Friday, June 22, 2012

Mount Elbert

Mount Elbert is the state high point of Colorado.  Unlike doing state high point climbs in Idaho and Washington, Elbert has a class 1 trail from the car to the summit.  I would rate this as my easiest state high point so far.  My Dad made plans to come over from Oregon for a week of 14ers, so we thought why not start with the high point.  After all where he is from in LaGrande, Oregon the elevation is barely 2,500ft, so Dad shouldn’t have any problems with elevation.  Haha.

The day before we headed over to Elbert Dad and I did a rapid ascent of Pikes Peak.  Yes, it may have been in a car, but he is still claiming the summit.  I decided against going to the true summit and settled with a few of the amazing donuts in the tourist shop.  We didn’t really plan on driving up Pikes that day, but there wasn’t much else going on and it’s relatively close to home.
Monday morning we rose around 3:30am and were on the road by 4am.  It is amazing how light it is in the early morning of Colorado.  Even if you started the climb at 4am I doubt headlamps would have been necessary.  I rather enjoy the drive to Leadville from Denver.  The scenery has yet to get old; there are beautiful mountains all around to enjoy.  Today was especially beautiful with the early morning drive into Leadville.  For those of you who haven’t been to Leadville the two highest mountains in Colorado loom over the city.  Mount Elbert and Mount Massive both looked very impressive with the crystal blue sky background.  I topped off the gas in the Blazer, changed into my hiking cloths then we were off for the trailhead.  About 15miles south of Leadville we turned at the 82 junction to Twin Lakes.  From there it was only 4 miles to the lower trailhead parking, but I thankfully have a 4WD so we were able to drive to the upper TH saving about 2miles each way.  For being a 4WD road it was very nice.  The road was just wide enough to cut through groves of beautiful aspens, and it never got too bad.  As long as you have a vehicle with clearance I see no reason you wouldn’t make it to the upper TH parking area.  When we arrived at the parking area there were 4 trucks there and another one or two a bit further up the road.  From here it’s about a 5 minute walk to the actual TH, there is not much for parking beyond the large lot area and the road gets pretty rutted from this point on.
It was about a quarter after seven, so we did well trying to have a 7am start with the long drive over.  We laced up our boots and were off down the Colorado Trail.  Just a few minutes up the trail we ran into the official TH for the South Elbert Trail and this also is used for the Continental Divide and Colorado trails.  Dad said I was too quick out of the gate and he thought he may be feeling the elevation kick in.  Other than that 30seconds, he was like a rabbit up the hill for the rest of the day.  We crossed the bridge and were officially off on the South Mount Elbert Trail.

The first mile was a beautiful hike through aspen groves and up into some pine trees.  Along with the views of Massive and the Collegiate Peaks above tree line this lower part was quite scenic.  Once we left the Colorado Trail the elevation started gaining pretty rapidly.  There was a quick couple hundred feet gained then the trail started meandering a bit and eased up on us.  This was an excellent trail cut in by the Colorado Fourteener Initiative group, who we ran into on the descent.  Tough work, but I thank them for making it easier for me at least.  The trees started thinning out and within an hour of the start we had cleared tree line and had a great view of Elbert and the ridge we would be ascending. 

We found a nice bush off the trail to cache a couple bottles of water for the way down.  As usual we brought too much, but better too much water than too little.  As we were starting up again after our break I could see one or two people about half a mile and 500 vertical feet below.  After that we didn’t see them for the rest of the day until the summit probably, but there were too many people up there to keep track of who came from where.  Within a half an hour two guys and a dog passed us on their way down.  They started up at 4am, but like I told Dad the weather is too perfect to not enjoy the whole day out here.  During the whole day we guessed between 30-40 people were up on the mountain.  Glad I didn’t do this one on a Saturday!

From our break the trail went more directly up the South Ridge now.  The gains seemed to be quick, but with the views it was very enjoyable.  I could see people on the Northeast Ridge which is the standard route and I was glad we chose this side.  I think our views were much better; at least that is what I will keep telling myself.  Five or six others had passed us on their way down by now and we were over the 13,000ft line and therefore I was slowing down by now.  The trail was at a great grade so I was able to just maintain a slow pace and not stop too often.  The summit seemed so close, but the trail does a long traverse across the face which made it seem like a long hike.  Dad was a good 100yards ahead of me at most times, so as you can see the elevation was really affecting him today.  I was pretty sure it wouldn’t since he keeps so active, maybe I will get those genes from him one day instead of the bad hearing..haha.

After a few short switchbacks I was up on the ridge where our trail met the standard trail.  We saw what must have been a bachelorette party on their way down and quite a few others at the summit, so we took a little breather just below to enjoy the solitude.  Dad is always asking me about the rocks, but I’ve only taken one Geology class so the chances of me knowing them other than granite may not be so good.  But, I don’t mind humoring him with a couple of cheesy geology yarns, like it’s Gneiss that we made the summit.  Or, I’ll Granite you that.  You have to be a rock nerd to really see the humor there.

We decided it was time to join the crowd on the summit.  About a one minute walk and we were on top with about 15 other people.  The summit was covered with a bunch of kids so we waited out the time till they left and were able to enjoy it to ourselves after that.  The views were pretty incredible.  There was not a cloud in the sky and it was nice and warm out with little wind.  It’s hard to ask for better conditions than what we had that day.  I even enjoyed taking my boots off and airing out the dogs a bit while drinking my summit beer.  I must say, it was pretty awesome.  Not my favorite summit experience in Colorado yet, but it was really nice being able to relax and take our time.  All in all we were up there for over an hour enjoying the views.
The trip down was fast; somewhere under 2hrs from the summit back to the car.  I did well for the first 2,000ft moving at a pretty good rate, then after leaving the rocks my knees and feet started to hurt.  We both popped a few ibuprofens during a quick rest and just kept going.  During the last mile and 1,000ft we ran across the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative trail crew.  I can’t imagine taking tools up these trails and clearing trees and rocks all day.  It takes it out of me just hiking, so my hats off to them for their work.  We passed them, and then soon they passed us almost running down the trail.  The sight of the bridge was beautiful that meant the car was a few minutes away.

Today was a great day, the ascent seemed fast even though it took us around 4hours to summit and the descent was even faster at around 2hours.  It was nice being able to enjoy ourselves on the summit; we just had to wait for our window to open up.  If I hike this one again I will probably go from a different route just to see what else the mountain has to offer.  Let me tell you after the 3hr drive home the beers were pretty amazing.

Date: 6/11/2012
Starting Elevation: 10,500ft
Mount Elbert Summit: 14,433ft
Total Gained Elevation: 4,100ft
Distance: 8.73 miles
Time:  5:34 moving, 2:38 stopped. 
Climbing Partner: Dad

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