Mount Bierstadt - 14,060 ft.

Mount Bierstadt is a popular fourteener located in Colorado's front range, only a few miles west of Denver. It is the 39th tallest mountain in the state of Colorado. It was named for Albert Bierstadt, an artist who was particularly fond of painting landscapes. When seen from the top of Guanella Pass, his namesake peak and its connecting ridge to Mount Evans, known as The Sawtooth, would make an excellent landscape for an accomplished artist to paint.

The standard route for climbing this peak begins at the summit of Guanella Pass, 11,669 ft. The length of the trail from summit to peak is only three miles, with an elevation gain of only 2,391 feet. For someone who is in even passable shape, this trail is little more than a high-altitude hike... and not a very difficult one. Still, the high-altitude nature can make it difficult for some people. There was a time when the trail had a hard part. The thick and irritating willows (bushes, not trees) near the trailhead lasted for almost a mile, and were difficult to get through. Now, however, a path has been cut through, and boardwalks have even been created so that hikers won't have to muddy their feet.

Despite the ease with which this peak can be climbed, it does have some uses for people who are looking for more of a challenge. For one thing, it is useful to climb to train for more difficult climbs early in the season. Of course, the truly hardcore climber isn't bound by the seasons, and sees no reason why they shouldn't climb mountains all year round. This is also an excellent peak for winter climbers to train on, as it is one of the easiest fourteeners to do in the winter months. Weather is still a concern, of course, as winds on the summit can approach 90 mph. Avalanches are another concern during the winter that climbers need to be wary of.

Perhaps the greatest feature of the mountain is the scenic and challenging class 3 ridge traverse of The Sawtooth. If you have ever seen this mountain, or a picture of it, you will see that it is aptly named. This jaunt can provide a challenge for a newcomer or practice for the more experienced. Still, you should always know your limits when doing a climb such as this. If you've only ever hiked on flat land at lower altitudes, you shouldn't be traversing the sawtooth.

One unfortunate fact about this mountain's ease and proximity is that it is a zoo. On late summer weekends, it is not uncommon to find 100 people on the relatively small summit of this peak. Because it is so easy to climb, many people who don't really care for the outdoors tend to climb it. Not only are they loud and rude, but they have a tendency to litter. Sometimes in the summers, you might have to wait in line to summit. This is too bad, because like most of the rockies, this is a really beautiful place. With so many people, however, it defeats the purpose that many people (myself included) head to the mountains: solitude. The trailhead is usually covered in litter. Still, there is a solution. There are many other routes up this mountain. They are not only less crowded, but also more difficult. I would recommend them. Furthermore, I would recommend that you hike on a weekday or on an off-season (anything but summer) day.

The mountain is strong, and it will survive the wear and tear for the forseeable future. Still, it is too bad that so many people have trampled and littered all over it. Perhaps the most important rule of the outdoors (and especially alpine tundra) is to leave no trace.

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