Colorado’s mountains just keep getting more popular. That may be frustrating—but is it really such a bad thing after all?
In June, I hiked Mount Bierstadt with my wife and two kids. It was the first fourteener for my son and daughter and we were excited to do it as a family. We chose Bierstadt for the same reasons why everyone choses the mountain: It’s close to Denver and supposedly it’s one of the easy fourteeners. That also means it’s one of the most popular fourteeners.
Indeed, it was. As we hiked up we passed lines and lines and lines of people. There were the obligatory millennials in felt hats and facial hair, stopping for social media verification. There were obvious foreign tourists, speaking in other tongues, wearing brightly colored packs and gear, and stopping to catch their breath. There was a couple I had to guess were on some type of we-met-online date: She was sporty and spry; he kept almost spraining his ankle. There were dogs, and a few babies. There were no breaks, really. The lines of people kept climbing with us and in front of us and behind us, and there was no place to sneak a pee in private.
There was a time when I would have avoided this horror show at all costs—after all who comes to the mountains to feel as if they are waiting to get into a String Cheese Incident show at Red Rocks? But I have to admit, I actually liked it. I enjoyed the company, the community. We were all up here, sharing in the beauty of the mountains. We were all investing in something that we all need, an escape and a confirmation that we are more than our screens and our cars and our responsibilities.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the mountain itself. Bierstadt is a beautiful peak, still kissed with snow in early summer and standing gracefully out above the high ponds of Guanella Pass. My kids did the hike no problem, but it was not easy: There was lots of rock to navigate and a fun little bit of easy scrambling to the summit. Plus, the snowmelt turned sections of the trail into a tricky mix of mud and ice (where the aforementioned dude with his Tinder date almost took a bad spill). It was a beautiful day—for all of us.
It also made me glad in these strange days when we seem to be slipping backwards when it comes to embracing the treasure of nature and public lands in a world that is such a loud, exhausting mess to see so many people out enjoying it. We have people in office who want to sell off public lands, to limit and take away our communal ability to get out and away from all the garbage of online life and find something authentic in ourselves. Looking at all the smiling (and huffing) people hiking up Bierstadt gave me a lot of hope.
If more people get outside, they will advocate for it. We need these voices. We need young people and old people and people who don’t normally see themselves as outdoorsy hiking up Bierstadt. And we need to hope they will speak for the peaks.