Run out of work at 4:00. Pick up some last minute provisions. Arrive home at 5:00 and finish packing (aka stuffing our massive cooler from Costco with enough food to feed an army). Roll out of Denver at 5:55. Stop at a general store thirty minutes into our trip to get ice. Stop AGAIN an hour into our trip for firewood. Drive up Guanella Pass and find that all the first-come-first-serve campsites are taken. Finally find a spot to camp off the side of the highway at 8:15 pm. Set up our tent, eat a quick dinner, and fall asleep by 10:30 pm. Freeze my ass off all night because my sleeping bag is a child’s size from 1995. Wake up at 6:30 am. Contemplate staying in my sleeping bag. Finally get it together, and wind up hitting the trail head at 7:45.
Getting there was a whirlwind, but by the time we started hiking, I finally felt like I could take a deep breath. I had been super anxious about hiking my first 14,000+ foot mountain, as I’d heard plenty of horror stories of people starting too late and getting caught in bad weather/ falling/ dying. Since we’d made it there and started early enough (most people say 7:00, but we’re fairly fast hikers) I felt like things would be ok. Plus, the weather was perfect.
Ever since we moved to Colorado, we knew we needed to hike as many of the state’s 54 14ers as possible. Most of them are accessible to landlubbers like us, however, there are several that I know I will never summit as they are Class 4 and 5 (as in, you need to be a legit mountaineer rock climber person, i,e, you will definitely DIE if you fall… at all). That said, hiking the 14ers is serious business. First of all, 14,000+ feet is no joke and is considered “very high altitude.” Second, you have to be aware of hail and thunder storms, as the weather can literally change in an instant. That’s why you must start hiking first thing in the morning.
Anyway, our hike started out really well. The first few miles are actually slightly downhill as you cross marshland. Just after sunrise, it was so serene and beautiful. However, once you start going up the mountain, you’re REALLY going up the mountain. It’s steep. It’s rocky. There’s no oxygen. Surprisingly, Rick and I hiked very quickly for a while. I hardly felt out of breath. But, once we made it to like 13,000 or so, my breathing because labored, and I felt mildly lightheaded. Not full-on altitude sick (which feels like a hangover) but just a little lightheaded. As we got closer to the top, I had to take a couple breaks for a minute or two to eat some Scandinavian Swimmers and take in whatever small amount of O2 existed up there. Note: Scandinavian Swimmers are an excellent, affordable substitute for Cliff Shot Bloks or Gu.
While we hiked pretty quickly, there was this one guy we referred to as “Crazy Mountain Guy” because he walked sooooo fast up the mountain. However, he appeared to be with a group of people who were much slower, so he would stop and take long breaks with them. So, he would pass us, but then several minutes later we would pass him! In the end, he wound up beating us round trip since I’m kind of slow coming down (sensitive knees + long legs make me unstable on the steep incline).
The last quarter- half mile of the hike is basically a rock scramble without a defined trail (Mt. Bierstadt is a Class 2-3 hike). At this point, I had definitely lost a fair amount of brain cells due to oxygen deprivation, and didn’t even know if I was tired or not. Each time we thought we were close to the top, we’d cross over another crest and see more mountain before us.
Finally, we made it to the top, along with 10834728 other people who decided to deprive themselves of air that day (Mt. Bierstadt is the most popular 14er in Colorado since it’s so close to Denver). I actually had cell service at the top, and tried to make a Snapchat video. However, even though my phone was fully charged the cold air (it had to be 40 degrees up there) and/or altitude made my battery die immediately after I took a few pictures.
After spending a good 20-30 minutes taking in the views, we headed back down. The way down was much less eventful, although I did get very tired towards the end. In fact, the last part through the marshes was the WORST. It seemed to take forever. Did not seem that far when we were going up.
We made it back to the car at 12:45 (five hours total) and realized just how far we went that day. The mountain didn’t seem that big or far away when we started, but after being up and down, we realized just how big of a feat this was.
We drove back to our tent, where I promptly fell asleep and took the best nap of my entire life. Too tired to make lunch. After re-gaining some energy, Rick hauled our portable grill from the car and I feasted on no less than four veggie burgers, grilled vegetables, and cherries. Oh, and more than one Prost Pilsner.
The rest of the day and night pretty much had us lying around the woods eating and hydrating. Of course, once it got dark, I started to get a little scared! Clearly I have seen way too many X-Files episodes, because I kept envisioning myself getting abducted by aliens or a sasquatch. Or, more realistically, encountering a beer hungry bear (apparently, bears like beer). I did not confess these fears to Rick, and instead told him I was “tired.”
Thankfully no one was abducted, and we went to bed at 10:00.
It sure is nice to get away from the city and camp off the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Since we weren’t at a campsite, we were pretty much all alone. There’s also no cell service, so you are pretty much forced to “unplug.” I am definitely the sort of person who is always doing something, but I am also extremely introverted, so it’s nice for me to sit for
hours days with nothing but my thoughts once in a while.
Which large mountain should we hike next? Mt. Elbert?