I'll let you in on a little secret. I've yet to summit a 14er.  Or even a 13er...  A trip to Mt. Sneffels a couple years ago was scrubbed by a thunderstorm, and Cloud Peak in 2012 due to getting too late of a start and general slowness.  I didn't make it to the Grand Teton this summer as I'd hoped, or to Colorado, and while I still haven't summited, I had a great time and learned some valuable lessons on Mt. Bierstadt this November.

It started with a last-minute request by work for me to attend an event in Boulder over the weekend.  I jumped at the chance to get a free trip to Colorado, and was able to get the better part of Thursday there before I had to work Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and was able to book a late flight out Monday, giving me most of two days to enjoy myself!  Right away I put out some feelers to friends in the area to see what sort of adventure we could get up to.  Immediately after landing in Denver I hit up Mt. Sanitas tops 6,800 feet, and is right on the edge of Boulder.  There's a nice 3-mile trail that loops up to the summit, and I figured it would make a good warm-up hike and be a great way to kill my afternoon.  It was, and I got the bonus of meeting plenty of friendly dogs along the way, which was nice for me considering I'd left Dozer and Itty with my parents in MN.  The views from the top were stunning to a guy from Minnesota, and most importantly I confirmed that I wouldn't immediately pass out upon exerting myself at altitude...  It's a great little hike, and one that I could see myself doing regularly if I lived in the area (Strava log here).

Work was work, although Satuday and Sunday I was able to meet up with my friend Kieth and check out The Spot, a well-known bouldering gym in the area.  I was pretty blown away by their facility!  For Minnesotan's, it's as if the Minnesota Climbing Coop was about ten times larger.  At least.  There was a ton of variety in grade and style, and I had a great time exhausting myself.  They even had one of those nifty treadwalls, basically the climbing version of endless pools, although I didn't try it out.

I spent Sunday night at my friend's Jeremy and Amy's apartment.  Jeremy and I have climbed together quite a bit, and they recently moved to Boulder from MN.  We woke up around 4am and made the drive up into the mountains, arriving at Guanella Pass a little before sunrise.  As we pulled in, snow was falling and the wind was howling, rocking Jeremy's Ford Explorer on it's suspension.  The mountain itself was invisible at this point, so we had no real option but to wait for sunrise and hope that we'd get some visibility.  Happily, as the light came, the wind died, along with most of the snow, and we set off down the well marked trail for Mt. Bierstadt.  I'd read a lot about how much this part of the hike was supposed to suck, thanks to the thick willows that blanket the area, but whether it was due to the various trail improvements over the years or the well-packed snow, they didn't seem to be a problem at all.  We ended up not bringing the snowshoes, and I never had to put on micro spikes, making good time to where the willows end and the steeper climbing starts.

At some point it got cold enough for me to switch from my thinner leather gloves to some thicker insulated ones, and eventually we broke out the chemical hand warmers as well.  As we passed 13,000 feet, the wind picked up steadily, and we added layers, taking short breaks to warm our hands inside our jackets.  This worked for a while, but the wind continued to worsen, and around 13,500, approximately 3 miles, and 90 minutes into the climb, we realized that it was to the point where we weren't going to be able to keep our hands warm, and even our legs were now getting cold (up to this point we'd both been fine in 2 pairs of thermal underwear and softshell pants).  We decided discretion is the better part of valor, and turned around.  It was at this point that I learned important lesson #2 (lesson #1 was bring mittens.  Big, well-insulated ones).  I'd had my goggles up on my head the entire hike, after realizing a couple of minutes in that I didn't actually need them.  As we turned around, the wind was now in our faces, blowing snow and ice, and boy did I need them!  Taking them off my head, I found that the water vapor from my breath or sweat had condensed on the inside of the lens, and frozen there.  Not "thin film of ice" frozen, but 2-3 millimeters of solid ice!  I ended up having to twist the lenses to break some of the ice, and chip it out with a trekking pole, just to clear a tiny window to see through.  Next time they'll stay in a pocket.  Perhaps because of this, and our growing desire to get the hell out of the wind, we lost the actual trail on the descent, although we made good time, and found that the wind quickly dropped off as we went.
At our high-point, just under 13,500ft
It was at this point that I could once again remove the goggles, and it was just in time.  As we scanned for the wooden poles that marked the trail (knowing it's general direction thanks to our maps and GPS), Jeremy spotted something moving across the snow in the distance.  As we approached, my first thought was a coyote, but it soon became clear that it was a fox!  Wrapped in an incredibly thick coat of fur, it didn't seemed bothered by the wind, and it was clearly hunting something under the snow.  We closed to within about 50 feet of it on our way to the trail, and I was able to sit there and photograph it at work.  It was pretty incredible to see such a beautiful animal in it's natural habitat.  It didn't seem perturbed by us at all, focused entirely on it's task.

As we left the fox behind us, we regained the trail, and from there on it was an easy walk back to the car.  The storm had deposited three or four inches of fresh snow, but even with that the trail was clear.  By the time we'd made it back down the pass to Georgetown, it was almost 40 degrees!  What a change.  According to weather reports in the area, Bierstadt had been hit by 50mph winds, producing a windchill of -29!  While we were slightly bummed to have not made the summit, we both agreed that we'd made the right decision.  Where we turned around I didn't feel that we were in any real danger of frostbite, or getting lost, but I know it could have easily become an issue if we'd continued.  In the end we took just over 5hrs car-to-car, covering more than six miles (Strava here).
Keep in mind this is after we got back to the car.  It was way worse up high!
At our high point, we were each wearing six layers up top, and three on bottom.  I wore the Asolo mountaineering boots that I usually use for ice climbing, and they were perfect.  Up top my new Columbia Turbodown jacket did most of the heavy lifting, and was augmented with a down vest when things got really nasty.  Bierstadt was a great experience for me, and I'd love to go back in better conditions, and maybe even do the traverse to Evans to hit both in one shot.  I'll definitely be back to Colorado soon, especially now that I have a bunch of climbing partners living out there!