. The two groups ahead of us stashed theirs at the prominent pole/cairn at the crest of the shoulder. The trail was more than bootable all the way to the point where it was no longer necessary to follow, at which point, there was not a lot of deep snow to contend with. The winds were picking up, though, and wisps of snow ghosted over the mountain, making it look very much like winter. Still, it wasn't uncomfortable, and none of us wore anything other than hats, hoods, and sunglasses for the day.

Viewing the route from low on the slope; Mike and Kevin can be seen with Matt just a bit lower…

The mandatory Sawtooth close-up…

The lower half of the mountain is quite easy to negotiate with just boots, alternating between shallow snow, windblown tundra, and rock. It wasn't until we began to climb the steeper upper half that things became a bit more interesting. Stretches of nearly bullet-proof snow began to make me wish I had brought my crampons, as it was slick and steep enough to be influenced by gravity. Stubbornly, I refused to put my snowshoes back on, and edged and kicked upward. It definitely paid to have mountaineering boots, as the stiff soles really bit into the icy crust.

Easy terrain…

…leads to steeper, harder snow…

I could see Mike and Kevin making their way up the summit ridge, with Matt just minutes behind. Two climbers were already on their way down, and I recognized a red jacket belonging to Rob(colowolf). He and Zach(Eatinhardtack) had mistakenly assumed that we were actually going to be on time with our intended 6:30 start. We chatted for a few, and then continued on in our respective directions. Finally reaching the ridge brought relief, and I just hoped for enough continuous snow to make for an "easy" track to the summit. Mike S. was a ways behind me, but still chugging along.

The start of the final push…

Halfway up the ridge, after meeting the Three Amigos already on their way down…

Reaching the summit for the 3rd time in less than two years, I was feeling great, and enjoying the day immensely. I sat down to enjoy my new found summit snack of choice, pizza, and watched as the next hiker made his way up the ridge. "Keith K! How are you?" Derek exclaimed. I haven't seen him since we climbed Massive last summer, and it was very cool to be joined on another summit, this time without the imminent threat of death by electrocution! We hung out, chatted and welcomed Mike S. a few minutes later. Did I mention that it was his FIRST 14er???

Winteriffic summit shots…

A very dry Mt. Evans…

Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker finish off the Indian Peaks…

Mount of the Holy Cross…

Grays, Torreys and friends…

Looking out over the sea of Front Range and Mosquito mountains…

Southwest… I've always noticed that Mt. Silverheels and Quandary Peak look very similar from this angle…

Due south finds Mt. Logan, Kataka Mtn. and the Retirement Range…

A nice zoom of Pikes Peak….

Congratulations Mike S.!



Terminator Mike…

Great skies for pictures…

Eating, drinking and relaxing, we spent a few minutes taking pictures, talking, and appreciating the day. I wasn't sure how easy the way down would be, but as we made our way down the ridge, I never felt less than sure footed. Heel stepping where necessary, I followed the Yak-trax clad Derek down to the saddle, where we met the next potential summiteers.

Coolest winter dog ever! A Boston bulldog/Pug mix! She was having a blast!

Descending the more slickery portion of the day, Guanella Pass looking plenty far away…

Although Mike S. slipped and took a little slide, the descent was largely easy and uneventful. We made good progress back to the start of the willows, donned the snowshoes, and began that last wonderful mile across the bog. I marveled that we were walking on top of willows that I know are over four feet tall, based on my hike last summer.

Squaretop Mtn. looks pointy and cool from this angle…

The slog across the basin wasn't all that bad, even for missing our ascent route and following a lovely deep trench to avoid going all the way up to the summer trailhead, courtesy of Matt, Mike and Kevin. The deep sugar was only a couple of hundred feet or so, and once back on the main track, it was smooth sailing back to the road.

The start of the "winter shortcut"…

Straight down the road it was, and we joined the rest of the gang right around 3:30, for a round trip time of about 8 hours for me. I did it in 6 last summer from the main trailhead, and it took me 9 the first time. This was nearly three miles longer, so I'm quite happy with that! It was great hiking with all of these guys again and Mike S. for the first time. Hopefully we'll all share many future trails!

Finally hitting the road, it was time for ski traffic. Wait a minute, there wasn't any! Should I say that again? There WASN'T ANY SKI TRAFFIC! There wasn't even a wait at Beau Jo's, as we polished off a pie and some fine New Belgium Brewery products. Talk about the perfect day!

The parting shot…


 Comments or Questions

When I finally write a trip report....
02/05/2011 00:22
I'll aspire to write one like yours. Always amazed by how much detail you get in there. By the way, that 3,197' number I quoted you doesn't include the elevation gain on the way back. So we might have to figure how much it really was--maybe an additional 400-500 feet of gain? Edit: I have to say that the snowshoes‘ crampons were super handy for biting into that really hard snow--my boots slipped right off that stuff. And those televators...I can't say enough.


great TR as always
03/04/2009 00:36
I look forward to more hikes with all you guys....hopefully some of you can join me as I finish the 14ers this summer


03/04/2009 00:49
I will join you on many of long as I harden the f*** up!


Nice write up
03/04/2009 02:24
You‘re right....a little better weather than Massive was!
It was nice meeting those of you I hadn‘t met before, and next time I‘ll try to get my butt out of bed in time to join you on the ascent and not just the descent


No traffic?
03/04/2009 03:13
Good TR Keith and it was nice meeting you up there. Rob and I hit ski traffic on our way out. It was stop and go for about an hour. I guess the traffic ended in your favor starting later than we did.


C ongratulations!!
03/04/2009 21:49
Looks like you have had some great climbs the winter...whats next??



11/30/2010 17:28
Well, Kirk, the answer to that is whatever seems doable! Of course, once summer hits, I'm not ruling out ANYTHING. What do you want to repeat?

Mike, Matt, Derek, Zach... thanks! Gotta admit, we‘ve lucked out with the weather. It‘s hard to believe it‘s only March, and we‘re already standing above 14K!


Nice Report and Pics
03/05/2009 19:27
We were up there the weekend before you with equally amazing weather, good winter summit although I hated the willows on snowshoes, we didn‘t find the packed trail you speak of on the ascent so it was pretty brutal for us. Congrads!


Strong work!
03/06/2009 06:45
Great job on the trip report and the photos. That was a pretty good day, and I was happy to have another winter 14er done. I‘m looking forward to the the next hike.

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