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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Lee

Mount Bierstadt

Updated: May 12, 2023

May 26, 2021

Mount Bierstadt (14,065 feet)

Route: Alltrails (Guanella Pass + Winter Route)

11 miles; 3,558 feet elevation gain

Total time: 5 hours 27 minutes

If you are a regular follower, you will remember we attempted this peak a few months ago at the start of winter; we turned around because Nyx was too cold and the wind was too strong. It was the right choice that day but we were determined to summit during the winter while it was quiet. The winter route involves 3 extra miles of hiking on Guanella Pass, from the winter closure near Naylor Lake. The added mileage and harder conditions make this very popular summer tourist attraction a lot quieter in the winter. We heard that the road was now plowed and scheduled to open for Memorial Day weekend and knew this was our last shot for the winter.

Thankfully the weather cooperated with our goals. The forecast looked ( good enough to give it a shot with high enough odds of getting a summit. The temperature wasn't too cold and the wind was expected to be 15-20 mph. The clouds were expected to roll in around 11am so we started at 5am from the winter trail head, with a goal of 6 hours in mind.

I brought Nyx, for her first summit of 2021, and Brittany had Gryff. We started hiking up the plowed road at 5am at a fast pace as the sun was rising. It was cloudy but very wispy and light clouds. The first 1.5 miles is on the road, which we did in 30 minutes. Once you reach the actual trail you descend slightly through the willows before you start the real climbing. The first three miles were done in 1 hour, very fast! We knew it would slow down significantly after that. Through the willows there was consistent packed snow with a frozen top layer, we didn't need snowshoes or even spikes on the ascent. After that you climb steadily for about 1.5 miles alternating between packed snow and the dirt path. With about a mile to go the intensity increases dramatically. You are already above 12,500 feet and then there is over 1000 feet of gain in the last mile. You basically head straight up to the top ridge. I struggled a lot on the last mile. It is a steep incline, there was a lot of snow, my legs were tired and breathing was very difficult. I don't know if I have ever struggled this much on a 13er/14er. I was taking a break every few steps to catch my breath. At this point I wasn't sure I was going to make it, but slow and steady won! We were still an hour ahead of our estimated summit time thanks to those first few miles so we had time to take it very very slowly. The last 0.3 miles has a little bit of scrambling and currently has a massive and terrifying cornice on the right and a steep drop off on your left. I would love to see what this looks like in the summer without snow! We reached the summit in 3 hours, the second group of the day, stopped for a couple of quick pictures and headed down. The wind was brutally cold on top so having our gloves off for more than a couple of minutes wasn't possible but doing this climb in the winter was absolutely worth having the summit to ourselves. We put yaktrax/spikes on before heading down for more traction.

The sun finally emerged on the descent and the wind died down again as soon as we got off the top ridge. The descent was very straightforward and quick. The snow pack in the willows was already turning to slush making us glad we started when we did. We did see a few other groups heading up as we came down. A few solo hikers, a few of couples/groups and only one other person with dogs. The last mile before the summer trailhead was brutal with slush and tired legs. Once we hit the road we didn't see anyone until we got back to the car. 5.5 hours round trip, not bad for our longest and steepest hike since last summer.

It was Nyx's longest and hardest hike ever and she did amazing; it is a beautiful thing to see all our training pay off especially while on a very small/tight space summit. She also stayed warm enough this time in her Hurtta Expedition Parka, we were much more prepared. When she heeled perfectly back down the scrambling section so I could stay on my feet it was so rewarding to see all our hard work in action. That is my why for training my dogs so much; so I can safely enjoy days like this with them by my side. I can't wait for a summer of summits!

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