Mount Bierstadt (Colorado), Mount Elbert (Colorado), Mount Evans (Colorado)

August 1994, 1995, Rocky Mountain High

By: Wayne Norman


There are good business trips and there are bad business trips. Visiting Washington D.C. in winter (or summer for that matter) is a bad business trip. An example of a good business trip is a Monday morning meeting in Denver. To help save the company (and taxpayers) money, employees at our company are encouraged to stay over a Saturday night to reduce the cost of the airfare. The company will then pick up the extra day charge for the rental car and hotel; in my case the company saves even more because my hotel is a sleeping bag and a bivy sack. (unless of course I'm visiting Colorado or Utah in the winter, but that's another story.)

One of the nice things about climbing in Colorado is how much closer the mountains are. A quick 3 hr drive from the airport, including a dinner stop, and I was happily asleep at the trailhead to Mt. Elbert. My cozy slumber was interrupted at 4:30 am by a group of loud Outward Bound (or downward bound) students making an early start on the peak. This was not the wake-up call I had hoped for. Of course once you're awake it's hard to go back asleep especially with a long climb ahead of you, so I got up and got ready.

One thing Colorado peak baggers will tell you is "get off the peaks early." Afternoon thunderstorms are everyday occurrences. So the "early" start time by the Outward Bound leaders was a good idea, especially considering the speed of their group, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was off by 5:30 hiking up the dirt road towards the trai1 cutoff. I wish there was a way to make the slog up Mt. Elbert an interesting tale, but it's beyond me. There is a trail the whole way, it's a boring hump up the hill, the route lacks stunning scenery, and it is just happens to be the highest peak in the state. The most redeeming part of the hike, was playing Pac Man with the Outward Bound students. My ego was fed by hiking past gasping youths in their teens and early twenties as they struggled up the peak.

On the summit there were the obligatory photo's and signing of the register, in this case the summit register was stored in a Pringle's Can! The views were obstructed by a haze that permeated the Leadville area. Thirty minutes after topping out I was heading down, smiling as the Outward Bound group asked how much further to the top. Very soon though, I would be reminded of my true standing in the hierarchy of "in shape" people.

Hiking back to the car my oxygen starved brain finally pieced together the signs I saw the previous night driving through Leadville and the trail-markers. This was the day of the famous 'Leadville 100.' I saw a number of participants on the way out. These people are really in great shape, along with being a bit touched (kindred spirits to mountain climbers). A friend who has been in this race twice before rates the Leadville 100 as one of the toughest of the hundred mile races. (I would be happy to do an "easy" marathon much less a 100 mile run.) My ego suitably deflated, I made it back to the car.

Colorado has the dubious distinction of having the highest road in the U.S., the Mt. Evans Road, 14,264'. I drove up the Mt. Evans road on my way back to Denver after my hike up Mt. Elbert. To my surprise I found far more solitude at sunset on the top of Mt. Evans then I had had on Elbert. So much more so that I decided to spend the night on top of Mt. Evans, not in the car, but snuggled against the summit rocks out of the wind, a high altitude bivouac. There from my sheltered resting place I would be able to watch sunrise over the Great Plains in the morning.

It was a dark and windy night. Well, at least a windy night. The stars were bright and the moon was out, plus there was the lights from the city of Denver. Breathtaking, simply breathtaking .

A little sleep, then the sunrise! A golden orb rising like a Phoenix from beyond the ends of the earth. Radiant energy, filling me with warmth. A spectacle forever etched in my mind. That sunrise will always be with me; of the business meeting, I no longer remember what it was about.

Brief Interlude: A year. Even in our short lives a year can go by so quickly; we blink and it is gone. A brief year and another August trip to the Mile High City. Another good business trip. Another chance at a Colorado fourteener.

Unfinished business. There is a ridge which connects Mt. Evans with another Colorado fourteener, Mt. Bierstadt. As I watched sunrise the Year before, I couldn't help noticing this other peak just a short distance away. I didn't have the time to climb it on that cold August morning, but this year was different.

Another August night spent in my mountain hotel (bivy sack). Early in the morning I had a quick breakfast and watched a few other early morning hikers traverse Bierstadt's greatest obstacle: the willows. From Guanella Pass you head down to a marshy, and in this late snow year, muddy stream saddle. There is a path through the willows that is fairly easy to follow, but in the days before the "Fourteener Craze" hit the Rockies it was a real challenge. After climbing out of the willows the route makes its way up to the peak.

While resting on top. I mentioned to another climber, a Colorado native, that I had a job interview in Boulder next week. He said "Don't take this the wrong way but, don't move here. We have enough Californian's here." I guess the part that upset me wasn't the crack about Californicating Colorado, it was being put into the same category as Texan's! Oh well, I could see his point.

After enjoying the summit views and having no more California insults aimed in my direction, (the people really were friendly) I started heading down. Hiking down, the climb was looking more popular than San Jacinto on a busy weekend. There were at least fifty heading for the summit. By the time I made it back to my car I had to revise the previous estimate upward. No solitude on this peak. Still it was a fun hike among mostly friendly people.


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