Mt. Bierstadt on a summer Saturday = awful idea.
My father in law moved to Colorado in 2005. Since then, I've joined him on doing a few mountains and strolls. He's done a few decent peaks. He'll keep up with the best of 'em. But, he still hadn't done a 14'er yet.
Longs was out of the question since I really didn't feel like waking up at 2AM that day. The closest one after that was Bierstadt. Techincally, Evans is closer but you can drive right up the damn thing and stroll for a few minutes and you're there.
I haven't ever done much weekend hiking in well used areas. I'm used to seeing small handfuls of people at the trailhead. These small handfuls of people thin out quickly past two miles. I've almost come to expect having the mountain/trail to myself and maybe 10 other people at most. Maybe I'm spoiled, but that was one of the perks of living in the sticks.
It's not suprising that I almost soiled myself when reaching the Guanella Pass parking lot. If I was any good at math, I'd say there were 200 people hanging out in the parking lot. This was dwarfed by the 300 people who were probably already on the trail. It was a steady line down the whole trail. I wanted to kill the first living thing I saw. I'm not trying to be unreasonable or hateful. People have the right to nature, and the right to climb whatever they like. That being said, the thought of being part of the shuffle up there didn't seem that entertaining.
And then more stuff happens...
I spent the first godknowshowmany minutes just haulin' ass and gettin' paid up the trail. My only goal in life was to just make it up to the first ridge and past the willows. From here, I could wander off wherever I pleased.
I think we stopped once for water. It was just a few hundred yards from where the first ridge starts. Some woman came up to my father in law asking how he liked his "jerky, turkey." It really wasn't going that great so far.
I made it past the willows. I went off the trail for about 3 feet and stood, quietly deciding where I wanted to go. That decision was made quickly when some random yahoo from Oklahoma came slowly putzing by, telling me that he "felt my pain".
The meandering ascent.
Since guy decided for me, I headed off trail right where the willows end at the top of the ridge and started walking dead south. The trail kept going off to my left. It didn't take long to reach the point where I couldn't hear the people on the trail anymore. A solid two inches of snow had fallen overnight. It was just me, alone, tromping on the snow tundra. It felt great. Absolutely great. Every few minutes, I'd wander into a group of ptarmigans. They were pretty welcoming about my presence. I don't think I've seen so many of them in my life.
I kept walking until I decided I might be getting farther away from a good ascent of the main bulk of the peak. I cut left, crossed the trail, and made my way to the edge of the cirque that forms Bierstadt's northwest face. It's pretty straightforward from there. Going straight up puts you on the summit. I don't remember the exact path I took after leaving the trail, but it's definitely NOT the most efficient way to get there.
I don't have to say that there were a lot of people up on the summit. A LOT. I found the father-in-law, he arrived up there a few minutes before I had. He didn't stay long, and after he left, I wandered off to a little overlook on the north side. Compared to the summit, this little overlook was paradise. A tiny bit of scrambling was probably what kept everyone off it. I hung out for 15 minutes, and took off. There was one guy who came by me on his way down the Sawtooth. I followed him down for a few hundred feet before I decided that I probably shouldn't go down the Sawtooth and into the cirque, as the trek back looked insanely long.
So I climbed back up to the pinnacle, and went down the colouir immediately on its south side, right along the flanks of Bierstadt. I dropped out of everyone's view pretty quick. It was a steep, rocky, snowy trek down. If there wasn't a fresh coat of snow, it wouldn't have taken nearly as long as it did. I don't know how long it took, but I got back on the trail right where I left it.
The inevitable conclusion.
I've never seen a hike so crowded in my life. I suppose the benefit of such a crowded trail was that it got me off the trail. Everything got so much better the second my feet left that kicked up dirt path. I got to see plenty of wildlife, and at least I felt like there was some solitude there.
And I'm an idiot for expecting that the one of the closest 14'ers to Denver wouldn't be a parking lot of people.