Lightning strike on Mount Bierstadt: 5 weather reminders for hiking in the high country

Mount Bierstadt and its Sawtooth Ridge.

Mount Bierstadt (right) and its Sawtooth Ridge.

There are “rules” when it comes to hiking and climbing in the alpine areas of the Rocky Mountains. And yes, some of those rules supersede all others.

The summer is the busiest time for hiking in the mountains. The temperatures are friendlier, the snow is mostly gone and the weather is somewhat more predictable and “safer.”

I use that term with a serious caveat, however. Just because the likelihood of getting caught in a wind-driven blizzard is far more remote than in the other three seasons, summer in the high country has its own risks.

Chief among those: lightning.

Storms build in the mountains during the late morning, often bringing afternoon storms to the peaks and, later on, the high plains to the east. So, as a general rule, we’re often told that when you get to the top of a high summit, you need to make your way down by noon.

But this rule gets trumped, just as it did on Sunday.

A storm hit Mount Bierstadt in Colorado during the late morning hours. Lightning hit the peak when there were about 100 people on it, injuring 15. Some were taken to a hospital. A dog who was accompanying a hiker was killed.

The incident took place about 11:30 a.m., well before that “noon deadline.” But that’s the thing: the weather doesn’t run on our time schedules.

So while it’s good to keep the noon rule in mind, you should also keep your eyes to the skies. Blue skies are safe. Wispy summer clouds are also relatively benign. An isolated white, puffy cloud is no big deal. But when the sky starts to fill up with white, puffy clouds, the weather bears closer scrutiny.

The sign that it’s time to get down quickly is when the bottoms of those fluffy clouds turn gray. At that point, those clouds are trying to become storms and can start throwing lightning at any time.

This is a serious and potentially deadly situation. Above timberline, you might be the highest object on a slope, ridge or summit, making you a potential human lightning rod. Lightning can travel for miles, along horizontal, vertical and diagonal planes. And it comes with almost no warning.

So to sum it up, here are some things to remember when hiking above timberline in the high country:

Start early. Dawn or predawn is best. Even if you’re in shape, it’s going to take you a lot longer to hike 3 to 5 miles at altitude than it would at lower elevations. Give yourself enough time to summit early so you don’t have to play “beat the clock” with the afternoon storms.

Check weather reports. Afternoon storms are almost a given, but be sure to check forecasts the night before and the morning of your hike or climb. Real-time data will give you a better look at what might be in store.

Watch the skies. Looks for signs that storms might begin forming. Small puffy clouds get bigger, and when they do, that’s a good time to reassess your plans.

Don’t be afraid to turn around. Summit fever kills. You might decide to take a chance, but there is a place where you reach a “point of no return” when it comes to getting below treeline before storms hit. Time spent getting to safety can be measured in hours if you’re in trouble on or close to a summit — a long time to be stuck in bad weather in such a vulnerable place. Remember that the mountain isn’t going anywhere, and you’ll likely be able to try it again another day. That won’t be the case if you get killed rolling the dice with the weather.

Respect all the mountains. Even the “easy” ones can be treacherous under the wrong conditions. Bierstadt is considered one of the easier 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, but there are scores of people who were on that mountain Sunday who can tell you how dangerous it can be when you’re up there at the wrong time. So whether you’re doing a short walk-up hike or a really demanding climb, treat each ascent with care.

— Bob Doucette

As prime hiking season nears, a list of ‘first’ mountain adventures

Great views like this are the things that make people want to go to the mountains. Here's how to get started.

Great views like this are the things that make people want to go to the mountains. Here’s how to get started.

Many people are looking for new challenges these days, and a big chunk of that crowd looks to fill that urge outdoors. For me, that always pointed me toward the mountains. Something about the high country just exudes an energy of adventure that is hard to find elsewhere.

Is this you? Yeah? But where to start?

Well, you’re in luck. It just so happens there are a number of places you can go in Colorado and New Mexico that will fit the bill, even if seeing the world from a mountaintop is something you haven’t done before.

