What Is A Good First Fourteener? Mt. Bierstadt
Recently my wife and I decided to try and climb some of the so called "easiest fourteeners" in Colorado. The term "fourteener" refers to any mountain above 14,000' and while some are considered less difficult than others, none are really that "easy". A popular choice for a first fourteener (and ours as well), is Mount Bierstadt at 14,065'. It was first climbed by renowned painter Albert Bierstadt in 1863. It's one of the most climbed mountains in Colorado which is due in part to its mostly gentle slope and proximity to Denver.
Directions To Mt. Bierstadt Trailhead From Denver
From Denver follow IH-70 West and exit at Georgetown. Next you will follow the signs through the small town of Georgetown leading you to the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. From downtown Georgetown you will drive 12 miles to the summit of Guanella Pass. There you can park in either of the two public parking lots on either side of the road. The trail to Mt. Bierstadt's summit is located beside the East parking lot.
Side Note: (Geogetown is a very scenic Colorado mountain town and is worth a visit on your way to or from your climb.) I personally suggest a beer and Mexican food at La Lucha after you return from the summit of Mt. Bierstadt. (Try the Chicken Enchiladas!)
From the trailhead at Guanella Pass it is about 3.5 miles to the summit of Mt. Bierstadt. (The whole climb is approximately seven miles round trip.) You will gain 2,850' from the trail head which lies at an elevation of 11,669'. The trail will lead you across gently rolling alpine meadow and marshland with several wooden walkways before it begins to get steeper. During the summer months the trail is easy to spot ahead of you since it is well worn and most likely being traveled by dozens of other climbers.
At the summit of Mt. Bierstadt you will be able to see another fourteener, Mt. Evans, which is located less than a couple miles away. Some climbers choose to combine the two and bag two fourteeners in one day. The route to Mt. Evans is more difficult and first time climbers should probably stick to Bierstadt alone. Look for the Mt. Beirstadt USGS elevation marker which is a very worn piece of stamped brass on the highest point of the summit. (See photo below.) Often other visitors have left behind a cardboard sign with the elevation and something such as "We Made It!." Be sure to pack out any trash that you bring and earn some trail karma by taking out other trash that you may find.
What To Wear and Take
While Mt. Bierstadt may be considered a relatively easy fourteener, is only so under summer conditions that you may find on fair weather days during July and August. Sore feet are a problem to many so be sure to wear good hiking socks made of a synthetic or wool blend, along with good hiking boots. Hiking poles are helpful but not necessary. Be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat since UV rays are as much as twice as strong at high altitudes. Take plenty of water for every person in your group as well as for your pets. Also bring along some trail mix, energy bars or other snacks to replenish your energy at the summit. The trail is well marked but a compass and map / GPS are a good idea. Even during the summer months the temperature at the summit can be quite chilly. Be sure to dress in layers and have a waterproof jacket and pants in your backpack in case of rain. Weather can be unpredictable anywhere along the route so be prepared. Cell phone coverage is non existent or spotty along the trail and at the summit so don't expect to have coverage.
Summit Before Noon
During 2015 there were several injuries and at least one death related to lightning strikes on Colorado's fourteeners. A good rule of thumb is to try and make it to the summit and be on your way down before noon, since it is around that time that summer thunderstorms often kick off. Before any fourteener summit attempt be sure to check weather conditions as well as trail reports by other climbers. The site 14'ers.com is a good resource for climbers as well as the book "Colorado's Fourteeners" by Gerry Roach.
Summer thunderstorms and severe weather can happen at any time in the mountains so don't be ashamed if you have to cancel your climb and try again on another day.