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Sunset from Mt. Bierstadt

Sunset from Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans Wilderness, Colorado

Sunset from Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans Wilderness, Colorado

The fall of 2011 was extraordinarily dry. By early December only a few small storms had dropped snow on the high peaks. Itching to get out and bag another Fourteener before winter really arrived, I decided to shoot sunset from the summit of Mt. Bierstadt. In summer, Mt. Bierstadt is one of the easiest and most accessible Fourteeners, reached by a good trail from nearby Guanella Pass. In winter, the road that goes over the pass is closed on both sides a few miles below the high point, but it's an easy walk on the windswept, partially snow-covered road up to the pass.

The day of my ascent was mercifully calm. Only six inches of snow covered the trail from the pass to the summit. At least half a dozen other climbers also took advantage of the benign conditions, so for once I had company during my ascent of the peak. By midafternoon, however, everyone else had headed down from the summit, eager to be off the peak by dark. I lingered, watching the shadows grow longer and planning the sequence of photos I would take when sunset finally arrived. I selected a composition that contrasted steep, snow-free cliffs with the rhythmic pattern of the undulating, snow-covered ridges above. Fortunately, the horizon was clear to the west, and the light warmed to a wonderful golden hue as the sun touched the horizon. The beautiful light show ended all too soon, and the long, moonless descent began weighing on my mind. A simple sprained ankle or knee on the slippery, snow-covered talus and scree could turn an easy hike by headlamp into a frigid ordeal. Winter nights are very long. Reminding myself that every step matters, I hiked out carefully, using ski poles to guard against slips. I was glad to reach my truck safely about two and a half hours after leaving the summit, and even happier to pull into my driveway two hours after that.

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