There are 54 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet in Colorado, known as “14ers.” If reaching the summit of a 14er is on your travel to-do list, here’s a few basic tips as well as our experience hiking Mt. Bierstadt recently.
Season: While some are possible year-round with proper equipment, typically July-September is the best time.
Weather: One of the most important tips and things to consider when preparing to hike a 14er is the early afternoon storms that roll in. You are above the tree line for the bulk of the hike and lightning can be very dangerous, even deadly. Do your research to figure out average hiking times so you know what time you need to depart to be off the summit by noon at the latest.
Gear: For many of the less difficult 14ers, you don’t really need any gear. A good pair of hiking books is recommended, and bring layers (even a hat and gloves), as the temperature can vary greatly and change quickly. Also be sure to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, plenty of water and a few snacks.
Good First 14er Hikes: Gray’s Peak, Quandry Peak and Mt. Bierstadt
Best Online Resource: www.14ers.com. You can read trip reports, condition reports, check the forecast, etc. This thread with FAQs is particularly helpful in referencing the appropriate links.
Over the 4th of July weekend my best friend was in town and we headed up to the mountains for some camping and hiking. On day one we hiked to St. Mary’s Glacier (just North of Idaho Springs, CO). It was a short, easy hike with rewarding views, and it’s less than an hour’s drive from Denver.
For our overnight we camped at Guanella Pass Campground. Since it was a holiday weekend, we booked online in advance (and even a few weeks out there was only one campsite remaining, for one night only). It was $26 per site. It was a nice, large site right by a little stream, with a grill, picnic table, fire pit and separate area for our tent. The bathrooms were a bit of a hike, and there was no running water.
Mt. Bierstadt Facts (from 14ers.com)
|Rank (height):||38 of 53|
|Lat/Long:||39º 34′ 58″ N
105º 40′ 05″ W
We took the West Slopes Route, which was seven miles roundtrip and an elevation gain of 2850 feet. The trailhead is at Guanella Pass, and expect to park down the road from the parking lot unless you get there really early. Since this is so close to Denver, one of the less challenging climbs, and it was a holiday weekend for us, the trail was very, very crowded.
It took us about five hours to complete the hike, which seemed to be about average. That included numerous stops and a picnic at the summit. We got a later start than we planned, but were on the trail by 8 a.m. and off by 1 p.m. Some dark clouds were rolling in as we descended, but overall we couldn’t have asked for much better weather!
I say Mt. Bierstadt is one of the “easy” 14ers lightly. Though not as challenging as some of the others I’m sure, it was still harder than any of us (all in decent shape) expected. It’s almost 3,000 feet in elevation gain, the altitude can certainly make you feel lightheaded and parts of the trail are quite steep.
Some photos by the lovely Kacey Faith Harper