I Hiked My First Colorado Fourteener!
Hiking a mountain of 14,000 feet in elevation seems to be something of a rite of passage for those who live in Colorado. These so called Colorado fourteeners, as those in the know refer to them, have the power to take your breath away, for oxygen at that altitude is quite sparse. In Oregon, our tallest mountain, Mount Hood, reaches just 11,239 feet above sea level. In the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, 54 (54!) earn a 14er status. I wanted to try just one. Just to see if I could. The challenge, for those of you who know me or who’ve been reading for some time, is what appeals to me, for the feeling of accomplishment that comes with success is quite unrivaled.
My friend, Angela, has lived in Colorado longer than I, and had previously climbed two of the 54. She suggested we try Mount Bierstadt, for it is the easiest of them all at an elevation of 14,060 feet, and therefore a good place to begin. I was setting a date before I even knew what I was getting myself into.
Come to find out, hiking the main trail up the western face of Mount Bierstadt is certainly no walk in the park. The trailhead starts at 11,669 feet, making the 2,391 foot elevation gain compressed into just 3.5 miles. And you feel it, almost every step of the way. Each time the going got tough, I reminded myself of the benefits of hiking I had from outdoor enthusiast Bianca Knauf here.
It was June 15, and snow still graced the upper half of the mountain, large patches of ice surrounding each. The top half is mostly a boulder scramble, a rocky face where once chooses her own best way to the top, very carefully. Imagine doing stair-master aerobics, on a steep incline.
But every time we stopped to catch our breath in the thin air, we earned a better view of the seemingly endless peaks and valleys below. It would have been breathtaking, if we had any left to take.
And so we climbed on. “Talleyhoe!” our friend Stephen would say. And the slow march to the top finally crested. Just when I was beginning to wonder why I signed myself up for such a jaunt, I reached the ridge and looked out to the other side. I heard myself say aloud, “This is sooo worth it!”
We walked up the snowy ridge through a slick, packed down snow path, bracing ourselves from the wind that threatened to knock us back down. Slightly unprepared without gloves, our hands were numb and stinging from the cold, our faces red with sun and wind, we slowly made it to the highest peak and took in the 360-degree view. Stunning.
And just like I’d seen in the movies, I found a small cylinder dangling from a rock. Inside was a scroll and a pen, for those who make it to the top to leave their mark.
I did my best to unscrew the lid, but my fingers wouldn’t work to sign my name any more legibly than a preschooler might. But still, it’s there. In red ink.
Unlike any other hike I’ve done, the way back down felt much longer than the way back up. Our legs a bit shaky, our knees sore from the downhill pressure, we descended, watching the clouds roll in over our heads, feeling sorry for those just getting started, and planning our next Colorado 14er.
I Successfully Hiked my First of Colorado’s Fourteeners