I ascended my first-ever mountain summit that is over 14,000 feet yesterday. Mount Bierstadt is in a gorgeous setting. Long vista views of valleys and the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies. And abundant wildflowers.
According to Wikipedia, Mount Bierstadt is found in the Front Range region of the Rocky Mountains, in Clear Creek County, Colorado, 12 miles south of the charming little mining town of Georgetown. It is one of 54 fourteeners (mountains with peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation) in Colorado. It is located approximately 1.5 miles west-southwest of Mount Evans. It was named for Albert Bierstadt, a popular painter of Colorado’s Rockies of the 19th century.
We started relatively early at 7:50 a.m. to try to avoid thunderstorms at the summit, as had the 360 hikers who had arrived before us that morning, but our timing could not have been worse. Gasping loudly for air as I scrambled up the slope (very little oxygen at 14,000 feet!), I reached the boulder field about 100 yards from the summit. When I was about 50 feet from the summit, two very loud thunderclaps roared as they struck and shook us. The hair on my arms literally stood on end, which is the first time that has happened to me since I was a teenager. Since I was so close, I did NOT turn and scramble down the mountain to get to safety, as one must do when that happens (indeed, a large group of hikers were rushing towards me as I continued ascending). I figured another 60 seconds would not significantly add to my risk. The 14,060-foot summit was irresistible, mostly because I had never climbed to 14,000 feet before.
I had become infected with the infamous, well-known affliction of many mountaineers.
Once at the summit due to my fever, I witnessed a young man PROPOSING to his girlfriend. She threw her arms straight up in the air and yelled “YES!!!” Joyfully. Quite an unforgettable proposal at 14,060 feet in the middle of a violent thunderstorm! I quickly snapped some photos. The views were so breathtaking that I could not resist, despite the thunderbolts blasting near me.
Then, as I turned and high tailed it off the summit, a strong HAILSTORM erupted. The boulder field became very slick as I leapt from boulder to boulder. (Many of the hikers with exposed skin looked like they had the measles at the bottom due to the hailstones that had pelted them.) As I looked at the wall of hail approaching us on the summit, I could see that the thickest part of the wall of white was passing right over our heads. We therefore had not only awful timing, but the misfortune to be in the bulls eye center of the storm.
Rushing to escape the storm, my hands became numb from the hail and cold rain, which forced me to don winter gloves. Quite an odd experience, given the fact that I was sweltering in 97-degree weather the day before in Boulder.
The hike was a good preparation hike for what I will do in four weeks: Long’s Peak, the most feared 14er in Colorado. That hike will be TWICE as long as Bierstadt, and has almost twice as much elevation gain (5,000 feet). It will be 12-14 hours of climbing up to the summit and returning to the trailhead. We will start at 3 a.m. to avoid storms. Since Bierstadt was so exhausting to me, thinking about Long’s has me a bit worried. A friend down the street has run a marathon, but he says summiting Long’s was the most difficult thing he has ever done…
Here are the photos I shot during the ascent. For the best view, after you are taken to the Picasa photos, don’t forget to click on “slideshow” in the upper left: