This week, myself and three coworkers, set out to hike Mt. Bierstadt, a class 2 Colorado 14er located on Guenella Pass. I have hiked this mountain in the past, but my hiking companions had not. In fact, Bierstadt would be their very first attempt at a 14er climb. While strenuous, an elevation gain of 2900 feet total and a distance of 7 miles roundtrip, it is considered a good 14er for first-timers to attempt. It was the first 14er I had ever summited, in fact.
We started on the trail in the dark with our headlamps leading the way at 5:30am. I had double checked the weather the night prior and Bierstadt was in for some heavy afternoon rain and possible thunderstorm. I was confident with an early start we would be finished in time to stay both dry and safe.
We had a pretty successful hike through the first section, the willows, making excellent time. However, about 1.6 miles into our hike as we slowly began our ascent, the vicious symptoms of altitude sickness kicked in for one of the ladies in our hiking party. A second hiker was also experiencing dizziness so we made the safe (and right) call to descend immediately together. It is really important to stay together as a group when hiking. Too many people get into some serious trouble in the mountains when they separate from their group. While it’s disappointing not to reach the summit, safety is much more important.
I have mentioned this in previous posts: the only way to help with altitude sickness is to get down! The mountain isn’t going anywhere and can be attempted again on another day.
Our drive back down Guenella Pass to Georgetown was pretty stunning now that the sun had come up and revealed that fall was in full swing in the mountains.
In the days before we had set out on this hike, as the more experienced hiker, I had sent several texts to my hiking buddies about things to pack for the hike. So before I end this post, I wanted to talk a little bit more about The 10 Essentials that I reference in so many of my posts. What are they and why are they so darn essential when you are planning a hike in the mountains?
- Navigation. It’s important to always carry a map of the area that you plan to hike and also have a compass. Do you know how to use your compass? Do you know how to figure out where you on a map? These are skills that even I am still learning and I practice when I am out there in the mountains. REI has a great selection of topographical maps for sale. Please Note: you can not rely on a cell phone in the mountains.
- Sun Protection. Sunglasses, sunscreen, a baseball hat, and SPF chapstick are always in my pack especially when hiking at the elevations that we hike here in Colorado. We’re closer to the sun, duh!
- Extra Clothing. When you hike, you sweat. When you sweat, your clothes get wet. When your clothes are wet and the wind starts to blow on the mountain, you get cold. Keeping dry, warm extra layers in your pack is not only an essential, but it will make you more comfortable and enjoy the experience more. Not to mention, if it rains/snows or you end up outside longer than you originally planned, its good to have extras. Don’t forget extra socks. (Darn Tough wool socks are my favorite!) Stay away from cotton clothing items as they will not help keep you warm and dry. I’m never without my buff either, so versatile, and it does a great job of keeping my head warm. I have a small, lightweight pair of gloves that I usually wear in the early morning hours of a hike. I have an excellent lightweight, Columbia rain jacket that is usually stuffed in my pack. My Outdoor Research three season puffy is always with me. I cannot tell you how much I love that jacket. I even wrote a whole blog post on it… “Fat Guy In A Little Coat” Check it out!
- Headlamp. I carry one no matter how long, short, easy, or strenuous a hike is. Yes, it helps you see in the dark, but it can also help a search team find you in the dark if you have the unfortunate experience of being lost.
- First Aid Supplies. I usually hike with some ibuprofen and band aids. This seems to be one area I could probably improve upon down the road with some adhesive tape, disinfectant ointment, and gauze pads.
- Come on baby let me light your fire. Ok, I’m a Jim Morrison fan, but I also carry waterproof matches with me.
- Pocket Knife. This is another one of those items that I always carry with me no matter the hike. Mine has a bunch of useful tools on it that, ironically I have never used, but maybe someday, right? I also carry a mini survival kit that has wire, fishing line, a whistle, and string.
- Emergency Food. Of course, this is the essential I’m best at. I always pack lots of snacks like peanuts, crackers, PB&J’s, granola bars, fruit. Hey, I don’t want to go hungry that would be a disaster!
- Emergency Water. I’ve been carrying about 50 ounces with me on hikes, plus another 24 ounces in the car for post hikes. Aaron has a super cool water purifier that is great to bring on longer hikes that have water sources. There’s nothing like drinking water from the Rocky Mountain source!
- Shelter. My mini survival kit has a super compact Emergency Survival Blanket. I haven’t opened it yet because I know that I will never be able to get it back in its tiny storage bag. The packaging says, “Up to 90% reflection of body heat,” Sounds cozy, but fingers crossed I never have to use it.
Not on this list, but I find essential are a sturdy pair of hiking boots with ankle support, a waterproof backpack, hiking poles, and tissues (This girl has some wicked allergies).
Stay safe out there and enjoy fall in Colorado! It’s here and it sure is pretty!