We’ll break it down into categories, based on what your interests are, locations, and a bit more for those of you looking to take the next step in your alpine adventures. So here goes:


There are several to choose from, as a bunch of high peaks are within 90 minutes of the Denver metro area. If you’re looking for something that doesn’t require a long drive, you can expect a busy trail during the peak hiking season. But you’ll still have a good time.

Mount Bierstadt and its Sawtooth Ridge.

Mount Bierstadt and its Sawtooth Ridge.

My choice: Mount Biesrstadt. It’s close to the Interstate 70 town of Georgetown, with easy access to the trailhead and a straightforward route. It’s a hike, and the round-trip route is about 7 miles. Standing at 14,060 feet, you’ll need a good set of legs and lungs to get up there. But you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Bierstadt’s Sawtooth Ridge as well as a host of nearby peaks. There are some boulder-hopping on the final stretch, but nothing too demanding. The trail is also dog-friendly, and you’ll likely meet a lot of other altitude seekers along the way.

Route info


I’ve got one in mind here that’s close to Breckenridge. If you’d rather forgo the long drive from Denver and still have a comfortable place to stay before and after your summit, then the Breckenridge-Quandary Peak combo is for you.

Quandary Peak.

Quandary Peak.

Like Biesrstadt, it’s an easy-to-follow trail that goes right up the mountain’s east ridge and to the top. Again, about seven miles round-trip, topping out at 14,265 feet. Quandary Peak has incredible views of the nearby Mosquito Range as well as some of the high summits of the Tenmile Range. Again, this will be a busy peak during the summer, but a memorable one as well.

If you have more time and energy, go ahead and check out the loop that includes Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln and Mount Bross, all nearby 14ers in the Mosquito Range. Or just relax and enjoy some time in Breckenridge.

Route info


If you can get further away from the bigger cities and find time on a weekday, Huron Peak near Buena Vista, Colorado, is my choice. In fact, of all the first-time peaks on my list, Huron Peak has the most bang for the buck.

Huron Peak.

Huron Peak.

The mountain is deeper in the Sawatch Range, and if you ask anyone who has been there, they’ll tell you it has the some of the best views you can find. At 14,003 feet, it has commanding vistas of the nearby Three Apostles formation, three dramatic 13,000-foot peaks that make for excellent views and stunning photographs. Because it is farther away from any cities of size, it will also be less travelled than Bierstadt or Quandary. The route is just under seven miles from the four-wheel-drive trailhead, and just over 10 from the two-wheel-drive trailhead.

Route info


There are a lot of choices all throughout the Rockies, but my pick here is in the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. Head into Red River, and then to the Middle Fork Trail parking lot for a trek up Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico at 13,159 feet.

Summit view from Wheeler Peak.

Summit view from Wheeler Peak.

The trail takes you five miles into the Wheeler Peak Wilderness Area. At Lost Lake, there are a number of dispersed, primitive campsites. This is not the most heavily traveled route up the mountain – that is on the other side of the mountain near Taos. What you’ll get are great campsites, alpine scenery and plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing (I had bighorn sheep walking through my campsite when I was last there). Get up the next morning and hike the remaining three miles to Wheeler Peak’s summit.

If you’re going to break into high country backpacking, I can’t think of many other places that will top it.

Route info


Late spring still means there’s going to be snow on the mountains, which a lot of hikers seek to avoid. But if you’re looking to try your hand at traversing and ascending snowy slopes, a good starter route is the Angel of Shavano Couloir on Mount Shavano.

Near the top of Mount Shavano.

Near the top of Mount Shavano.

Mount Shavano is near Salida and Poncha Springs, and the southernmost of the massive Sawatch 14ers. It’s a hike all the way, but below the saddle between Shavano and a neighboring peak is a gully that fills with snow during the colder months. That’s the Angel of Shavano Couloir.

