After my last trip to Guadalupe Peak
, I was hungry for more. I decided to celebrate my one year commitment to a more active lifestyle that I would try a more challenging summit. After researching on SummitPost, I decided I would take a week off of work and go to Colorado for a couple of 14ers: Mt Bierstadt and Mt Elbert.
In preparation, I continued my gym workouts, increasing my cardio by including stairmaster sessions increasing in duration until I could do an hour regularly. I also increased my treadmill runs in duration and ran on the hill setting. Out of the gym, I did some longer hikes and bike rides in the 20 mile range. To get used to some of the elevation gain, I also went to Enchanted Rock
here in Texas. After all of this preparation, I felt good about making it, but was still concerned about the effect of the altitude on my sea level lungs. To help with this, I planned to camp in Leadville, CO – elevation 10,152’ for the week. My plan was to arrive on Monday and set up camp; Tuesday climb Mt Bierstadt; Wednesday rest; Thursday climb Mt Elbert; Friday fly back to Texas.
My sisters wanted to join me for this trip, mostly because I was so excited after my first mountain experience. We agreed that they would go as high as they felt comfortable going and I would push for the summit. They really surprised me by how far they were able to go on their first attempt at climbing any mountain, let alone at this altitude.
Some of the key information that I was trying to research was not readily available, so I’ll present them at the end of the trip report as an Appendix. I’ll review the place we camped, where we ate, where we found the best buys for last minute supplies, etc here.
Mt BierstadtDate: June 19, 2007
Elevation Gain: 2,850’
Distance: 7 miles
Duration: 6 hours
After waking up at 0430, we drove over to Mt Bierstadt. We looked for a place to grab breakfast along the way, but no place was open until we got to Georgetown. After grabbing a quick bite at Mountainbuzz Café, we drove up the Guanella Pass road. As most of the trip reports state, the paved part of the road is worse than the dirt parts. Along the way, there were some great lakes and beautiful scenery to take in.
We got to the trailhead around 0730. After getting everything ready, we started off at 0800. The summit was in plain view, and I was caught off guard by the draw of the Sawtooth from the summit over to Mt Evans.
The journey begins with a single step...
The summit did not look too far away and I was feeling pretty confident about summiting.
We followed the trail information from SP and 14ers.com and found that the information was pretty accurate. After heading down the valley, I came to Scott Gomer creek.
A hop, skip and a jump across
I didn’t think too much about it and just hopped, skipped and jumped across on the rocks. After crossing the creek, I remember thinking to myself that it’s all uphill from here!
The next part of the climb was not too bad, simply working my way up the trail through the willows until I reached a nice meadow.
High country meadow
From the meadow, it was a straight shot up to the ridge above. Below the ridge, however was a boulder field with several snow fields to be crossed. I lost the trail here and simply headed up to the ridge.
'simply gain the ridge above'
The trail information I had researched said to ‘simply gain the ridge above’. Yeah right!! I kept thinking to myself, easier said than done! This became my mantra for the trip as I kept repeating to myself ‘simply gain the ridge above’. It was here that I really began to feel the effects of the altitude. I didn’t have a headache as I expected, but couldn’t go further than 20 – 30 feet without resting. To do this, I picked a boulder to get to and then took a break. Then I picked another boulder and took off after catching my breath – darn sea level lungs!
At this point, I began to think that maybe I should head back and conserve my energy for Mt Elbert. That darn ‘simply gain the ridge above’ was hanging in my head though and made me push on! I finally did gain the ridge and noticed some climbers below me had headed much further south where the trail apparently goes.
After gaining the ridge, the summit was tantalizingly close, so I pushed on. At the top of the ridge, there was an area that defined the last push to the summit.
The last obstacle
This last portion was mainly scrambling up a lot of boulders. There wasn’t a particular path, but there were cairns marking the general way up. Just before the final climb, I was passed by the climbers I saw earlier below me. They were two women in great shape and they pushed on quickly so I did get to see which direction they went.
After the boulder field below, the scramble was not too bad. I met several people on their way down and this allowed me some pretty good breaks as I let them by.
I reached the summit about 1100, or 3 hours after starting. The ladies on top and I exchanged taking summit pictures before they headed back.
As they left, I had the summit to myself for the next 20 minutes or so. While signing the registry, I caught a quick movement out of the corner of my eye. It turned out to be a marmot at the summit! I caught a few pictures of him before he scampered away.
