Climbing Mount Bierstadt, our first 14er with 1 & 3 year old girls in Backpacks

Getting there

When we moved to Colorado, we learned that there are 53 mountains that are 14,000 feet (4267 meters) or more in elevation. We know friends that have hiked some and we wanted to do the same. The problem for us is that when we moved to Colorado Christelle was pregnant with Sophie and Emma was just 18 months old, so climbing any mountain was out of the question. In May Sophie turned 1 year old and we figured that was old enough to climb one of these mountains. We did a little researched, asked around and a friend (Gene Karaffa) recommended Mount Bierstadt. Now we know that there are 8-10 other mountains we could climb with Emma and Sophie but Bierstadt seemed to be a great easy one to start. Everything got started because we wanted to spend 1 night camping, but in the summer a lot of campgrounds in Colorado are booked up. Camping became, lets look for an open campground, we found Bierstadt and after reading about Mount Bierstadt we discovered that there were pull outs close to the trail-head where we could camp for free. This would kill two birds with 1 stone, we would get to camp and also climb our first 14er. The only thing we had to figure out was how we were going to get the two little ones up there.

Mount Bierstadt is about 90 minutes from Boulder, you get on I-70W and get off at the Georgetown exit, then you take Guanella Pass road, this will take you directly to the trail head. The campsites we found online were paid, but we were looking for the free areas. The pull outs are a little hidden, so the first time we drove by we thought we had gotten there too late, as it seemed that all the pull outs already had cars and tents in them. We reached the trail head, turned around and started looking again, about 1 mile away from the trail head we found a little spot. Once we explored a little more we discovered that there was enough space at that little area for at least 6-10 more tents.
We setup the tent and were ready at around 4pm. The girls were super excited about the tent, Emma kept asking if we could go to sleep. We had some time to kill so we put Sophie in the back pack and walked around for a little bit. There was a creek really close by, so we went down and played with Emma near the creek for a while, after we came back to the campsite, Emma was still asking to go to sleep, we kept telling her that we had to eat first. This is a picture of her not wanting to leave the tent to go eat:
We forgot to bring chairs so we extended an emergency blanket and made that our eating area. Sophie started to want to walk during this trip so she was all over the place, we had to put her in one of the backpacks while we ate and arranged everything. Every time we would take her out of the backpack she would crawl around and put everything she found in her mouth, dirt, ashes, pine corns...everything. She eventually found a natural chair, with a back rest and was loving it. After dinner it was only 5pm so we decided to go to the trail head and check it out before we came back in the morning. We got some really cool shots of the sun. Finally it was time to go to bed (we could only wait to 7pm or so), Emma was still very excited, but this excitement to go to bed, we realized, wasn't good. Both girls just wanted to get in their sleeping bags and play, not sleep, just play. Needless to say it took forever for both to go to sleep. Finally Chris took a picture of all of us sleeping. (the slideshow below shows picture of everything in this paragraph)
  • Sophie in Deuter Backpack

Day of the Climb

We knew that we had to get up really early the next day in order to start the hike right at 5:30am. We were aiming to be back at the parking lot by 1pm in case storms would roll in. This is something else we learned about climbing 14ers, as soon as you see dark clouds rolling in, you turn around and go back. It can be very dangerous being on the mountain if you get caught in a storm. The summer in Colorado is also famous for having afternoon storms, so the earlier you can make it back the better. The alarm went off at 4:30am. I didn't realize how cold it had gotten overnight, when I finally checked the thermometer it was in the low 40s, about 5 degrees Celsius, Chris made fun of me of course because I never thought it would get that cold. After getting over the cold, Christelle and I got ready, loaded the car with our backpacks and lastly it was time to get the girls dressed and ready. They were both exhausted from the party the previous night of course, plus Emma was freezing, they didn't seem very excited to get out of bed.
When we got to the parking lot, there were already about 6-7 empty cars, which meant that people had started much earlier than us. We got everything ready took some shots of the sunrise and started the climb. I carried Emma and Christelle carried Sophie. At the beginning of the trail there is a sign-in sheet, which Chris filled out. The first 90 minutes the climb is not very steep, just long with a 2-4% grade maybe. Every person that we came across was impressed that Chris was carrying Sophie on her back, including me.

At the middle of the hike everyone had a little bit of a meltdown, so we took a break. I think both Emma and Sophie were hungry and wanted to get out of the backpacks for a while. At that point we had no idea how much harder or easier the hike was going to get, so we just strapped both girls to our backs again and started walking to try to make it to the top before the storms started. This was not only a physical break but a mental one also. Up until this point we hadn't seen much snow on the trail, but more and more started to show, this was a good sign that we were getting closer and closer to the top.
We continued climbing and towards the end of the climb you can see that it started to get steeper and steeper, but the higher we climbed the better the view, so that kept us going. The last kilometer is fairly steep and it has a lot of rocks, the trial disappears and you have to maneuver through the big boulders to get to the top. When you finally reach it though you have a beautiful 360 degree view. I was so proud of Christelle for having climbed all the way to the top, this was her first 14er ever, so I was very excited for her, not to mention for Emma and Sophie. I don't think this counts as if they climbed it but they can say that they have been up a 14er. In order to see the terrain a little better I made a video of the day, please enjoy (make sure to press the little wrench from the embedded YouTube video and select 1080p to see the video in full screen).
We made it to the top in about 2 hours and 30 minutes. If you want from the top of Mt. Bierstadt, you could still go to Mt. Evans, you will see how close it is on the video below. You can see what it looks like from one of the sides almost at the top in this picture:

After we enjoyed the view a little and eat to refuel, we started the climb down. The way down was a little harder at first because of how steep it was and the weight of the girls really throws you off balance. Once you get passed the rocks though we were able to go a little faster. Close to the end you walk over these wooden platforms, this is when you know you are close to finishing, so I took a little picture and Emma was super excited.

If you wan to climb with a toddler or infant on your back, here are a couple of recommendations:

1. Make sure you have enough water and food for everyone
2. Make sure you have a treat for them, this will keep them entertained and engaged. For Emma we had candy
3. Start as early as possible
4. Weather changes dramatically, make sure they have warm clothes
5. Have FUN!

We really liked the experience and can't wait to climb other 14ers in the future with the girls. I hope you enjoyed the post!

Leave a Reply