Thinking back to 2011, this was once again a great snow season for Colorado. Snowpack was at 227% for the date and had reached a peak of 115% of normal back in early April. Knowing this, the first 14er of the year had been repeatedly pushed back due to snow on the ground as well as from the sky. So with a couple college friends visiting, I jumped on the opportunity to show them to the top of Bierstadt and get the first high peak of the season on the legs.
Knowing that it was a relatively straightforward hike and I was going one super fit person (Ran 3:01 at Boston this year) and a comparably fit person, we slept in a bit and left Broomfield just after 5:30 to head for the Guanella Pass Trailhead. We arrived to a somewhat cloudy but clearing morning just after 7:30.
We got ready and headed out relatively quickly and began the slog through the willows. For anyone planning this climb in the next week or two, prepare to be muddy. The trail in the basin was occasionally a trail, sometimes a creek, and very frequently a small pond. Gaiters were a necessity but we did not need microspikes/traction of any kind. Much of the snow on the trail is not on a steep section nor very long.
We reached the creek and found it to be running rather high. The group that had left a few minutes before us was backlogged, trying to find a safe way across. There was a plank laid down on top of the rocks, but it seemed more haphazard than piecing together the rocks. Kate and I explored upstream and ended up finding a narrow spot to long jump across. Matt took the bolder approach and balanced across on the plank. Ultimately we all made it across dry!
We started our climb up towards the first ridge and the going immediately slowed. We had been making excellent time, but our pace slowed as the trail got steeper. Even with the steepness, we were still moving relatively quickly. The trail dried out progressively as we climbed. There was still the occasional snow field to cross though.
The gentler slope of the ridge was a welcome reprieve for the legs but the lack of O2 was beginning to take its toll. The breaks required by the thin air, were reward with clear blue sky views of the surrounding peaks. The Sawtooth, as always imposed over the majority of our hike.
The climb up to the summit ridge included several snowfields, but all of them were holding strong beneath our steps with only the occasional posthole. Trekking poles were extremely helpful here, but microspikes were still not necessary (although they may have allowed us to move a bit quicker).
We took a quick break below the final piece of the route to regroup and had a quick conversation a duo planning to ski the peak. Bravo to them.
Getting into the class 2 portion of the hike, we agreed to all go at our own pace and regroup on the summit. There was plenty of rock hopping to be had and it was easy to lose the trail with the different snow patches, but overall, it was a relatively straightforward approach to the summit. After a little more than 2 hours 30 minutes, we stood on the 14,060 foot peak. Matt and Kate had never even approached this elevation much less hiked to it!
On the summit approach, you can choose between climbing the snow field/cornice remains or rock hopping. As we headed down, there was a group struggling to climb the snow as it had gotten slush and slippery.
We spent about 20 minutes on the summit before the building clouds reminded us that it was time to head back to the car. Before we left, we grabbed a group shot along with a picture from one of the many marmots that taunted Casey. (Side note: dog owners, there are quite a few dead animals along the way. We saw 2 Pikas and a bird.)
We headed down to the car and made steady time. The brief snow/graupel storm as we were crossing the boardwalks put us in another gear. There wasn’t any lightning though so it was actually quite refreshing after a warm day on the mountain.
We were drinking a beer by 12:15 and back on the road by 1.