The views of the other side of the mountain were fantastic with a frozen lake and Mt Evans front and center.
I was particularly drawn to the Sawtooth and thought it would be a great traverse someday. After some pictures and a quick snack, I headed down.
The Sawtooth - maybe another day!
The trip down was much easier than the trip up simply because the trail was so much easier to pick up. As with most people I saw that day descending, I stayed further north than the main trail down the boulder field and met up with the main trail at the meadow. My sisters met up with me at the rocks just below the meadow. I was really proud of them as they made it up to the meadow around 12,200’. We took a couple of pictures and headed down together.
At the creek, we took our shoes off and walked across. The cold water felt sooo good on our tired feet. We took a group picture on the rock and headed back up to the parking lot arriving at 1400 or 6 hours after starting.
The three amigos!!
While I know many will consider my first 14er - Mt Bierstadt ‘easy’ – it kicked my sea level butt! I was worn out and wondering if I could make it up Mt Elbert in two days. The draw of the Sawtooth may be too much to pass up and I’m thinking I’ll have to come back and try that another day.
Appendix - CampgroundSugarLoafin Campground
In order to acclimatize better, we decided to stay at a campground at altitude. Since we would be there for 4 days, we wanted one with a bit of amenities. We chose SugarLoafin after doing some research and we were not disappointed. The check-in was easy and the price for all three of us was about $30 / night. The best amenities were the heated bathrooms with hot/cold showers. Those were really nice with our 0430 wake up calls. My sisters were with me and they both commented on how nice the ladies bathrooms were compared to what they were expecting. One word of advice, we moved our campground to get one near the ‘stream’. When we got to our campground, the ‘stream’ turned out to be a drainage ditch about a foot wide – don’t change to get next to it.
The campground was very close to the North Trailhead. We found this out by accident while exploring. If you take Lake Road 5 from the campground past the golf course, it will meet up with 300, leading to 11 and Halfmoon Creek road to the trailhead. It literally took 10 – 15 minutes from the campground to the trailhead. It sure was nice to get a few extra zzzzz’s!
Appendix - RestaurantsBrew Pub
We went here for dinner on our rest day. The food was good, with very large portions. I got the tomato cheddar soup and it was outstanding. One of my sisters got the bison burger and while it was good, the portion was WAY too large and she was unable to finish it. I’m not sure if it was because we were upstairs or not, but the service was a bit slow as I had to wait several times for refills on my water and other beverages.
Outstanding breakfast here. The breakfast potatoes were great. I had an omlette (you get to add up to four toppings) and it comes with breakfast potatoes and bread. One of my sisters had the stuffed French toast which was delicious! Great service and very reasonable pricing – for all three of us, it was around $25.
As most reviews state, they only serve filet mignon steak here. The hostess mentioned this as soon as we walked in. You only get to choose how large of a cut you want and how you want it cooked. All meals come with salad, baked potato and bread. I ordered medium well and I think it was cooked closer to well done, but the flavor was still very nice. I liked the simplicity of the place and where else can you get filet mignon for $8 – Vegas? All three of us was around $40.
Atrain Pizzaria (Frisco)
After climbing Mt Bierstadt, I wanted some pizza so we stopped in Frisco on the way back to Leadville. The pizza was good (we got a ½ pepperoni; ½ Hawaiin on wheat crust), but the service was slow. They only had 1 server for the entire restaurant. I wish they would have cooked it a bit longer as the pineapple was not cooked all the way through.
Mountainbuzz Café & Pizzaria
Stopped here for breakfast on the way to Mt Bierstadt in Georgetown. The menu was nice with a lot of breakfast sandwich options. I got the breakfast burrito (which was HUGE). I added sausage, ham, bacon and chorizo. I think the chorizo may have been too much as I had a gut bomb while climbing Mt Bierstad later that morning. Reasonable prices and they were the only restaurant we found open (at 0630) between Leadville and Georgetown on the way to Mt Bierstadt.
Appendix - StoresDollar General
We bought a lot of stuff at this store from pillows to hats to sunglasses to coolers, etc. Most of the stuff was very reasonable (ie $4 for two pillows).
We bought all of our food items for camping at Safeway. I was shocked by how expensive things were (eg $4 for strawberry jelly). My sister had a Safeway card, so we got a bit of a break, but it was still pricey. We bought our firewood here as well as our ice for each day ($1.29).