June 17-18, 2015
Bierstadt (14,060′) and Huron (14,003′) Peaks were warm up climbs for Blanca Group. Bierstadt on Wednesday. Huron on Thursday. Blanca, Friday and Saturday.
Bierstadt is practically a driveup summit. The trailhead at Guanella Pass is 11,669′, so the whole gain is only 2,400′. Being a flatlander, I wanted to test my conditioning. My goal was to get from Austin elevation 540′ to 14,060′ Bierstadt summit and back to trailhead in a half-day. No acclimating.
I departed Austin at 5:35 am CST on a direct flight arriving Denver at 7:00 am MST. Hit Bierstadt trailhead at 10:30 am, completed 6 mile roundtrip and back at car before 4 pm. No altitude symptoms. Lots of post-holing. Little glissading. Perfect weather. What a great day!
I stayed in Breckenridge Wednesday overnight, slept in late then hit the road for collegiate peaks. Arrived at Huron Peak trailhead a little after noon. If there was any threat of storms, this was way too late. But the weather was perfect.
The Huron Peak trailhead is on the Collegiate West route of the Collegiate Peaks Loop, sharing the Continental Divide Trail. Its a 12 mile dirt road to Winfield ghost town, then 2 miles south on a rough South Fork Clear Creek forest road. My Jeep Patriot rental was barely adequate on and off road, and not cut out for crossing creeks that drained the western flank of Sawatch Range. I followed a proper jeep over a fast flowing small creek, bottomed out but had momentum to get through.
Departing the trailhead at noon, there were only a couple people on Huron Peak trail, and they were returning to their vehicles. The Colorado 14ers guidebook calls this an 8.5 mile round trip with 3,200′ gain. I would have to hoof-it to get up and out. There are numerous forested switchbacks and one fast creek crossing. Above timberline, I entered a 12,300′ basin with slow post-holing in soft snow.
After a steep climb out of the basin, the crux of the climb follows the rocky northern ridge. At 12,500′, I saw 2 snow boarders carve fields on the north face. It took them minutes to drop from just below the 14,003′ summit to the 12,300′ basin. Twice, they dismounted to traverse rocky outcroppings. As I watched them pack-out of the basin, I knew I was last man on the mountain.
The standard route was mostly under snow but much more solid than the basin. Above 13,400′, switchbacks disappeared. I kicked toe-holds in soft ice and climbed straight up the north ridge until the trail intermitantly reappeared.
From the summit, clear long views, 365 degrees. It was the most remote I had ever been completely alone. I could not stay long. I pushed the descent. Glissaded portions of the north ridge. Sliding down into the basin, I hit a concealed boulder, bruising my hip and cutting forearm. That could have been a disaster.
Spent a half hour post-holing to my thighs through the basin. It was 5:45 pm when I hit dirt trail. I ran 2 1/2 miles to the bottom and found the two snowboarders tent camping at the trailhead. I stopped and showed the video footage I shot of their descent. They offered beer. I offered tequila. Another great day in the high country.