If you’re itching to learn skills using an ice axe and crampons, this is one of the better places to start. The Angel melts out fast in the spring, but if you hit it at the right time, the couloir links up to snow fields on Shavano’s summit cone that will take you all the way to the top. Learn how to use these pieces of gear, and if possible, go with someone who has done a snow climb before. Mount Shavano is a good introduction to these types of skills.

Route info


When you’ve got to the point where you’re ready to graduate from the walk-up peaks and do a little climbing, some interesting options come to mind. My pick means taking a bit of a drive to southwestern Colorado, but it will be worth the trip. Few peaks have the beauty and challenge in combination with accessibility than Wetterhorn Peak.

Wetterhorn Peak.

Wetterhorn Peak.

Two-wheel-drive access to the Matterhorn Creek trailhead will get you to great campsites, and the route to the top is a little over seven miles. It’s all hiking until you get just under a formation called the Prow, and that’s where the climbing begins. Also called “scrambling,” a Class 3 route (Classes 1 and 2 are hiking only, with varying degrees of difficulty; Class 4 is more difficult unroped climbing, and Class 5 is technical climbing using ropes) will involve using your hands and feet to ascend. It is unroped climbing, but the rock is solid and getting to the top is fun.

The catch: The top section of Wetterhorn is pretty airy and if you’re intimidated by heights, this could be a challenge. But the best way to overcome those fears and push yourself to new levels is to tackle them head-on. Wetterhorn is a good peak to do just that.

Route info

So there’s a list you can check out and use to make your spring and summer plans. My guess is that after you do one of these peaks, you’ll want to do more.

Bob Doucette

Couch to 14K, Part 3: Selecting your first mountain to climb

Mount Evans.

Mount Evans.

OK, in Part 1 of Couch to 14K, we covered fitness, and in Part 2 we covered gear. Now we’re going to get into the thick of things in Part 3: selecting the mountain and the route you plan to take.

There are a ton of factors to consider here, and much of it depends on you. Do you want to try a mountain ascent close to a Front Range city, or do you mind driving a bit? What type of experience do you have on other mountains? Are you a rock climber? An East Coast peak bagger? Or a total newbie?

Whatever the case, there are some things you should know about the 14ers. None of them are “easy,” particularly for those coming from lower elevations. They’re all hard in their own way. It’s just some are easier than others. What makes them a challenge is the length of the routes (expect to hike several miles up steep terrain) and the altitude. So even if you’re pretty good at tagging those Appalachian summits, or if you have a lot of time on the rock, you might consider one of the “easier” 14ers for your first, just so you know what the altitude above treeline feels like.

A few preliminaries: Let’s talk about route classification. A route’s difficulty is ranked on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest and and 5 being the hardest. Here are some descriptions:

Class 1: Well-marked and maintained trail, moderate steepness.

Class 2: More difficult but still established trail; might include some “off-trail” obstacles and steeper, rockier hiking.

Class 3: Scrambling. Will require you to use your hands to ascend, some route-finding. Hiking gives way to climbing with readily available handholds and footholds. Generally unroped.

Class 4: Climbing. You’ll need your hands to ascend, and expect steeper terrain than Class 3, plus fewer obvious handholds and footholds. Generally unroped, but some people use ropes to help ascend and descend.

Class 5: Technical rock climbing. Near vertical, vertical, or overhanging. Use of ropes and climbing safety equipment is required.

OK, so we have that out of the way. If you’re looking for your first 14er ascent, I’d recommend looking at the standard routes on peaks rated Class 1 or Class 2. There are a whole lot of them, some close to Denver or Colorado Springs, some more remote.


The 14ers close to Denver are going to be more popular because of their proximity to the state’s largest city and relative ease of access. If you go on a weekend (or even a weekday in the summer), you can expect to see a lot of people on the trail. Some suggestions:

Mount Evans: Quick drive from Denver with easy access from I-70. The road to Summit Lake will take you to a couple of trailheads. I enjoyed the Spaulding to Evans traverse. Class 2, with some really great views of the Sawtooth Ridge and Mount Bierstadt. About 4 miles round trip.

