Known as one of Colorado’s easiest fourteeners, Mt. Bierstadt, the peak we have decided to summit on our summer trip this year, is a six mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of 2,770 feet. Leaving the Guaneall Pass Trailhead, we descend gently southeast from the pass for approximately one mile. This is always disheartening on a climb because when you go down, you know you are just adding elevation to the climb you must complete. After the first mile, we are in the flats near Scott Gomer Creek at 11,400 feet.
At this point we have hiked one mile downhill and now we encounter the famous Bierstadt Willows. This part of the hike was a true test for early hikers as they were required to cross a sea of waist high willows through a marshy area to proceed to the next section of the climb. The willows would grab on and become tangled in hiker’s legs, making a true nuisance of themselves. We were lucky, as now a trail winds through the north end of the willows and makes travel much easier.
Before the trail, hardened mountaineers took a direct route toward the summit and crashed through the middle of the willow marsh. Others attempted to locate a lost trail through the south end of the willows and thrashed around even more. People wearing shorts were forced to skirt the entire section and took quite a long time to summit Bierstadt. Those non-determined souls would make a brief attempt at the area and head back to the trail head. Some hearty souls attempted to traverse the willows in the winter but suffered as well. Snow appears to cover them but it is generally not a cohesive surface and lead to some amusing and disastrous results.
Once past the willows, we follow the trail as it winds up Bierstadt’s broad western slop for 1.5 miles to a shoulder south of the summit at 13,780 feet. We climb an additional quarter mile northeast along the ridge to the summit to reach 14,060 feet. While rocky, it is a relatively easy summit.
Due to the relative ease of this climb, many hikers attempt this fourteener in winter. However, on winter climbs, strong west winds blow freely across Guanella Pass.
While the wind is at your back on the ascent, you must head directly into in on your way down. Most winter climbers find that the return trip is much worse than the initial climb. It is also possible to become disoriented in the frequent whiteouts when returning over the flats. My preference is definitely to do this in July.
As our climb continues, we are pleased to have less scree and fewer boulders to climb over then when climbing Mt. Ida in Rocky Mountain National Park two days earlier. Having left the trail head at 7:10 am, we reach the summit at 9:51. Ryan, having left us in his dust much earlier, is happy to see us. He has been eagerly awaiting our arrival, having reached the summit in an hour and forty minutes at 8:50 am!
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