RT Length: 10.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 4965’
This was my third attempt going for Bard Peak. The first time I made it as far as Parnassus, but the wind and cold temperatures (and Raynaud’s) prevented me from going any further. My second attempt was from the Berthoud Falls area, and the snow just wasn’t cooperating. Imagine my surprise when I found out today this is actually an easy trail when not in full winter conditions!
I parked at the Herman Gulch trailhead and was on the trail by 4:30am. This trailhead has tons of parking, but beware: it fills up fast. There was a full moon and I could see by looking at the mountains I wouldn’t be needing snowshoes today, so I left them in my truck.
The trail starts in the middle of the parking area. I took the Herman Gulch trail to begin, which is just behind the information signs.
After hiking .2 miles I turned right (east) at this junction to follow the Waterous Gulch Trail.
This trail is an easy, class 1 trail all the way to the basin. Last time I was here the area was covered in snow and I had no idea there was a trail that went that far. Today the hike was easy! No real route finding below treeline.
After hiking for about 1.5 miles I came to a creek crossing in Waterous Gulch, crossed the creek on an icy log by sitting down, straddling the log, and shimmying across (due to the ice I would definitely have slipped if I’d tried to cross standing up). I turned left and headed north through the gulch on a great trail (still the Waterous Gulch Trail).
Starting here there was snow on the trail, but just enough to be annoying: I could still figure out where the trail went
I crossed a small stream and continued on the trail. Note: You can also choose to go right and not cross the stream here and take a parallel trail that leads you to the exact same place as the Waterous Gulch trail. I stayed straight here and continued to the end of the gulch on the way in and took the parallel trail on the way out. They were similar, but the one that follows the gulch also follows the stream, which was nice.
I followed the class 1 trail to the end of the gulch, and after 2.2 miles of hiking turned right and continued following the trail up to the saddle of Woods/Parnassus. There are a lot of ways to gain the summit of Parnassus. Last time I hiked further south, avoiding the saddle, and I would not recommend that route. Instead, take the easy gully and aim for the saddle and go as far as you can before turning right and heading southeast towards the summit. This is where the intense wind started and didn’t stop. Forecasted winds were 17-24mph, but those winds don’t knock you over. For the rest of this hike I was using my trekking pole for stability, hiking sideways into the wind.
The trail stopped here somewhere under the snow. I paralleled the snow to the saddle
At the saddle I turned right and headed southeast towards the summit of Mt Parnassus. This is an easy hike on tundra.
The terrain gets a bit rockier near the top.
The summit is relatively flat. I summited Mt Parnassus at 6:40am, after just over 3.5 miles and 2 hours of hiking. Since this is my second summit of Mt Parnassus I’ll spare you the selfie and let you watch the summit video instead.
Bard Peak is just over a mile east of Mt Parnassus.
There’s a bit of a trail from Parnassus to Bard. I followed it where I could. It was faint, so sometimes I lost it, but mostly followed the ridge. It’s important to follow the ridge when snow is present. This ridge is easy class 2 ‘scrambling’. Just watch for loose rocks. I could see a faint trail go to the right of the ridge (south), but it became covered in snow and would have been difficult to cross. Here’s an overview of my route
And some close-ups in order:
When I got to this section I did not feel comfortable traversing without crampons and my ice axe (luckily I had both). I sat down, strapped on my crampons, and crossed the snow. The snow was slippery at this time in the morning (not mushy, more like icy). You could probably traverse this section with just microspikes if you were here at the right time of the day.
Because I could I kept the crampons on until the last of the snow.
Here’s looking back on the section you want to avoid, and the reason I stuck to the ridge. You can also see a slip here would take you a ways.
After taking off my crampons and putting them away I headed up to the summit of Bard Peak, keeping close to the ridge
I summited Bard Peak at 7:50am, after 4.7 miles of hiking.
There was a broken summit register and a benchmark on the summit
Now to head back to Mt Parnassus. I backtracked down to the saddle, put on my crampons again, got out my ice axe, and crossed the snow.
It was easy to avoid the snow on the rest of the way back to Parnassus
From the summit of Mt Parnassus I descended the way I’d summited, back down to the Woods/Parnassus saddle
When I made it to the saddle I still wasn’t tired so I decided to summit 12er Woods Mountain as well. This summit doesn’t require much guidance: it’s an easy tundra stroll to the top. This added 460’ of elevation gain to the hike. This is where the wind became the most intense (yes, it was still blowing). It was so windy I was hiking sideways with each step, and had to over-compensate each step to stay in a straight line, crisscrossing my steps as I went.
I reached the summit of Woods Mountain at 9:40am. I’ll spare you the selfie of this one as well, since I’ve already summited this peak. Here’s the summit register and a video
This wind was insane! Time to head back down to the saddle and back down to the gulch
I followed the trail back down the gulch, over the log bridge, and back to the trailhead. This is where I started seeing a lot of other hikers. When I made it to the trailhead the large parking area was completely full.
I made it back to my truck at 11am, making this a 10.25 mile hike with 4965’ of elevation gain in 6.5 hours. Here’s a topo map of the route:
I felt really good about the hike today: The weather had been warm, no clouds, not much route finding, and when I made it back to my truck I wasn’t even tired yet. The only thing that could have been better was the wind. It’s amazing how good conditions can change the outcome of a hike!