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Monday, January 21, 2013

A tale of two Mt. Bierstadt's

Date: January 19, 2013
Mission:  Summit Mt. Bierstadt (elevation 14,060') in winter.
Who:  Joel Snow and myself
Length: Estimated 10 miles
Elevation gain: Estimated 3350 ft.

On September 1st of 2011, I hiked Mt. Bierstadt with my daughter.  It was her very first 14er, and my 7th at the time. 

September 1st 2011 - my daughter and I on a ridge leading up to Bierstadt's summit.

Fast forward 16 months and it's now Jan 19, 2013 and I am coming off my 34th 14er and possibly my most adventureous climb yet on Mt. Massive.  A few short days later, I just wanted a relaxing hike on this Saturday, so I chose to do a hike of Mt. Bierstadt with my friend Joel.  Joel and I had hiked Wetterhorn, Castle, and Belford together, and was trying to nab his first winter 14er summit.

We started at the winter road closure on the Georgetown side of Guanella Pass.  This adds about 3 extra miles and maybe 500ft vertical round trip by my estimate.  The hike up the road went quickly in the early morning, and we were at the summer trailhead in no time shortly after sunrise.  We began the route down through the willows and past a lake where I remember seeing several moose in the summer of 2011. 

September 2011 - Moose chillin by the lake.
September 2011 - Lake near the willows on Mt. Bierstadt.

Joel and I made our way quickly through the willows and began to gain some elevation on the first of a few climber trails.

January 2013 - Joel climbing up out of the willows.
The weather forecast had tricked us a bit today.  It was colder than forecasted by far, but much less windy than forecasted.  It was probably a high of 10 F all day, but the forecasted winds of 20 - 30 mph did not manifest themselves.  At worst, we saw some breezes in the 10 - 15 mph range.  Although this is still enough to make 10 F feel like -10 F. 

The trail was hit and miss in the snow, and mostly we just went up towards the summit, with the occasional post-hole in knee high snow.

January 2013 - Joel trying to step on my shadow's head.
January 2013 - Joel pictured with a piece of Mt. Evans in the background.

Joel was not feeling 100% and started to have some symptoms of a mild case of AMS (a.k.a altitude sickness) and his pace started to slow quite a bit as a result.  This just happens from time to time.  I turned around on Blanca Peak in Dec at 12,000' due to the same symptoms.  It's just part of life when you climb mountains.  Knowing when to push through it and when to turn around is key to one's safety though. 

So, around 13,600', Joel made the decision to leave this summit for another day.  A decision I completely understand and respect. 

I pushed on for the summit and was rewarded with views of the front range in winter, but also memories of hiking this with my beautiful daughter in September 2011.

January 2013 - Summit views with Grays and Torreys peaks at the far top right of the photo.

September 2011 - Myself and my daughter - same view / less snow.

On the summit, I met a great guy Johnathan from Colorado Springs who'd just returned from war in Iraq a few months prior.  I thanked him for his service and we exchanged various mountaineering tales.  When he began his descent, I was left in solitude on Mt. Bierstadt's summit.  This is unusual.  In the summer, it's common to see dozens or even hundreds of people on this summit.

I waited for 20 minutes for Joel, not knowing he had turned around.  I kept warm by doing push-ups, and running laps around the summit.  Finally another climber made the summit and informed me that Joel had turned around, so I immediately began my descent.

Joel was waiting for me around 12,600' and I caught up to him in short time.  We hiked down the rest of the way just enjoying the now slightly warmer day, dreaming of what food we were going to destroy when we reached civilization.

The hike back down the closed road gives a last memorable view of Mt. Bierstadt.

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