I have been wanting to get up to Georgetown and Guanella Pass to hike Bierstadt since being reminded of it on 14ers.com. Twenty years has passed by since I have climbed a 14er for real and I didn’t want another year to slip by without feeling the exhilaration of a summit. I knew the pass was on the west side of Mount Evans but never realized there was another 14er just right there. Well anyway, I awoke early yesterday morning and decided it was the day to load up the car and make the climb. By 4:30 a.m. I was on my way to Georgetown. Well technically I was on my way to Loaf and Jug for a cup of coffee 🙂
Next stop, the Mountain Buzz Cafe in Georgetown for some nourishment. A huge sausage, egg and cheese bagel with some green peppers seemed like a good start for a climb up a 14er 🙂 They have wifi there too so I checked in on Facebook… just in case I didn’t make it back someone would know where to look! Not that it was necessary, there was a steady stream of hikers on the mountain all day long.
A quick trip up Guanella Pass and I was parked at the top of the pass. There was one guy already coming down and I conferred with him a bit to make sure I knew which peak was Bierstadt. Using my Leadville 100 pacing strategy, I decided to start out slow… and then slow down. Across the valley and up the side of the mountain. About a third of the way into the hike I kind of got into a groove and was covering some pretty good ground while trying to keep my pulse and breathing under control. People on their way down kept telling me that they had seen no wildlife other than the birds so I was a little disappointed about that, but the scenery was fabulous so I was having a great day anyway.
About two thirds of the way up the three mile trail I experienced a bit of a miracle! I had decided to take a break from my determined march to the peak and stopped to put down my pack to get a drink. As I pulled off the trail to set down my pack I saw something white about thirty yards away. Closer inspection revealed that there were three beautiful fluffy white mountain goats grazing on the tundra, so I grabbed my camera and snapped off a couple of pictures before they could run away. Well much to my surprise they didn’t run away and were soon headed right for me. Put my camera on the monopod and kept shooting as they walked right across the trail and over to the other side for more grazing. The big goat stopped on the trail right in front of me and a gathering crowd and looked at another guy coming up the trail like he was going to start enforcing some crowd control. He was forced to stop and after a long stare down the goat moved on. I guess he just wanted to make an example with that one guy so everyone to know who was boss up there 🙂 Those were the only goats or sheep I saw all day and I pondered the Providence that had guided me to the only animals on the mountain at the exact moment that they were on the trail near me. And I doubt I would have seen them had I not been urged to stop and take a break. No one else would have either as everyone was just plowing up the trail looking down at the rocks for the best place for each footstep. I took it as a sign that I was being watched over with a kindness that is beyond my understanding.
Finally I made my way to the summit area where I discovered that the mound at the top of the mountain was actually a huge boulder field marked only by cairns to guide the way through the maze of rocks. The trail was very difficult to follow on the way up and I eventually decided to do the smart thing and put my camera in the pack to keep it from banging on the rocks and to free both hands for bouldering. I don’t think I took the optimal path and I have to admit there were a couple of times I gave up and headed back down. Each time though, as I headed back down I discovered a passable route and decided to keep going up. Finally the large boulders gave way to smaller rocks and dirt that were easier to traverse and soon I was standing on the summit. Had to find the brass USGS summit marker so I could get a shot of it to prove I was there.
I was worried about getting back down the boulder field with my chronologically challenged knee joints, but the trail was easier to see on the way down and I was quickly on my way back down the mountain. It seemed like a long slog back to the car, but I finally made it about two hours later than I had intended. I had wanted to go into Georgetown and spend some time but I didn’t want to hit the Denver rush hour traffic so I will have to save that visit for another day.
As I write this morning, even though I’m dog tired and my old bones are aching I am ecstatic that I can add another summit to my short list of 14ers climbed. It was a beautiful day and there is no place where I am more happy than in the cold and wind of the mountain tundra high above tree line. Maybe I can get in one more hike before the snow flies 🙂