Mount Bierstadt and the Sawtooth Ridge.

Mount Bierstadt and the Sawtooth Ridge.

Mount Bierstadt: Another peak that people often get their first 14er experience. Wide-open vistas with killer summit views, and a panorama of the Sawtooth Ridge that is one of Colorado’s signature alpine scenes. Expect crowds, but still a good time. Class 2, about 6.5 miles round trip.

Grays Peak and Torreys Peak: Also popular Front Range peaks, hikers often climb them in tandem. If you hit these peaks early enough in the summer, dramatic snow-filled gullies on Torreys make for an impressive scene. The standard route up Torreys is Class 2, and the connecting ridge and route on Grays is Class 1. Again, expect crowds on weekends. If you do just one of the peaks, your round trip is about 7 miles; add 2 more if you do both peaks in one day.

Quandary Peak: Near Breckenridge, Quandary Peak’s standard route is a scenic 7.5-mile round-trip Class 1 hike along the mountain’s signature east ridge. The summit views of the Tenmile Range, particularly with snow present, are incredible. The crowds? Well, see above. Make it a weekday ascent to maximize solitude, and be on the lookout for mountain goats.


You’ll have similar issues in terms of crowds, though you’ll need to drive deeper into the mountains to get to most of these. That will help thin the crowds somewhat, but weekday ascents will allow for more solitude.

Pikes Peak: I hesitated putting this down as a first-time 14er, as the standard route up the Barr Trail is very long – 26 miles round trip. But its proximity to Colorado Springs, the quality of the trail and the fact that a lot of people do this as their first made it easier for me to put it on the list. Pikes Peak also has huge elevation gain – about 7,500 feet, which compared to the other peaks I’ve listed is significantly greater (other 14ers mentioned so far have elevation gain of between 2,000 and 3,000 feet). But sweeping summit views, donuts at the summit (there’s a shop up there) and tagging the state’s most famous summit has to count for something. The Barr Trail is Class 1.

Huron Peak.

Huron Peak.

Huron Peak: Our first entry from the Sawatch Range, Huron Peak (near Buena Vista) is a relatively short ascent (7 miles round trip), but packs a huge punch in scenery. Many peak baggers say it has the finest views in the Sawatch Range, and summit view of the nearby Three Apostles make that a strong argument. The route is Class 2 with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain; if you do not have 4-wheel drive, the route length is a couple of miles longer. Personally, this is my top recommendation for a first 14er ascent.

Mount Elbert: Why not make your first 14er also the state’s highest? Mount Elbert is Colorado’s high point and the second-highest peak in the lower 48 states. Easy access from Leadville, camping at the trailhead and awesome views of Twin Lakes and another Sawatch giant, Mount Massive. Class 1, with 4,700 feet of elevation gain and 9 miles round trip.

Mount Yale: Another one of those Sawatch monsters, Mount Yale has quick access from Buena Vista with camping close to the trailhead. Of the peaks I’ve listed here, Mount Yale is probably the steepest. It also has a fun boulder-hopping finish along the summit ridge and incredible views of nearby Mount Princeton, Mount Columbia, Mount Antero and Mount Harvard. As is typical of the Sawatch, Yale has a lot of elevation gain – 4,300 feet, with 9.5 miles round trip from the Denney Creek trailhead. It’s rated Class 2.


The deeper in the mountains you go, the fewer people you’ll see. Do one of the more remote peaks on a weekday, and you’ll see even less. There are too many of these to list, but the one I picked is one of my favorites.

Uncompahgre Peak.

Uncompahgre Peak.

Uncompahgre Peak: Deeper in the San Juan Range near Lake City, this dramatic mountain has all the wildness you’d expect from this alpine wilderness. The standard route takes you up a mellow pitch that runs right up the edge of dramatic cliffs and amazing views of neighboring 14ers and 13ers too numerous to mention, but the skyline of Wetterhorn Peak stands out. It’s Class 1 until you get closer to the summit, where some steep Class 2 switchbacks take you to a series of rocky gullies that don’t quite hit Class 3 difficulty. Pass through those and it’s an easier hike to the peak’s expansive summit plateau. Though the route is not exposed, you can get up close and personal with cliffs that drop 700 feet or more.


