Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,060 feet
Date Posted:  05/11/2009
Modified:  05/21/2009
Date Climbed:   05/07/2009
Author:  Summit Assassin
 Bierstadt - Fear and Loathing on Guanella Pass  

Starting Time: 3:20pm
Ending Time: 9:45pm
Starting Altitude: 10,885ft
Ending Altitude: 14,060ft
Elevation Gained: 3,175ft
Total Distance Covered: 10.2 miles

I got the opportunity to come to Denver for a two day work trip. The chances of me getting to the mountains were slim but I brought my gear anyways. For my two day trip I had a forty-one pound suitcase and a overflowing carry on bag.

The first day of my project very went well. So well in fact that they cut me loose around 10:30am. I raced to the hotel and changed, packed up my gear and jumped in my sweet Hummer H3 rental. Thanks to, I knew that the construction work on Guanella Pass took place between 9-11am, and 1-3pm. My window was 11am-1pm.

I made it to Georgetown in seventy five minutes which was good enough to make it to the closure guard at 12:40pm. I'm in right? I made it just in time for the 1pm cutoff! Not so fast said the sweet lady with the slow/stop sign. Unbeknownst to me and regardless of my inquisitions, a thirty minute hold exists even if you make the time window. Apparently they have to move the crane that is working on the pass to let civilians through and doing so takes thirty minutes. She even said the dreaded, "If you were ten minutes earlier, you'd a gotten through."

After spending the afternoon tooling around Georgetown I busted back up to the closure and after ten minutes of waiting and chatting with the friendly construction peeps, made it through. Taking complete advantage of the rented H3 I reached the end of the plowed road by 3:20pm. I geared up and set off for Bierstadt.

The road up is fairly solid and snow packed. A couple of the switchbacks were loaded, but you should be able to make it to the second shortcut in boots. When I mention the second shortcut, I'm talking about Kevin8020's excellent shortcut documented by this google map:

My first run with post holing was nightmarish. I picked the worst time of the day to go through The Willows. Post holing is so exhausting. It will frustrate you like you have never been frustrated before. You will use it as a trump card in your poker game discussion of Who's Been Through Hell and Back.

I found a faint ski/snowshoe path and followed it. It wasn't the best path and routed me all over the place (mostly south of the summit, instead of directly at it). I was post holing about every fourth or fifth step. On a couple of post hole occasions, with the snow rudely cooling my nether regions, I deeply questioned my sanity. The clock was ticking, the sun was going down, and it was really getting cold. The encouraging aspect about Bierstadt is that you can see the summit the entire way. If you need extra motivation, just turn around and gaze at Grey's and Torrey's. Those sites sure kept me going.

I bushwacked up the face and decided to keep my snowshoes on. Once I got high enough to take them off my fingers were frozen so manipulating them became impossible. Definitely need some glove liners or mittens next time; that's right, more gear! The wind picked up and got fierce as I approached the steeper section below the summit. I was taking thirty steps to five breaths. That worked for me. I reached the summit in four hours which I think was good time. Peered over at Evans, then headed right back down. The wind was howling and ripping, tearing through my gear and making me lean into it to stay standing. It was 7:30pm and I couldn't feel my fingers or my toes. Going back down the same path I came up left me feeling very intimidated. I'll be honest, I was downright scared.

As I stumbled down the face I saw two guys coming up a more direct route. I turned north and made my way over to mgardner210 and his buddy. They were doing a night climb in the moonlight and were much better prepared for the weather. We talked for a few minutes then parted ways. Running into them was the best thing that happened to me that day. They had blazed a much more efficient trail. I followed it all the way back and avoided 90% of the post holing I experienced coming up. With my headlamp and moonlight guiding the way, I got back to the H3 at 9:45pm. Round trip of 6:25. Not bad given the extra length and arduous post holing.

My exciting evening wasn't over. In my rush to get to Georgetown, I had forgotten to tell my family back in Kansas where I was. In fact no one but myself knew where I was or how to reach me. I had 12 missed calls and five voicemails. As I drove down the pass and assured my wife I was ok, I ran smack dab into a full-sized demolition crane calmly destroying a twenty foot section of the pass. I was fully stuck with no way out. Location of the incident:

At this particular point in time my frustration level had reached its apex. On my journey up the pass I asked at least five construction workers about the status of the pass when their shift ended at 3pm. Each one assured me it would be free and clear until 9am the following morning. It was very apparent (judging by the massive crane and bold CATERPILLAR logo staring me in the face) that the first and third shift teams didn't communicate much if at all.

I ran over to the crane and found the foreman. They were ripping up a 50' section of the pass and were well into it when I arrived on the scene. I told him of my predicament and how each construction worker had told me I could get back through until 9am. He asked for names, thankfully I had them. It didn't matter, I would have to wait until 9am. With every ounce of compassion I explained that if I didn't get through this crane I would lose my job. I was to be onsite in Englewood no later than 8am. Failure to do so would surely get me fired. I then offered $100 to each member and then told him to name what they would want and I would buy it. At this point pride and shame were after-thoughts. I had to get back to the hotel.

After a brief discussion, the foreman told me to backup fifty feet. To my great joy and palpable relief they hacked out a section for me to go through. After fifteen minutes of impressive crane work, moving concrete and rock, and bobcat maneuvering I was able to take the H3 through the make-shift exit and back to the pass. The generous construction workers refused my offers and told me to get on my way. They didn't hesitate to snap a few photos though.

I made it back to the hotel around midnight, showered, and passed out. Another adventure in the books for jstouder!

My hands were too cold to take any shots from the summit so thanks to mgardner210 for the pics. I'll update this TR with my disposable camera pics once I get them developed.

Sign of things to come:

Picture of Georgetown from the pass:

Friendly lady who rebuffed me at 12:40pm:

First glimpse of the sawtooth and Bierstadt, coming up the pass:

Midway through the willows, shot of Bierstadt and sawtooth:

Scenic pic of postholing:

From around 12,800‘ on Bierstadt‘s west face, with Greys/Torreys in background:

Looking south from the west face of Bierstadt:

Bierstadt and the sawtooth, shortly after leaving Guanella Pass on the second shortcut:

Approaching the final ridge, you can find me to the right of center:

Shot of me on the top:

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Glad you made it
05/11/2009 23:49
I had a similar nightmare experience with Postholing on Bierstadt last May, except there was much more snow last year at this time. I am glad you made it out safely. those are really cool pictures of you from a distance. I am guessing those were taken by the two guys you met.


Way to persevere -
05/12/2009 01:21
and thanks for the road beta!

Summit Assassin

05/12/2009 13:44
The pictures were taken by the guys I met on the way down. mgardner210 sent me a PM the following day letting me know that he wasn‘t so lucky with the crane crew, and had to spend the night in his car. Luckily he was better prepared than I.

Outside of the road beta, the best info I can give is to go directly for the summit. Quickest path is a straight line methodology applies directly in this instance!


Glad you made it too
05/12/2009 14:46
A friend and I did it the first weekend of May last year and had a great time going up but coming back was a nightmare. Inexperience whooped us. We started out very early in the morning not thinking that the top of the snow would soften by afternoon...yes you are right we did not have snowshoes for the return. My buddy postholed into the lake with one leg...scary at the time, but we laugh now.

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