Fellow Adventurers: Eric Sigler, Reynann Mark Ducay, and Mike ? (Eric's coworker)
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We ran/hiked Mount Bierstadt from Guanella Pass (El. 11,669 feet). Because of it's high trailhead and close proximity to the Front Range, this one of the easiest (and therefore popular) 14'ers. I logged a total of 5.5 hrs of mostly running and hard hiking. I estimate 4 hrs of that was in rain ranging in intensity from wind blown drizzle to pelting rain showers and even some snow near the summit. This was the wettest 14'er hike I've ever done.
My Filipino friend, Reynann, is leaving Colorado at the end of July and really wanted to hike a 14'er before he left. Eric and I are training for the Pikes Peak Marathon (6 weeks from today), and Mike is training for the Pikes Peak Ascent. We decided to do a quick daytrip over to Mount Bierstadt for a training run. Originally we were (crazy) talking about running up all the way from Georgetown up to Guanella Pass (10 mile according to Gerry Roach, or 12 miles according to the road sign), then about 3 or 4 to the top), but we couldn't find anyone to drive the cars up and join Reynann for the hike. Reynann and I left Fort Collins at 6:35 AM and drove through nearly continuous rain down to Denver - a dubious beginning to any 14'er adventure. When we met up at the rest area in Georgetown at 8:15 AM, the weather was showery and misty. Clearly, this week of very atypical July weather was nowhere near finished. We decided to just drive up to Guanella Pass and run a few laps on Bierstadt. The lower road is still as bad as ever, but they have made great progress on the upper (north) part - new guardrails and a new roadbed have been installed. The old Guanella Pass trailhead is kaput - a new parking area is now to the west of the road. This means you now have slightly further to hike, and a little bit more to climb to get back to your car. Gerry Roach's book gives 6.0 miles and 2770 vertical feet for the round-trip hike (2.13 West Slopes II, Class 2), but my GPS gave 3.8 to the summit and about 2500 vertical feet (not counting the hill on the return). Mount Bierstadt has apparently gotten slightly harder :)
A windblown drizzle showered us as we prepared at the cars. Given the adverse conditions and the protocol for this run, I was quite conflicted as to what gear to bring. In addition to the synthetic longsleeve shirt, running shorts, Sahara convertible pants, waterproof hat, fleece jacket, rain jacket and fleece gloves I started out wearing, I packed my Rimrock Camelbak with 70 oz of water, very light gloves, thicker fleece gloves, a warm headband, a regular running cap, an extra Smartwool shirt, a fleece jacket, about 6 Crank E-gels and a Clif Shot Blox (very yummy). I ended all clothing articles except the headband and the very light gloves. I ate everything except 2 of the E-gels.
Although the past few years have seen great improvements to the trail (even boardwalks!) in the section that traverses the infamous willows, the large deluges of rain in the past week combined with heavy traffic to leave the trail a muddy mess with many large puddles. Eric and Mike took off, and I followed a few minutes later after pointing Reynann in the right direction and giving some last minute advice and directions. I was a little worried about letting him hike this mountain all by himself, given that this was his first 14'er and the weather was quite inclement. But the throngs of people on the trail helped assure me that he would be fine.
It took me about 16 min to run down to the trail's low point at Scott Gomer Creek (El. 11,400 ft). The creek was quite swollen, and there was a backup of hikers carefully picking their away across the rocks submerged by rushing water. Some chose to throw their shoes across and tiptoe across barefoot. I opted for the more gutsy jumping option. It probably would have worked too, except my landing was onto a slightly submerged rock and I was carrying about 20 lbs of gear. My leap cleared the rushing waters, but the landing didn't go so well and I slid through an extensive puddle - my backside got quite wet. That turned out to be unimportant given was was soon to transpire.
I adjusted my clothing - taking off my fleece jacket and just going with the synthetic shirt and rain jacket. I took off running, thinking Eric and Mike were already ahead. The first 400 feet of climb is relatively benign, switchbacking through willows and small trees. The trail then turns up a small gully and climbs steeply above treeline, eventually reaching some grassy benches. I paused briefly to talk to some hikers, and surprisingly Eric came up from behind (he and Mike went down a faux trail for a bit). We made very good progress, in the process, picking off most of the hikers on the way up. Despite weather more fitting for the Scottish moorlands in winter, lots of hikers were out. Because were were running laps up and down the mountain, we got to see most of them multiple times. A few of them practically ignored us (and hardly yielded the trail), while others beamed us a knowing smile. A few tried to crack jokes the 2nd time they saw us. A few gave accurate assessments: 'You're a madman'. I actually passed a few people 3 times. One guy saw me coming back up the hill the 3rd time and simply said 'Extreme!'. There were two very cute girls hiking up - unfortunately mountain running sometimes precludes socialization. We exchanged smiles and I kept going up the hill - I was hoping to talk to them a bit later on a subsequent lap up the mountain, but alas, somehow I missed them. About this time, one of the pelting rain showers hit, making for a rather miserable climb. The trail was now a watercourse with multiple rivulets and small cascades. I kept checking my altimeter and counting down the distance to the top (in hundreds of feet). I later discovered that I set my altimeter about 500 feet too high at the start, so I thought I was almost up and I still had 500 feet to go. There's nothing like that kind of trick to make you perform better than you would have. This entire run turned out to be very good mental training to be able to race in all conditions. Eventually I reached the summit, climbing up the final ridge over huge, slick boulders and past the remnant of a snow cornice. I reached the summit from the big rock near the stream in 0:55:30 (or about 1:15 from the car).