As I’ve mentioned before, some of these mountains get a lot of traffic. To minimize that, pick a weekday to do your ascent, and avoid popular holidays. Also, the more remote you go, the more solitude you get. There are a lot of other mountains that are perfect for beginners (all of the Mosquito Range 14ers come to mind, as do some of the more remote Class 1 and 2 San Juans peaks), but this list gives you a range of options depending on the time you have available, the type of vehicle you drive (4-wheel drive helps in many areas) and your fitness level.

Do your research, pick a time to go and immerse yourself in one of these amazing peaks.

In the fourth and last installment of Couch to 14K, we’ll go over the really important stuff – what to do and what to watch for while you’re on the mountain. See you then!

Bob Doucette

Some thoughts on Missy, a dog rescue, and putting your pet at risk on the trail

Volunteers get ready to transport Missy, a German Shepherd, off the Sawtooth Ridge in Colorado. Missy became stranded there when she could not continue the traverse of the ridge and was left there by her owner. (Huffington Post photo)

We love our dogs.

We treat them as family. Name them, adopt them, rescue them. We carry them around in dog-purses, photograph them like they were our first-borns and write books about them.

For many people, their dogs are part of their outdoor pastimes. Our faithful friends are running buddies, hiking partners and even pack animals on the trail.

So it’s no surprise that the story of Missy has touched a nerve nationally.

Here’s the backstory.

Missy is a German Shepherd who, along with her owner and another hiker, were in the middle of hiking a challenging route in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans is a rugged and exposed connecting ridge called the Sawtooth. While a hike up Bierstadt is relatively straightforward, traversing the ridge is a Class 3 climb that involves some careful moves over areas with significant drop-offs.

This is a challenge, and quite honestly, a lot of accidents have occurred on the ridge that have seriously hurt or even killed some people. While it’s not considered the toughest ridge traverse in the state, the accidents that have occurred there underscore that it’s not a walk in the park.

Somewhere in the middle of the traverse, Missy could go no further. She was tired, her paws were bleeding from the rocks and she’d had enough. Her human companions, from what has been posted online by acquaintances, grew concerned about deteriorating weather conditions and could not carry the 100-pound animal out.

So they made a big decision: They decided to turn back and leave Missy on the ridge.

The story went national not long after another couple traversing the same ridge came across Missy. She was still alive, but in worse shape. They also could not carry her out. So they gave her some food and water, left the ridge, and made a post on about Missy with hopes that someone might be able to organize an effort to get her off the mountain.

People rallied, Missy was found alive and is now recovering in the custody of local authorities.

A view of the Sawtooth, a connecting ridge between Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans in Colorado.

There are a lot of subplots. The owner came forward, expressed gratitude to Missy’s rescuers and said he hoped to get his dog back. There’s been a lot of anger about this incident, and not just a little bit of vitriol. Two separate threads on the forum had to be locked by the site’s administrator because of how heated things got.

My thoughts on this don’t center on Missy’s owner, his decision to leave the dog there, and the good fortune that she was found alive and successfully removed from the mountain (a pretty remarkable team effort). (UPDATE: Missy’s owner was charged with animal cruelty on Friday, according to this report from Outside Online.)

Instead, I look toward the decisions made before that little excursion started.

Back in 2005, I was hiking along the shore of the Gunnison River deep in the Black Canyon, getting ready to start a nice little climb to some pretty hot fishing. Down the shore, I saw a couple hiking toward us, with the woman carrying her toy-sized pooch in a dog purse. I thought this was strange, but laughed it off. It was Paris Hilton meets “Man vs. Wild,” a punchline of the funny extremes people will go to for the purpose of including their beloved pet in their daily activities (it’s doubtful that little guy would have made it far on such rocky terrain on its own).

