Saturday, July 18, 2009

Reaching the summit of Mount Bierstadt

My alarm went off WAY TOO EARLY for a Saturday morning! But I had made a commitment to myself and Zack that this was the morning. We were going to make an attempt to summit a 14er - Mount Bierstadt today. This would be Zack's first attempt at a 14er. So despite the fact that I just wanted to sleep I got my butt out of bed around 6:45AM and started filling water bottles and a camelback. This was 45 minutes later than when I wanted to getting out of bed but I just didn't have the vim and vigor to get out of bed at 6:00AM.
I got Zack up around 7:00AM and we were out the door around 7:20AM. Our first stop was at the local Burger King on County Line to grab a quick breakfast. We did the drive through and ate in the car while I drove. I had a great debate which way I should go to reach the trailhead for Mount Bierstadt. The trail head for Bierstadt is at Guanella Pass which is located high above Georgetown, Colorado.
There are 2 ways to reach this pass, the first is via I-70 by exiting at Georgetown. The second way - and the way I normally go is to head south on 285 through the mountains and then take the Guanella pass road from the small town of Grant - which is located at the base of Kenosha Pass. Today I did what I thought would be quicker and took I-70 to Georgetown. As soon as we began the ascent up Guanella Pass Road from Georgetown I realized I had made a mistake. The road is undergoing significant rebuilding and there are 2 large sections that are one way. This means that traffic is restricted in one direction for periods of time of up to 30 minutes. Of course we got stuck in the delay and lost about 20 - 30 minutes of time. Oh well!
We finally made it to Guanella Pass and the Mount Bierstadt trailhead around 9:20AM - which is much later than I ever want to start a climb of a 14er. It is always best to be on the trail around 7:00AM or earlier due to the issues of afternoon thunderstorms. Being out in the open above tree line during a thunderstorm is a very dangerous place to be.
When we arrived the parking area was totally and completely packed. We had to park a significant distance away from the trailhead which probably added 1 mile (round-trip) to our hike. Once again - oh well! Based upon the number of cars parked around the trailhead I am guessing that probably 500 - 700 people were attempting the summit today - talk about a lot of people!
I quickly pulled all of our gear out of the car and got my backpack all set and my GPS turned on with satellites located. Zack got his new camelback in position on his back and we then took off down the trail. The interesting thing about the hike up Mount Bierstadt is the first 3/4 of mile or so is pretty much down hill. With the trailhead right off the Guanella Pass road you descend for a good little bit before actually starting up the side of the mountain. During much of this downhill section you are walking through "The Willows". "The Willows" is an area around Mt. Bierstadt that is covered entirely with scrub willow. Until a lot of effort was put into constructing a good quality trail in the early 2000's, traversing "The Willows" was utter hell. During my first summit of Bierstadt in 1998, I remember coming away with my legs ripped apart by the sharp branches of the willows. In additional to a very distinct trail through "The Willows" there are about 8 or 9 boardwalk style bridges that have been built to keep people and dogs out of the marshy/wet land that is found throughout "The Willows".
After making it through "The Willows" the first real challenge of the hike began for Zack and me. There is a very steep climb by which you climb onto main part of the south western flank of Mount Bierstadt. I prepared Zack for this part of the hike and told him how hard it would be. As a result he was able to attack that climb with a large amount of gusto and determination. After reaching that top of that first section of the mountain there is a bit of a respite as the trail levels off for a while. Then there is yet another very steep climb - but this one goes on for what seems to be FOREVER.
This section of the climb was the very hardest for Zack. I really had to work to encourage him. What was hardest for Zack today was dealing with feelings of anxiety. For some reason today was a really bad anxiety day for him - and I don't have a clue why. So though he wasn't having a lot of physical trouble getting up the mountain, his anxiety was weighing heavily on him and was causing him to feel an extensive amount of fright.
After a large amount of conversation we made it through this second very steep section. At the conclusion of this section, you come out on to the summit ridge from which you can clearly see the summit. There is a fair amount of flatness to the summit ridge which is good as it gives you a bit of rest before attacking the last 3/10 of mile and the hand-over-hand bouldering that is needed to reach the summit. The summit block of Bierstadt is made up of 200 - 300 foot high pile of boulders. You really have to work to jump from boulder to boulder. There are numerous "paths" that lead through this jumble, but to be honest, you are really kind of on your own to pick your way through it. Zack did a marvelous job making his way up this jumble of boulders. He really was like a mountain goat. Watching him climb through this stuff, I did realize that if the kid wanted to - he would have a future as a real mountain climber.
We finally made it to the summit after about 3 hours of hiking/climbing. There were about 15 or so other people at the summit when we were there. On top of the people there we probably saw at least 7 or 8 marmots. They were everywhere and they definitely seemed very used to the presence of people - which seems unusual to me. From the summit we had great views of the entire Mt. Evans Massif. Our last high mountain we hiked several weeks ago - Mt. Spalding was clearly visible right in front of us. There was a bit of haze in the air today so we couldn't see as far as I would have liked - but that is the way it sometimes goes.
It was a very intense hike but the bottom line is Zack did it. He did it all on his own power with his own determination. I am so very proud of my son. I am so very impressed with him and his strength and abilities.
Our hike down was relatively quick. I won't say it was painless as the in most hikes in Colorado, the down hill part beats the crap out of your ankles and knees. We spent about 30 minutes or more on the summit itself and then we took about 2 hours to get down off the mountain and back to the car.
On the way home we did what is becoming a routine for us and stopped at the "Coney Island" in Bailey, Colorado for hot dogs, fries and a Coke. It is always fun to go there as the place is shaped like a hot dog.
I probably took about 150 pictures or more on our hike. I don't have the time to post them in this blog entry as I am really tired and just want to go to bed. I will definitely post a bunch tomorrow or I will make a slide show similar to the other slide shows I have made.
We hope everyone is having a great weekend so far!
Thanks and peace to all! - J.


ET-TA said...

Way to go Zack! If he can do a 14r then you guys should head out to Oregon for vacation hike up to the crater rim of Mt. St. Helens. I just hiked into the crater today as a part of a science field expedition and there is nothing like standing on the edge of active volcano and looking at the smoldering lava dome. I'm sure he would love it.

Best to you both!

Jerry Kromer said...

Wow - that sounds like a wonderful experience. Zack is a nut about volcanoes and has stated that when he grows up he would like to be an astro-geologist (does that exist?) and study the geology of exo-planets.

He loved Yellowstone and we are making plans for a trip to Iceland so that he can see all the volcanoes and geological features there.

Have a great week!

ET-TA said...

"Astro-geologists" do indeed exist! I work with several of them, but they are mostly called planetary scientists or astrobiologists, like me. Yellowstone is pretty wonderful (my research group does most of their work there) and Iceland is awesome as well (I went in 2004). I'll send you some photos and suggestions for your trip offline.

Cheers! :-)