Peak(s):  Bard Pk - 13,641 feet
Date Posted:  10/27/2009
Date Climbed:   10/24/2009
Author:  KeithK
 Autumn Textures in Constant Motion   

Bard Peak (13,641')
October 24, 2009
Southwest Slopes From Watrous Gulch Trailhead via the Bard Trail.
Round Trip: ~9.5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~3,400'
Route-Finder Extraordinaire and Connoisseur of Post-Hike Dark Beer and Pizza: Otina (bergsteigen)

Bard Peak is a large mountain along the north edge of the Interstate 70 Corridor, standing sentinel along a ridge of lower 13,000' peaks east of the Continental Divide. Due north of the popular Fourteeners Grays Peak and Torreys Peak, it is often viewed but seldom climbed, as its neighbor Mount Parnassus shields it from the hordes of hikers assailing the trails from the Herman Gulch Trailhead. On a good day, it would be an excellent addition to a Parnassus climb, though, and that's what we hoped for on this day. After all, it's only a Thirteener, so it's cheating if we don't climb at least two of them, right?

Let's meet at 5:30. Huh? Let's make that 6:00. Ish. Who needs sleep on a Friday night after a busy work week, anyway? I piled my gear, including sandals, into Otina's truck, and off we went, ready for a pleasant fall hike in the Rocky Mountains. Sandals? Yes, I'm an optimist. It's not winter yet, after all. Magnesium Chloride drenched pavement greeted us at Georgetown, and I began to wonder just what the day might have in store. Admittedly, I hadn't looked at a weather forecast for three days, and was sort of assuming windy, partly cloudy skies. Obvious fresh snow along the sides of the Interstate betrayed something else entirely, and as the lazy day began to lighten, the skies overhead confirmed tumultuous potential. Oh well, that's what layers are for.

The dawning day sheds light upon a frigid parking area...

It is the season for Gore-Tex and gaiters, and with hoods already adorned, we made way up the easy trail, turning right onto the Watrous Gulch Trail, which contours along the southernmost flanks of Mount Machebeuf, an unranked Twelver that separates Watrous Gulch from the more popular Herman Gulch. An inch or so of fresh snow did little to hamper our progress up the valley, and we made what felt like good time to the creek crossing, with the Bard Trail lurking just beyond. The logs were mostly iced over, with one snow covered plank providing the best option for maintaining dry clothes. The Bard Trail contours the massive southwest and south faces of Mt. Parnassus and staring at the impressive north face of Torreys Peak and Kelso Ridge draws the attention away from the mundane plodding.

All smiles in the Winter Wonderland...

The lovely view of Interstate 70 from the flanks of Mt. Parnassus... (image by Otina)

The obscured summit of Mt. Sniktau...

Wind, sun, clouds, wind... adventure or idiocy?

The trail crosses an old burn area, flirting with tree line for an appreciable distance as it works its way to the east. As we stopped for a brief breather, a herd of bighorn sheep spooked from behind a rock outcrop, treating us to a display of effortless cross country agility. Such incredibly built animals, even from a distance their power is noticeable. Wildlife sightings always make a hike more memorable.

What a nice long distance shot! (image by Otina)

Elegant power... (image by Otina)

The views across the valley at the Grays Massif are as good as they get on this part of the hike, and on a good day Mounts Evans and Bierstadt are prominent. Plenty of pictures of Torreys' north face and surrounding features were taken, to be sure. The roiling skies provided a constantly changing horizon, with the high peaks playing hide and seek through the clouds. It is definitely a dramatic time of year.

Torreys Peak during a particularly picture friendly moment... (image by Otina)

The Metro Area is out there somewhere...

Mt. Sniktau and what should be Loveland Ski Area... (image by Otina)

Finally cresting the last of the gentle ridges extending south from the summit of Mt. Parnassus, we achieved our first views of the day's initial target. It looks a LONG way off, even after about three miles of hiking. Mandatory elevation loss reared its ugly head, and we reluctantly began to descend into what I can imagine should be called Bard Gulch. I was hoping to contour directly across into the gulley, but the southeast ridge of Parnassus is much more rugged and challenging than one might expect. I love these discoveries, where a seemingly boring hike takes you into something dramatic.

The route-finding becomes apparent... (image by Otina)

The southeast ridge of Mt. Parnassus...

That doesn't look windy at all...

A healthy field of talus blocks easy passage into the gulley, and we tried to follow the summer trail for as long as possible, before it disappeared into a tangle of willows and shrubbery. Without a herring to cut our way through, we backtracked and found easier going for a minute or two, before the inevitable boulder hopping ensued. With snow disguising numerous opportunities for an emergency call for SAR, the hiking was still easy enough, and we made good time across the talus before determining a better route straight up a tundra slope and around the last semblance of forest. There cannot be a more straight forward route than this, as you simply point towards the highest point in your vision and hike.

Stomping ice encrusted tundra...

It's not cold... (image by Otina)

Pushing to the summit ridge...

Skies in constant motion...

Otina led the way, working switchbacks along the tundra, trying to keep the wind at bay. At one point, I determined that the previous day's Step Mill workout had felt good, and started booting straight up the slope. Funny, in the gym it seemed easier. It seems a lack of oxygen combined with wind resistance; ten pounds of extra clothing and a fifteen pound back pack add difficulty. Snow and ice probably don't help. Still, we seemed to make reasonable progress, climbing the endless, rolling mountainside with as much resolve as one can have when miserable, nearly being knocked over multiple times by some of the heaviest wind I've ever personally experienced. Comfortably miserable, mind you, even pleasantly miserable. People at home in front of a television would not understand.

