Mount Bierstadt is a 14,065 foot mountain in the front range of Colorado. It’s easily accessible when Guanella pass is open and fairly easy to summit if the weather is good. One evening last summer, we were paged to look for an overdue hiker who had left earlier in the day to summit Mount Bierstadt. He’d been up for a while and hadn’t returned by about dinner time and we were paged out to head up and start looking.
We spend a fair amount of time in this area training and searching for folks around Mount Evans, the Sawtooth ridge line between the two summits and the valleys below. There’s a lot of area above tree line here and in many ways it’s not a very forgiving environment. But, the hike up to the Bierstadt summit is fairly doable – especially in the dark.
I was paired up with another member and after tightening my favorite Montrail boots and gaiters and making sure I had enough water, food and the rest of the 10 essentials, we headed out. We started down the trail first (it goes down into the willows and the creek first) in the dark, finding our footing up and over the man made wooden bridges spanning the marshy areas. Then we started up. We spent the next couple hours slogging up in the dark with the stars over head; a clear, cool evening, perfect for hiking.
I’ve never done a 14er at night and despite the reason, I really enjoyed it. It was incredibly peaceful and while Bierstadt can have a LOT of people on a summer day, it was just the 2 of us tonight, hiking quietly, stopping only occasionally for a drink or a snack and occasionally chatting and the rare interruption of the radio guiding the different teams. Oh, and a short period with a helicopter flying around overhead also looking. Helicopters, at night, when they can’t see anything, near a summit is a strange site. Those Flight for Life helicopter pilots are amazing.
Eventually, we made it to the top. It was right about 1:00 AM and even though it was the middle of the night, the views were amazing. Denver way off in the distance, millions of stars overhead, no moon and knowing that we were out there trying to make a difference left quite an impression.
After searching the logs in vain and looking around the summit for a while, it was time to turn back and head down. As always, going down is faster than going up and we made good time. Remember when we started the hike, we started out going downhill for a while? You sort of forget this until you get to the creek and realize that the hike is back uphill to the parking lot. By this time, you’re a little tired and you’re slowing down and it seems to take forever to get back. But, eventually, you get there and are welcomed by some other team members. We didn’t find our subject that night and were sent home. Unfortunately, another team found him during a search the next day after he had passed away.
Please remember to be careful in the mountains, especially areas that are steep and rocky and MOST especially, when you’re hiking alone. Better yet, find a partner, watch the weather (it had rained hard earlier), be prepared, tell people where you’re going and when you’ll be back and don’t take any unnecessary chances. Your friends and family want you to get home!
I’d love to know if you’ve had similar experiences of night hiking or with Search and Rescue.