Friday, January 27, 2012

Thursday Adventure: Mt. Bierstadt in Winter

I'm so buried in writing The Tainted City that I haven't been able to get into the mountains this winter nearly as much as I'd like.  But I'm an addict, I confess it: if I go too long without a mountain fix, I turn into this mopey, cranky, snarly, horribly negative person.  So to preserve my own sanity (and that of everyone else around me), this past weekend I ditched the computer for a day and headed into the high country for an attempt on Mt. Bierstadt with a few friends.

Snowshoeing toward Mt. Bierstadt from the trailhead at Guanella Pass
Mt. Bierstadt is a 14,060 foot peak that stands beside Guanella Pass, about an hour's drive from Boulder.  It's one of the easiest 14ers to climb; only 3 miles one way to the summit from the summer trailhead, along a nice wide well-constructed trail.  Summer weekends, the trail is pretty much one continuous line of hikers, the peak is so popular.  But winter is a different story, especially now the road to the Guanella Pass trailhead is no longer plowed all the way.  (Used to be they plowed the road all the way and Bierstadt was by far the easiest winter 14er climb, but these days the road is closed 1.8 miles short of the pass).  Go in winter, and you can have the peak nearly to yourself.
High on the wind-scoured west slope of Mt. Bierstadt 
As winter climbs go, Mt. Bierstadt is about as easy as it gets: due to the high winds that scour Guanella Pass, the avalanche danger is pretty much nonexistent (snow simply doesn't build up enough), and the route is straightforward and not at all technical.  But the aforementioned high winds mean you must bring enough clothes to cover every inch of skin, or risk frostbite in moments; not to mention the difficulty of hiking in wind strong enough to knock a person flat.  (To give you an idea what's needed to combat the windchill factor, here's what I wore on our trip: capilene long underwear, heavy fleece pants + top, waterproof snow pants, gore-tex jacket, wool hat, snow gaiters, facemask, ski goggles, gauntlet-style waterproof mittens.  And I needed every scrap of it when the wind was blowing full force!)

Snowshoeing along the closed road

I've summited Mt. Bierstadt five times before, twice in winter and three times in summer, and it's the winter hikes that are my favorites.  Last weekend's trip was similarly fun, even though we didn't make the summit this time.  (A storm the day before had left enough fresh snow to make snowshoeing up to the pass and then through the willows to the mountain's west slopes a time-consuming chore; and higher on the mountain, the winds made for slow travel.  We turned around at about 13K, worried we might run out of daylight.  Always better to be safe than sorry on a winter trip!)

Me and Molly Tanzer, in the willow fields of Guanella Pass 
The trip did its job: I came back refreshed and ready to dive back into The Tainted City, no longer feeling overwhelmed by juggling day job, parenthood, and writing deadlines.  Thank God for the mountains!  I'm pretty sure I'd go mad if I lived in a flat state.


  1. This kind of reminds me of Mt. Washburn in Yellowstone. Not a hard climb, easy ascent.

    Sounds like a 14er *I* could do.

  2. Paul - it's totally a 14er you could do; you should put it on your list for when you visit CO!