A few years later, I saw something similar but much more disconcerting while climbing Mount Yale.

Much of that mountain’s route is pretty dog-friendly, a well-marked and maintained trail. But the summit ridge is a rocky, boulder-strewn mess. It’s fun for people who like boulder-hopping and scrambling. No problem for hooved creatures like mountain goats and bighorn sheep, and likewise pretty friendly for smaller animals like marmots and pikas.

For canines, not so much. And after one dog – a beautiful golden lab – reached its limit, it pooped out and stopped cold.

So what’s an owner to do? Turn around? Rest with his pet for awhile? Nope. The guy picked up the dog and carried it to the summit.

That, my friends, is ridiculous.

It’s obvious the dog either did not want to go any further or could not go any further. The decision to haul it up to the top was entirely a decision of the owner. Why do this? To get a summit photo with his pet? To say he did it with his dog? To put a checkmark by the name of the mountain he climbed? No matter what the answer is, the decision in that case was done without the dog’s well-being in mind. That little trick was all about what the owner wanted.

I’m all for bringing your dog on outdoor adventures. But you need to be certain that the adventure in which you’re embarking is within the capabilities of your companions. Remember, just the act of taking your dog with you makes you responsible for the animal’s safety. Your pet didn’t drag you to the mountains. You made the decision to take it there.

In the same way you are responsible for your kids, or beginner hikers/climbers, or clients, you are responsible for your animals on the trail. They trust you. They are unaware of the challenges that lie ahead.

An out-of-shape or old dog probably isn’t up for a long hike. Fewer dogs are up for anything above Class 2 hikes, and certainly any climb involving the need for three to four points of contact will rule out your pet.

Take your dog on your hikes. Get it some exercise and outdoor time. But just remember that heat, cold, elevation and bad weather will affect dogs as much as they do people. And unless you put booties on Fido’s paws, the wear and tear from rock scrambles will chew their paw pads up badly over time.

Don’t let your dog end up like Missy. Don’t let yourself get vilified like Missy’s owner. And don’t leave it up to others to haul your animal off the mountain.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

An ascent of Colorado’s Mount Bierstadt

Mount Bierstadt's west slopes.

Among those who live on Colorado’s East Slope, Mount Bierstadt is one of maybe four 14,000-foot peaks that end up being their first to climb.

Its proximity to Denver, easy access and short, straightforward route make it an ideal introduction to the state’s high peaks – not too risky, but at 14,060 feet still a summit that requires some effort for the uninitiated.

For the experienced hikers and mountaineers, Bierstadt is a peak to be avoided during the summer months, as its heavily trafficked west slope trail attracts, quite literally, hundreds of people. Sure, you can go up the mountain’s more difficult east ridge, but you’ll be greeted by a sizable crowd at the summit. That’s a huge turnoff for some (though it can’t be quite as weird as the parking lot and gift shop at the top of Pikes Peak).

Looking back across the willows.

I can’t say this one was high on my list of mountains to hike or climb. But many times, it’s more about the company you keep than the mountain itself. Back in 2009, me and my two brothers, Mike and Steve, made the short trip from Breckenridge to one of the most well-trodden trails of all Colorado’s high summits.

This mountain is different from most of the ones I’ve hiked and climbed. The entire route is in view from the trailhead parking lot. The only greenery, aside from the alpine grasses, are thickets of low-lying willows (with a few trees here and there). Absent is the normal blanket of pines and aspen stands common throughout the rest of the Rockies.

You also lose elevation before starting to gain it again, dipping downhill from the parking lot before crossing a stream and heading up again.

The Sawtooth Ridge.

Bierstadt’s west slopes used to be more arduous than they are now. Not too long ago, hikers were forced to slog their way through the marshy tangle of willow thickets low on the mountain for nearly a mile – easily the toughest part of the route, aside from the challenges of elevation higher up. All of that is circumvented by a convenient wooden plank walkway that keeps you above it all.

