Members of group-Joel Paula, Max the dog, Ben Koelker, Andy Mention, Gabby Voeller, John Dean, and Zach Taylor
3,360' gain 8 miles round trip
14,060' Mt. Bierstadt
photo-The west slopes of Mt. Bierstadt. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
Mt. Bierstadt was my first 14er. I hiked it during the summer of 2003. Since then, I finished climbing all of Colorado's 14ers and returned to Bierstadt's summit many times. I did the Sawtooth three times, once this last winter, but despite Bierstadt's ease of ascent, I have been foiled in attempting to snowboard off the summit four or five times now. Every time I try, I skin up Guanella pass road to the top of the pass and then find that there is no snow above treeline. With a heavy spring snow season in the Front range this year, I thought now might be a good time to give a snowboard descent of Bierstadt a try. I got on 14ers.com and saw that a recent condition report showed a lot of snow on the mountain. With a snow pack that I still did not trust in the northern/central Rockies and a potential chance that Bierstadt would be in for a descent, I decided to head up that direction.
I have been buried in school work more recently and had not been out riding in a month. That is the longest I have gone without riding during snow season in ten years! Finals were coming up but I decided I needed a mental health day.
I made a few phone calls and rallied some friends for the next day's adventures. Andy, Gabby, John, and I left Denver around 5:30am and drove to the trailhead where we met up with Joel and Ben who drove up from Eagle county. Having been buried in school work, I have not felt like I have had much of a social life lately, and had not seen friends much in a while. It was great to see everyone, catch up over the course of the day, and begin making couloir plans for the upcoming month of big mountain season.
photo- from left to right, Gabby, Ben, and John skinning up Guanell pass road. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
The snow on the road was crusted over and frozen from previous days' melt-freeze cycles so it was pretty easy going and we made our way up to treeline quickly. Bierstadt had more snow on it than I have ever seen in person but it still looked pretty bony up high. I knew it had been skied from the summit the day before though and I was pretty sure we would be able to pull it off.
We set a pretty leisurely pace up the mountain, enjoying the views, and talking about spring snowboard/ski mountaineering season. Joel had just gotten back from the La Sals and had climbed and skied a bunch of cool lines out there. He talked a bit about that and Andy and Gabby talked about some of the recent rando races they had participated in. It was a bit breezy and the wind kept the snow surface cold above treeline the whole day.
photo-Joel and Max touring towards the summit. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Andy making his way up Bierstadt. photo by Zach Taylor. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo- Zach Taylor skinning up the west slopes. photo by Ben Koelker, 2013.
There were already multiple boot tracks and some skin tracks to follow up. The willows were actually mostly buried and did not present much challenge. Once we got to the summit ridge we decided to shoulder our planks and boot to the top from there.
photo-Zach Taylor on the summit ridge of Mt. Bierstadt. photo by Ben Koelker, 2013.
We stepped onto the summit and enjoyed expansive views of the Front, Ten Mile, Mosquito, Gore, and Sawatch ranges. Despite a really terrible start to the season this year all the late season snow has coated the high peaks quite nicely. I am not sure I have ever seen this much snow in the dry Front range. It looks to be a good couloir season this year! It was breezy on the summit with winds consistently gusting 15 mph or so. It was John's first 14er as well! He has spent a lot of time in the mountains and a bit of time backcountry snowboarding too but just got around to his first 14er. What a way to do it!
With the chilly breeze, we did not dally on the summit for long. After eating a snack
and a few high fives we began our descent off the summit. Since myself and a few in the
group were on the quest to ride or ski all the 14ers, we pieced together a summit descent.
With a bit of Davenporting and billygoating things worked out well and no one took off
photo- Joel Paula and Ben Koelker skiing down the summit ridge of Mt. Bierstadt. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
We picked our way down the rocky section just below the summit and then enjoyed some better coverage (for Bierstadt anyway) all the down. The snow above 12,500' stayed dry and cold all day. It oscillated between rock hard windslab, windcrust, and some softer decomposing snow in places. Below 12,500' the snow had softened from the day's sun and we enjoyed some more corn-like turns from there back to the cars. Enjoy the action shots!
photo-Andy enjoing some "rock skiing" just below the summit of Bierstadt. photo by Zach Tayor, 2013.
photo- A rocky descent off the summit. photo by John Dean, 2013.
photo-Zach Taylor descending the west slopes of Mt. Bierstadt. photo by John Dean, 2013.
There is not any real avalanche hazard on the west slopes route as long as you
stay on it except for a few slopes above the road that are easily avoided. There is plenty
of avalanche terrain off the north facing slopes to skier's right of the west slopes though.
However we just steered clear of that. Due to the bony nature of the descent athletic
injury was much more a concern. We were careful of hidden rocks though and somehow
we all made it out with only a few scrapes and no coreshots! That was pretty amazing.
photo- Andy skiing. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Ben Koelker and Max the dog enjoying some turns down Bierstadt. phoyto by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo- John Dean riding with the Sawtooth in the background. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
Well I cannot say that Bierstadt is a classic descent but it was a treat to get a summit
descent on this often dry peak. It was a great day out with friends and a great way to kick
off big mountain season 2013 with a snowpack that has not quite consolidated yet.
Hopefully, the couloirs will be coming in soon!
photo- Andy Mention above Guanella pass. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo- The crew hanging out back at the cars after a good day out in the mountains! photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.