Peak(s):  Mt. Bierstadt  -  14,066 feet
Date Posted:  03/03/2010
Date Climbed:   02/27/2010
Author:  bergsteigen
 Chasing checkmarks in the snow   

Mt Bierstadt

Ski Team: Darrin (kansas) & me
Splitboard: Brian (covfrrider)
Snowshoers: KeithK, Bill (wildlobo71), and a special appearance by Harry (Bresch)
Trailhead: Guanella Pass snow barricade, Grant side
Ascent Route: Standard-ish
Vertical Ski: ~3,260'
Overall Mileage: ~10
Elevation Gain: ~3,260'

A beautiful winter day:
After having to cancel a trip up Bierstadt 2 weeks ago, due to horrendous mountain weather, we were happy that today would provide ample opportunity to snag a nice summit in winter. And maybe, if conditions were right, I could ski from the summit.

The day started off with some excitement, a stuck truck at the snow drifts just before the official road closure. But with 4 guys to jump on the back of the truck, dig out the tires (with the shovels I made Darrin bring along), and pushing the front, the truck got unstuck. We could then start the day, now that we were warmed up ;)

Brian's stuck truck. Too bad I missed all 4 guys jumping on the back of it!
Ooops! How many guys to get it unstuck?

Once we were all onto our skis, spitboard and snowshoes, we made our way up the mostly snowpacked road, glad for the extra snow of the past week. It's much easier to keep the skis on the feet, than on the pack.
Pleasant trek up road (Photo Credit: Darrin)

Of course, the excitement continues as Bill demonstrates how easy it is to fall on snowshoes, and dramatically recreated the incident for the cameras that missed it. Apparently the reinacting was worse than the original, or maybe just more icy snowy in the face.

Bill's snowshoe extravaganza! 2 shows daily

Near the pass Brian decided to take a shortcut to cut off some distance on the trail. So with his phat splitboard, he plows a trail through the powdery snow and willows, that are eager to envelop us in their willow-wells. Mt Bierstadt looks so close...
Brian breaking trail

Chatting away

Looks good enough to ski

Picture of guys taking pictures (Photo credit: Darrin)

After some floundering in the willow-wells, I take over the lead with my super phat skis, and break trail for the 4 guys behind. Maybe some physics at work here, with the lightest person breaking trail so that the heavier guys don't sink quite as far...

Ok, I'll lead

Some nice pow, too bad it's flat!

Follow the leader....

Along the way we frightened two ptarmigans, and one startled me. Being off trail, they were nesting in the fluffy powder snow, until we noisily came by.

Spot the wildlife?
The startled wildlife. White on white

Along the road and flats of willow world, we had been making decent progress. Everyone was smiling, chatting, joking and happy over the great weather we were experiencing for a February morning. That would soon change as we started up the steeper shoulder to the upper meadow area. Soon the altitude started to become too much for those who have taken a break from mountaineering recently. With time Brian peeled off the group and decided he wanted to snowboard back down, and make it a touring day instead of a sufferfest.

I swear it's getting closer!

Willow trail skinning:
Trail through the willows

We had heard some whumping of the collapsing snowpack down on the flats, so we were sure to be careful in this steeper section on the shoulder area, even with the snow not being that deep. There are options for rocky travel through this section, just beware of the rollovers and wind drifted areas.

Up on the high meadow the prize is once again visible, but doesn't appear as close as we would like it. I begin to look at a snow route down for a ski descent. It's not perfect, and there will be rocky sections to cross, but it looks doable.

Upper snow meadow, some good skiing to be had:
Upper snowy meadow

Unfortunately Keith visited Bonktown, and wasn't feeling up for the long push to the summit, but having made it 12.8K, it was still a good day out in the mountains. So Keith and Bill make their way down and enjoyed a nice, if long day. They found more willow-wells to play in and crazy Mitsubishi driving individuals who thought with enough speed they could get through the snow drift at the effective end of the road.

Our last sighting of Keith and Bill:
Last we saw of our group

So Darrin and I press on, making slow and steady progress uphill. Sad to separate from the last of our group, but Darrin needs a checkmark next to Bierstadt, and I want a ski checkmark.
Slow but steady progress uphill


The upper section:

We decide to veer a bit to the left and closer to the summit, so that I can scope out how continuous the snow is, as well as the best route down. Once we reach the rocky section, we strap our skis to our pack and amble up the rocks in our AT boots. Darrin learns how difficult it can be to have unwieldy long planks stuck the pack, and starts to have some balance difficulty near the summit. As we didn't know our exact route down, he didn't want to stash his skis anywhere. Thankfully we chose a route, that once we were on the ridge, the summit was very near. The best route turned out to be the continuous snow on the very top of the ridge. There is a cornice to the east, but staying right next to the rocks is a good option.

Going up...

We are both very happy to reach the summit, and I presume so was the other guy we met along the upper ridge with his 2 dogs. Kudos to him to summiting solo after his friend with pneumonia turned around well below.

