Bier•stadt (ˈbɪər stæt): literally translates to “Beer City.”
There are no beers on Bierstadt, except for what you bring with you. There is no city, either, not surprising at all, since the 14,000 feet of elevation would cause some issues, most likely with sanitation. Don’t think about it too much. . .
Mount Bierstadt is one of the most popular 14ers in Colorado, and one of the most popular hikes. Here is how I hiked Bierstadt in early May, a little bit of information regarding the peak, and the conditions along the way.
Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans are two of the most accessible peaks in Colorado, reaching past 14,000 feet from sea level but with trailheads within easy walking distance – in the case of Mount Evans, the aptly-named Mount Evans Scenic Byway has an alpine parking area and turnaround mere feet from the summit. Sawtooth Ridge, a jagged arête, separates the two peaks, making both 14ers an easy summit in one day.
Mount Evans is also accessible by a longer hike, from a trailhead at Echo Lake leading up a nearby ridge. Mount Bierstadt is easily accessible from Guanella Pass and the imaginatively-named Guanella Pass Scenic Byway.
Both roads open in May, and unfortunately weren’t open for our summit of Mount Bierstadt – the webpage for the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway unfortunately did not reflect that.
To be clearer, the pass was closed, adding nearly 2 miles to the already lengthy hike. This was not a deterrent.
Now, there really are a few proper pieces to hiking a 14er – knowing the conditions and route, dressing appropriately, packing enough food and water, and being well rested. All of this is important because it can be a rather long day even in good conditions. The pass being closed was a inauspicious start.
We had wanted to get to the trailhead at 6:00 am. To do this, we had to leave the house at 4:30 am. To get a full night’s sleep we had to go to sleep around 7:00 pm the day prior…on a Friday.
This morning, we started hiking a little after 6:00 am and were already 2 miles behind.
You see where this goes. Prep is essential. We packed our daypacks (backpacks) two nights before, on a Thursday, double-checked before we went to sleep, and packed everything in the car Friday night. There had been quite a bit of prep already.
We had woken up, threw coffee in thermoses and hit the road – and found ourselves halfway up Guanella Pass with the road closed in front of us (this website is somewhat notoriously inaccurate). But it was 6:00 am already, we’d planned for a long hike – the pass being closed added nearly two more miles each way, but we were ready.
Regardless, we didn’t make the summit without effort. Hiking from the trailhead on is seven miles round trip, and the pass being closed added another four. Above the treeline where, in summer months, there may have been cairns, there were little more than snowfields interspersed with rock.
As we neared the summit, we were buffeted with fierce winds that threatened to throw us off our feet and send us tumbling down the snowfields we had just traversed. I post-holed more than one – my weight on the fragile snow sending my foot crashing straight through until, quite suddenly, finding more stable purchase below.
Step by step, we neared the summit. Step by step, we moved closer to our goal.
For the first 14er of the year, it was epic.
The view was breathtaking in more ways than one. Most likely the lack of oxygen. Met some friendly hikers, too – I’ll call it a win-win-win.
Check out Bierstadt or Evans sometime – the weather is far more hospitable in the summer.
P.S.: although “Bierstadt” literally translates from German as “Beer City,” the beers weren’t my idea – I have to give credit to a pair of hikers we met at the summit.