Sometime in the winter or spring of 2012, Greg and I came up with the crazy idea to hike a 14er on our first wedding anniversary. By that point, we had visited Colorado numerous times and had plenty of hikes under our belts, but a 14er is entirely new territory. The challenge of hiking above 14,000′ elevation sounded incredibly appealing to both of us and we knew that it would be a cool way to celebrate one year of marriage.
In case you’re wondering, a “14er” is a mountain that peaks above 14,000′ from sea level. Colorado has 54 different 14ers that range from Class 1 (easiest) to Class 5 (most difficult and requiring ropes) – which is strictly for comparison (no 14er is easy). You can read all about the 14ers in Colorado here.
For our first big hike, we researched a few different 14ers that were somewhat close to Breckenridge (where we would be staying). We ended up choosing Grays and Torreys because you can summit both on the same trip (since they are connected by a saddle). The hike totally kicked my butt, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Greg and I immediately decided that we should aim to hike a 14er every year on our anniversary.
For anniversary #2 (which was this past Wednesday- 7/17/2013), we decided to climb Mt. Bierstadt (which is considered Class 2). The number one reason that we chose this hike is that it’s one of the closest to where we live. We weren’t able to go camp out or rent a nearby hotel the night before, so a trail with a shorter driving distance was critical. It’s important to start your hike very early in the morning to avoid any early afternoon thunderstorms that roll in. You definitely don’t want to be stuck on the top of a mountain when there’s lightening in the sky!
Another benefit of Mt. Bierstadt was that (as 14ers go) it’s relatively easy. We plan on hiking a few other 14ers this year but with this being the first since we moved, we wanted to ease into it a bit. This particular hike is also shorter than others and we could easily summit before noon even starting as late as 8:30 am. Another thing to keep in mind is that your hiking/climbing pace is much slower than your normal running/walking pace. We’ve done hikes before that took an hour to cover one mile!
Get ready for a lot of photos (all from my iPhone- which is much lighter than carrying an SLR on a long hike!).
On Wednesday we woke up around 5:30 am, filled up our backpacks with water, snacks and extra layers of clothing and we hit the road. With a stop for coffee on the way, we ended up getting to the parking lot around 8:30 am (we had left the house around 6:30 and hit a little bit of traffic on the way). It was a sunny, clear day and the temperature was in the mid 50s (not bad for morning in the mountains!).
We were ready to tackle this 14er!
The trail started at 11,669′ elevation and was definitely easy for the first mile.
We walked through a marshy area along a creek next to some small lakes and just soaked in the beautiful scenery.
Once the elevation started picking up I quickly shed my sweatshirt. Even though it wasn’t quite 60˚, a tank top was much more comfortable for a steep climb in the bright sunshine. We got warmed up fast at that point! Seeing Mt. Bierstadt in the distance, it definitely didn’t look too intimidating or far off. That’s definitely an illusion.
(Mt. Bierstadt is on the right and is connected by Sawtooth to Mt. Evans)
As the hike got steeper and we gained more elevation, I repeated my mantra from last year’s hike at Grays and Torreys: One step at a time, each step is one more closer to the top. We took a quick rest stop every few minutes (even just 15 seconds helps!) and then got right back to it.
As we got closer to the ridge that leads up to the summit, our rest stops were more like one minute apart. There were some big rocks to step onto!
I made fun of Greg for his hat the whole day. I know it’s functional… but man is it dorky. 🙂
My heart rate was pretty high and my legs definitely felt the altitude- but my lungs felt great! I noticed a big difference in my breathing from last year’s 14er hike (which is probably due to us no longer living at sea level!).
We made one final push to get to the ridge and then set up the self timer (via the Camera Plus app) on my iPhone.
We took some photos of each other (of course I had to bust out a tree pose).
I love this guy (hat and all).
As I looked up the mountain to the final ascent, it definitely seemed intimidating. The entire last stretch requires some bouldering, in which you have to use your hands just as much as your feet.
Bouldering definitely also requires a certain level of balance, skill and (more than anything!) confidence. You can’t really see much beyond this photo, but after you make it up this huge pile of rocks, it levels out and you climb across to the summit.
And just before noon, we made it! Someone had placed a nifty little sign next to the marker for the summit.
There were a number of other people hanging out at the summit, so we got one of them to take our picture (which turns out MUCH better than using a self-timer!).
We took a little break to eat some lunch and found this lovely rock to sit on and enjoy this incredible view:
Just like last year, we had packed PB&J sandwiches and beer (from Upslope this time!).
Best hiking food ever!
We also had some furry little friends try to join us for lunch:
This was my first time ever seeing a marmot- and there were a ton of them!
So cute. 🙂
We soaked in the view as much as possible and I took a few more photos:
And of course, I had to do my signature wheel pose while we were up there.
After at least a half hour stop at the summit, we decided it was time to start the trek back down. It was definitely a little difficult to get back to the ridge through all of those rocks!
Once we got back down the ridge, we had a series of other rocks to climb down on that portion of the trail. Many of them were wet from all of the snow melt- and I managed to slip on one and fall right on my butt. It definitely didn’t feel good- but luckily I was fine. We finally got to the less rocky section and could pretty much fly right downhill.
Greg and I both tested out our new trekking poles- which definitely helped ease some of the stress off our quads on the way down!
I think I stopped at least twenty more times on the way down to take more pictures (just in case I missed something on the way up!). These beautiful wild flowers were everywhere!
We heard some thunder on our way down and saw dark clouds brewing over Grays and Torreys.
Don’t worry- we manaaged to make it back down to the trail head safely and swiftly without getting caught in any thunderstorms!
I had my Polar on for the hike (which I hadn’t worn since before we moved!) and here are the stats:
Not too shabby!
The total hike stats: 5 hours, 55 minutes (which included several stops- it could definitely be done in a shorter amount of time), 7 miles total distance and 2,850 feet elevation gain.
Needless to say, we were a bit wiped out after the hike and pretty much useless for the remainder for the day. It was totally worth it though (obviously)! I am constantly amazed by the beauty that is practically right in our backyard and wish everyone I know could see it and enjoy it as much as I do. I’m also lucky to be married to a guy that loves the outdoors as much as I do and thinks that hiking in the mountains can be every bit as romantic as any other anniversary celebration.
Three 14ers down… can’t wait for the next one!