Once you cross Scott Gomer Creek, the uphill portion begins.

The incline is fairly gentle, mimicking the graceful sweep of the mountain’s west slopes. The trail, well-marked and maintained, is easy to follow and gives you an excellent view of the striking connecting ridge between Bierstadt and its taller neighbor, Mount Evans.

Looking up the final pitch on the summit ridge.

Evans is the centerpiece summit overlooking Denver, but here it’s that ridge – the Sawtooth Ridge – that inspires a bit of awe. It’s long, jagged and foreboding. Traversing the ridge is a rocky and exposed route that can make for a long day for climbers who chose to do it. The Sawtooth is seen as a bit of a test piece for people who seek to overcome fears of steep, towering drop-offs. Conquer the Sawtooth and bigger challenges beckon. Those who are exhilarated by it take the bait; those who are not chalk it up as an accomplishment and leave it at that.

The Sawtooth was not on our agenda that day, but it didn’t mean we wouldn’t be without a little fun. Even though we were ascending on a weekday, summer crowds were still pretty thick. We saw all sorts, including one guy hiking the route barefoot. I might have nicknamed him Frodo if he wasn’t so tall.

Looking down the Sawtooth from Bierstadt's summit.

Eventually we made our way to the summit ridge, which had us doing a little boulder-hopping and the occasional scramble. I’m not sure why, but I find boulder-hopping and scrambling kinda fun, a sort of mental break from the constant one-foot-in-front-of-the-other that goes on for miles and miles on most walk-up peaks. I don’t have a problem with mountain hikes, it’s just that sometimes a change in terrain – and the methods used to go higher – add more to the experience.

A USGS summit marker.

On the summit we see more of Bierstadt’s wilder sides. There’s a bird’s-eye view of the Sawtooth, but also a great look at the mountain’s formidable east ridge and Point 13,641. (The east ridge is highly exposed Class 3, and for the more ambitious, there is a short Class 5 section going up the subpeak).

Aside from that, we had company. Dozens of people were up there, as were not just a few marmots and pikas looking to score a free meal from the peak’s visitors.

The folks up here weren’t much different than me and my brothers. Everyone I saw was with someone, making it an outing with friends and family. For us, this was a poignant time, as Steve was months away from a deployment and, unbeknownst to all of us at the time, a sort of last hurrah for Mike.

The east ridge and Point 13,641.

For the novice, Bierstadt is the goal and the prize. For others, it’s something else. For the three of us, it was about brotherhood in the truest sense. Leaving behind the lives we led in our hometowns in three different states, there we were – aged a bit, maybe not the picture of youthful vibrancy we once were. But this new experience, mixed with all those memories from childhood, made for the kind of stew that satisfies. The mountain was beautiful and memorable, but in this case, it was appreciated most of all for its ability to be a venue for some good times shared with a couple of dudes who just happen to be two of the most important people in my life.

Mount Bierstadt is a first for many and an afterthought for some. For me, it’s a place of importance.

A hungry marmot looking for a snack.

GETTING THERE: If you’re coming from Denver on Interstate 70, take the Georgetown exit. Drive through Georgetown and follow the signs for the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. Drive 12 miles to the top of Guanella Pass and park in one of the two large, paved parking areas on either side of the road. The Bierstadt trail starts near the parking area on the east side of the road.

ABOUT THE ROUTE: The early part of the route is mixed trail and wood plank walkways that go across a sizable patch of willows. They lead to a crossing at Scott Gomer Creek, which entails a little rock-hopping to get across dry. Continue following a well-maintained trail as it winds its way up the west slopes, eventually leading to a rockier approach to the summit ridge. From here, follow the summit ridge to the top. The route is classified Class 2 with very mild exposure; it’s about 7 miles round trip.

EXTRA CREDIT: From the summit, head down to the Sawtooth Ridge connecting Bierstadt and Mount Evans. Rated Class 3 with higher exposure. Or gain the summit via the east ridge, Class 3 with high exposure.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088