The summit was socked in with fog blowing past in a chilling wind. I dumped about half my water out at the first summit (after carrying this 15-20 lb pack all the way up, I only drank about 5 oz of water on the way up). I signed the trail register and waited a few minutes for Eric, then we went back down to finish our first lap. We found Mike making good progress at about 13,500 feet. Reynann was down around 12,900 ft and moving a bit slowly. He was still bracketed by hikers coming up and seemed in good spirits so we continued hightailing it down to the low point. I was chasing Eric and we both ran very strong on the downhill, descending the entire 2600 feet in 0:41:47. I stopped short of the creek at a big rock and decided to lose some gear. I switched into my spare Smartwool shirt and took off the pants which were now quite wet.
We headed back up. Again, Eric started early and got ahead of me, but I slowly reigned him in, passed, and then slowly pulled away towards the top. He had hiked most of the way into Capitol the previous day (whereas I just hiked Horsetooth), so I would attribute my apparent speed to just being less fatigued rather than any superior physical conditioning. At about 13,700 ft, we passed Mike who was on his way down. The altitude was affecting him and he turned around a bit before the summit. I reached the summit for the second time with a time of 1:03:35 - about 8 min slower than the first lap. This time the weather was even meaner, with some snow blowing down on us. Eric and I went back to find Reynann - we didn't have to go very far. He was just a couple hundred feet down. We hiked with him back to the summit, spending about 23 min in this process. After snapping some pictures, we headed back down. Eric ran from the summit, while I walked with Reynann down to where the trail became evident. This took about 20 min. I took off after that, reaching the rock by the creek in another 0:26:34 min (a descent of about 2300 feet). Eric and Mike decided to head back to the car.
I again adjusted my clothing at the rock, this time leaving even more - I tossed the rain jacket in favor of the fleece jacket and fleece gloves. I headed back up the trail, hoping I wouldn't get too close to the summit before finding Reynann. The days single peal of thunder occurred as I ascended, at about 1:45 PM. This was quite late to be on the mountain on a day when there was a 60% chance of showers and thunderstorms! After about 25 min, I came upon Reynann at about the 12,300 foot level. Some hikers just ahead of him had lost a gaiter, so I decided to exercise my mountain goat nature a bit more and headed up the mountain try to find it. Thankfully I only had to go about 200 vertical feet above them and retrieved it from some hikers who had picked it up on the way down. I ran this back down to the appropriate party. Then Reynann and I slogged down the mountain at a rather slow pace. By now I was running very low on energy (the so-called 'bonk'), since the last energy I had had was at the top of the second lap. Reynann administered a little runner's first aid on my by giving me about half of a small apple pastry. This helped, but I was still fading. The rain was quite continuous from here to the finish, which took about an hour and 5 minutes more to the car.
At the rock, I retrieved my assortment of now soaked clothing and donned my rain jacket and waterproof hat to try to retain what little body heat I had left. The creek crossing was just as exciting as the first time. Since my shoes were thoroughly soaked by this point, I just stepped across on the submerged rocks. Reynann threw the gloves I had loaned him, but one landed in the torrent and caught on a willow. I ended up jumping into the creek, soaking my pants up to my knees. Now I was quite cold - close to hypothermic, shivering, and generally out of energy. The last mile was uphill, and the exertion helped to warm me up. I finally got out to the car at about 3 PM - I went straight for my 3 Musketeers candy bar and ate half of it, then changed into warm clothes. Reynann showed up about 15 min later. Finally, we were done! We drove down to Idaho Springs looking for 'lunch' only to find that the Taco Bell that used to be there was now gone. We continued onto the west suburbs of Denver and finally had a solid meal. There was some traffic, both on I-70 and I-25 (the latter related to the rain which evidently had earlier covered the roadway). We finally got back to Fort Collins at 6:30 PM.
~0:18:00 from car (El. 11,700 ft) to Scott Gomer Creek (El. 11,400 ft), then 2 min at the rock (-300 feet)
0:55:30 first ascent (from big rock) to summit (+2600 feet)
0:08:15 at summit
0:41:47 descent back to rock (-2600 feet)
1:03:35 second ascent
0:23:43 back to Reynann and back to summit (-/+ 200 feet)
0:20:00 descent to trail below hard part of summit (-300 feet)
0:26:34 rest of descent to rock (-2300 feet)
0:25:00 back up to 12,300 feet to Reynann (+900 feet)
0:35:00 back to rock
0:29:50 crossing creek and back to car (+300 feet)
Total time: 5:34:05
Total distance: 16.58 miles
Total vertical rise: +6600 feet
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