After snapping some photos and eating some food, we decide that it's time to get off the mountain, as skiing this first section of the peak is gonna be tricky!

Contemplating the summit

We made it!

180 pano
Along the ridgeline from SW to NE

Greys and Torreys with a bunch O 13ers

Skiing off the summit:
Summit ski

First section is pretty easy:
So far, so good!

Then it starts getting a bit harder:
Now it starts getting tricky

Rock climbing with skis...or is it rock skiing? You decide:
Maybe I should take yoga?

The descent to the saddle was fun and a good warm-up for the rock hopping between ribbons of snow. I decided to leave the skins on my skis to protect the bases and to slow me down. It did make maneuvering a bit difficult, but considering the lack of damage I saw on my skis at the end of the day, it was very worth it. Tiptoeing also left my skins rather undamaged as well, which surprised me. There have been some discussions about what one would consider an official "14er ski descent". So for me, for the first one I am calling official: My skis were attached to my feet from summit to truck. I picked the most continuous snow line down, with minimal rock hopping, maybe 20' in total. I did this same trick on Mt Toll, and it was a lot of fun trying to ski everything, including the grass, trees and rocks. Here it was a bit more difficult, as the rocks were a bit bigger, and occurred in the upper peak section.

Piecing it together:
Just one last rock hop right?

A wafer thin strip of snow:
Don't slide into the rocks

Once we were into the section of mostly continuous snow, and just a few rocks, I strip off my skins and put them in my pack for later. Now is the time for some fun skiing. There were even a few zones of powder hiding/lurking for us.
Now it's time for the easy skiing!

On the way up Darrin had accidentally dropped his helmet, and it went sliding downhill for a while, until it hit a band of rocks. So with some eagle eyes, we spotted it and went to retrieve it. Unfortunately Darrin put the helmet onto his skis (that were on his pack), since he wasn't going to ski the upper steep section with me. So when he bent over to fix his boots, the helmet slid off the skis and went skidding down the steep snow and probably over the cliff. No way we're going to retrieve that!

Once on the lower, easier section, Darrin put on his skis, and we quickly descend the upper meadow and the light is fading. Some nice backdrops during the ski, making it all worth it.

Skiing the trail through the willows was fun, though I was quite grateful for the powder at the edge of the trail to slow down a bit. Once down by the stream crossing, the skins had to go back on, so we could get back up to the road. The sun set, and the moon rose as we followed the trail of the poor post-holers. Why would anyone not have snowshoes in winter?

Moon rise:

Once back on the road, all we waited for was the point where the road was descending just enough that we could glide all the way home. We made it back in just 30 minutes, where skinning or snowshoing could take an hour or more. Darrin calls it "almost cheating". I call it the reward for the effort and skills needed to ski.

Complete Photo Album

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
03/03/2010 22:04
Going to buy some stock in whoever makes the stuff... looks like you‘ll be adding to their bottom line :-)

03/04/2010 00:09
Thanks for writing this... I was hoping you would! You crazy skiers had an epic day, for sure. Your ptarmigan pic came out way nice, I need your camera...

03/04/2010 05:29
What a fantastic picture, among others! I enjoyed your trip report, thanks for posting it. Love the drama on the snowshoes too, lol

Wish I lived in CO
Yes, I agree
03/04/2010 13:20
Best ”Moon shot” I‘ve ever seen. Sounded like a great day.

03/04/2010 17:29
Thanks for the great report.

Do you remember what CAIC was calling the avy danger that day? Were there parts of the climb that worried you in terms of exposure to avalanche? Bierstadt is still on my ”to do”list.



03/04/2010 19:22
on your first summit descent! That upper portion of Bierstadt can be tough to find in condition for a continuous ski; it usually needs a spring storm to plop some sticky up there, but it looks like you guys made it go anyway. Nice job getting those checkmarks! Oh and by the way, skiing out an approach is quite the opposite of cheating, I‘d call it the only way to go .

Way to go!
03/05/2010 03:00
Sounds like a complete high-altitude skiing experience, from digging out the truck to repairing the ski bases afterwards!

I also love the moonrise shot.

Avy danger - minimal
03/05/2010 19:04

Since recently taking a second AIARE class in January, I know that the avy danger for the Rockies is slow to rise and slow to fall. So some signs of instability were expected with a rating of considerable, trending to moderate.

The only area of concern for me was on the steep shoulder area where there was some deeper wind blown snow. We heard whumping and some collapsing, so we stuck to the rockier edges of that zone. The upper section of the peak, over 13K, is steep enough to slide, but never accumulates enough snow to fill in the rocks generally. That and it is west facing, so it tends to get wind scoured, removing excess snow. Sticking to rockier areas will limit the risk as well.

too bad I missed that trip...
03/05/2010 19:50
way to go on the checkmark....those checkmarks sure are fun!

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