Mount Bierstadt & Again 8 Years Later
June 20, 1999 - West Ridge from Guanella Pass
Trent (coworker) and I headed from Cheyenne to Georgetown on Friday night to get an early start on Bierstadt the next morning. By this point in my climbing experience, I was feeling that running late was not being on the trail by about six in the morning to get a jump on the Cottoneers. We found a commando camp spot a mile or so above the USFS Guanella Pass Campground and settled in for the night. The alarm went off all too early at 5 a.m. and we rose and broke camp under headlamps before heading to the parking area at Guanella Pass. I was concerned about the amount of snow that we would have to cross, as I knew little about snow travel, though I did have an ice axe back at home. We parked and found the trail through the willows, the traverse of which I had heard so much of through climbing lore and books over the years. Alas, with the now extant trail cut, the whole concept of passing through the willows would have to await a later climb.
We made the headwall and proceeded on up the wide flank of the peak. We crossed some snowfields but avoided most of them before making the West Ridge proper. Then we wandered up the snowy ridge, on the trails and tracks of others leading to the summit. The final pitch was corniced but we knew enough to steer well clear of the edge. We topped out and took in the view of the nearby peaks, still carrying a fair amount of snow, before heading for the less windy lower elevations. Shortly after dropping off the summit, we passed a group of climbing snobs, decked out in their North Face one-piece Gore-Tex climbing suits. I guess we were still too close to being Cottoneers in their book to deserve a response to our hearty good morning salutation. They simply walked past, heads turned away, on their “geared up” pursuit of the lofty Bierstadt summit. You do come across some odd folks on some climbs, you think?
June 24, 2007 - West Ridge from Guanella Pass (photos)
Eight years and four days after I first climbed Bierstadt, I was back. G and I were preparing for a trip to Bolivia and we needed a hike at altitude that we could start at eight in the morning. I know, you read about a six a.m. start right above and now you say, "so what happened to the prudent alpine start in June climber?"
Well, a late start from Cheyenne and a total willingness to turn at the first sign of cloud build-up. We left Cheyenne at 5 a.m. and made the 2 1/2 hour run to Guanella Pass. The road was far different than the one of eight years ago, now featuring a curb to assist with drainage, boulder rock retaining walls and more damn cotton clad hikers than I could count. I would guess that Bierstadt is the goal of many a Cottoneer and there were more than enough of them when we arrived to find a full parking lot at 8 a.m. Cotton sweatshirts, cotton jeans, cotton everywhere and I just took it all in. I forgot what hiking a summer 14'er close to Denver entailed but we were Bierstadt bound with the masses, at least until we dropped off the backside to score the Sawtooth Ridge.
The trail now has a register and a well beaten and I'll note, well constructed course of boardwalks through the former willow wallows. From the end of the walks, it is just a short hop to the Scott Gomer Creek crossing, where we assisted a pair of hiking pole-less Cottoneers get across without going for a swim. From there we made for the headwall and took the new trail that turns to the east and ascends the wall in a broad sweep. The old braided herd paths have been reclaimed and the route looked good. From the top of the headwall, the course remained well constructed and clear and one by one, we passed clumps of Cottoneers who had left the parking lot ahead of us, in turbo overdrive of course.
The real measuring point for the Cotton clad seemed to be the 13k contour where the hard puffing clumps seemed to form up for a much slower pace to the summit, another 1000 feet up. The trail was snow covered here and there, but we just moved on through the packs and made the ridge proper with nary a pause. Then we walked the ridge to the summit, albeit a crowded summit, taking just 2 hours from truck to summit. A quick bit and we were off for the Sawtooth and a long and refreshingly quiet unaccompanied walk to the truck via the flank of Mt. Spalding.
I must close with a well deserved hats off to the trail crews that expended the effort to build and reclaim the route to the top of this "well used" peak. The route is truly a job well done.
A January climb of Bierstadt . . . with far fewer people