Otina greets me on the summit, her dedication to getting the best photographs readily apparent as she sacrifices a perfectly good hand to Mother Nature...

Thank you, just happy to be here! (image by Otina)

Mt. Parnassus, still a possibility? (image by Otina)

Ironically, the weather gave us something of a reprieve on the summit, as the gale force winds calmed to less than heavy gusts. There was still a lack of desire to spend too much time on the frozen top of the mountain, and the question was asked "Parnassus?" Umm, let's start back down and see how it goes. Something of a tail wind aided our ascent, which of course turned into a full-on, in your face assault for the descent. Stinging snow and ice found every opportunity to contact skin, and I was seriously considering my obstinate refusal to dig out my goggles. Even then, the steep tundra was slippery and inconsistent, and significant effort was still required to stay upright, while the knees and feet began their customary protest. Reaching a more inviting patch of deeper snow, I decided that I'd had enough, even with the east ridge of Mt. Parnassus looking at least a little bit inviting. It was past 2:00 p.m., and the prospect of adding anything more to the day was displeasing. Otina made a fairly comical attempt to glissade, saving herself about twenty steps, while I plunge stepped down the powdered sugar for as long as possible, disappointed to reach tundra again, and resume the painful downhill trudge.

Let's go down. (image by Otina)

Nearing the saddle...

The customary look back, depicting the schizophrenic theme of the day...

Another shot of Torreys Peak, looking doomed...

Mt. Evans, The Sawtooth, and Mt. Bierstadt... (image by Otina)

We decided to aim for a high traverse across the upper reaches of the talus field, without getting into too much steep scree, aiming to regain the ridge from which we descended earlier. It was arduous and awkward, but Otina did a fantastic job of picking the right lines, and only a few loose hidden rocks were encountered. Boulders gave way to scree, and scree to tundra, and we were back on trail, ready to activate auto-pilot for the remainder of the journey. The wind returned, this time bringing a snow and graupel mix with it, and we could literally see the storm engulf the Continental Divide in real time.

Almost back to a discernible trail...

Dramatic textures and shades...

The Continental Divide, shortly before being swallowed whole...

With the sounds of Interstate traffic below, and the wind above, the trail proved to remain adversarial, as feet and knees were definitely ready for some down time. I could hear an occasional chuckle from behind me, as I stumbled or slid at times on the greasy course. I tend to stagger a bit at the end of a hike, anyway, a sure sign that food and beer are mandatory for recovery. Without exception, the trail always gets longer on the descent, and it felt like darkness would beat us to the truck. Just after 5:00 p.m. we triumphantly returned, with daylight to spare, light snow swirling around at times. Sandals seemed like such a good idea in the early morning, but winter had different ideas in late afternoon. Oh well, let's go claim our reward! A delicious Skier Mike's pie and some tasty, dark libations capped off a surprisingly fulfilling day. For the second straight outing, I felt like I'd climbed a Fourteener, furthering the legitimacy of the theory that there are other mountains besides the "big" ones. There's still much research to be done on that topic, though.

A beautiful depiction of what the day was like as a whole... (image by Otina, click for larger version)

GPS Track...

Comments or Questions
good times....and good report
10/28/2009 04:05
Glad you got 1 of the 2. What a difference a week makes.....lots more snow! I‘m also getting closer to getting a new camera the more I see Otina‘s great pics!

Nice Report
10/28/2009 17:32
Great pictures. Some of the most arduous climbs can be on thirteeners when you‘re pushing the seasons.

Great job ...
10/28/2009 21:47
In capturing the conditions with those photos (that goes for both of you). I need to try that Watrous Gulch route sometime ... have done those peaks many times, but always from the Bakerville exit. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!

10/28/2009 22:49
The wind in a few of those pictures looks ferocious! I know how nasty it truly can become in that area!

10/29/2009 15:12
Great report, Keith. I can‘t tell you how many times I‘ve climbed those two peaks and never seen any sheep. What an extra bonus to spot those rams. And nice pano!

Awesome hike, despite the wind!
10/29/2009 17:28
Thanks Kieth for hiking with me on this adventure and writing up such a great report! That and pointing out the rams... glad I had the camera out and ready for that opportunity!

Matt - the lenses and filters are more important than the camera... you‘ll upgrade the camera body, but always have the lenses.

11/02/2009 16:13
What a great report and photos! I climbed these two peaks in much warmer conditions! Big wow factor on those rams!!!

Eph 2 5
Nice trip report
11/03/2009 19:43
I haven‘t hiked in that area, but your trip report makes me want to hike Bard Peak. It looks like no snowshoes were needed. Is the slope where you have to drop down pretty straightforward? Any avalanche danger on the route? If you were to hike Parnassus too would you stay just to the left of the ridge shown in your summit pictures? Thanks !

What a fantastic trip report!!
11/04/2009 06:10
You both took some fantastic photos. I‘ve never heard of Bard! This is a great read. Well done to you both!

Nice job Keith & Otina!
11/30/2010 17:28
That looks like an awesome day, regardless of the gusts and gails. I love the photo of Evans/Bierstadt/Sawtooth; I may swipe it for either a screensaver or a tattoo - I can't decide!

Looking good!
11/30/2010 17:28
Well written TR and excellent photos both of you! Love that last panorama shot.
Impressive for a guy who wonders if it's June yet!
There are some fun peaks around the Herman Gulch TH, thanks for an informative TR!

Nicely Done
02/05/2011 00:22
nice looking trip Keith. That shot of Parnassus look sweet.


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