Mount Bierstadt is Mount Even’s 14060’ neighbor. Mount Bierstadt is one of the easier 14´ers with the route being mostly a hike and just a little bit of scrambling up top provided you stick to the trail. Sometimes Bierstadt is climbed in combination with Evens, though the Sawtooth route between the two is easily a class 3 climb not to be taken lightly. Bierstadt sits in the Mount Evens Wilderness and therefore provides access to thousands of unspoiled acres. The trailhead at Guanella Pass is off a well maintained dirt road that has been recently improved (10.14.2006). I heard there were winds up there over 100mph the following weekend.
The hike begins from the crest of Guanella Pass eleven miles south of Georgetown. This trailhead is at 11,669 feet and provides access to the west sides of Evans and Bierstadt. Take Exit 228 off Interstate 70 at Georgetown work you way to the south west side of town where you will find Guanella Pass Road heading up and south for 10.0 miles. An alternate route is to leave U.S. 285 at Grant and follow Guanella Pass Road north for 12.2 miles. Guanella Pass Road is mostly dirt but is passable for passenger cars. Guanella Pass Road is open in winter but is the last priority for the snowplow crew. You can see Bierstadt’s rounded mass east of Guanella Pass.
I had read some beta on the trail and noted how perhaps one third of the posts talked about “getting lost in the willows” that the lower part of the trail winds through. Even Gerry Roach states in his guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners, “You must cross this sea of willows to reach Bierstadt, and they are no joke….the willows are even bad in winter. Snow appears to cover them, but it is generally not consolidated and sets you up for a big letdown.”
I arrived at night before about 8pm and started to consider my options. The weather was perfect, hardly any wind to measure, not a cloud in the sky, and a half moon to rise at 11pm I considered going up in the night. At least I thought to be on the summit for dawn which could be spectacular. So I scouted around the parking area and found a few unclear trails headed into the scrub-willows. I could see the summit beyond the high valley full of willows, but I could not tell which trailhead was the one. Even with my GPS in hand I felt it would be wise to wait for the dawn light and made my camp in my Jeep back down the road a piece to sleep at 10k. It was still “Friday the thirteenth” after all.
I woke up before dawn and chewed down some breakfast grub as I drove back. At the Guanella Pass parking lot I could now clearly see the actual trail and only one other car! I also noticed some distant headlamp lights that were clearly way off the trail, unless they were going for a direct approach to the sawtooth. After packing up and heading out I also realized that you need to (the forest service wants you to to get a handle on usage) get a wilderness tag at the actual trailhead which is something else you’d miss if you try to bushwack your way across the willows. The predawn light was torching the peaks in pink, the landscape incredible to behold. Reaching for my camera I found out also that the little Cannon SureShot really doesn’t like the cold. The battery had been freshly charged, but in the cold it acted completely dead. Grrrrrrrrrrr! I took the battery back out and continued on with it down next to my skin to warm up. I was hoping I could regain some juice for a few shots from the top and take a few route picts on my way back. That actually worked!
Just before crossing Scott Gomer Creek I noticed a small fresh carcass on top of a large granite boulder. It was the fur remains of a rabbit, I couldn’t tell what had eaten it, but it sure looked like a nice spot to stop and take a snack. The trail was always clear and I found it simple to stay on it. It made me realize the folks who reported “getting lost in the willows” did not start out on the actual trail, that would be a mistake. Once the trail works back up onto Bierstadts broad western slope you find yourself coming out of the willows. It was about a mile and a half up this slope which had a little snow on it well marked by others from the previous day. From here it’s a nice hike up to a shoulder south of the summit. The route is cairned along the way to the shoulder that requires the final .25 scrambling mile to the top. The summit provides awesome views of the craggy sawtooth ridge between Bierstadt and Evens, as well as the stunning view south down inviting but sheer slabs down to Frozen Lake 1,000’ below. All in all, a great half/day hiking 14er!