For our second day of 14er summiting this season, we decided to do Mt. Elbert. Mt Elbert is Colorado’s highest peak at 14, 433 feet above sea level. It took 9.5 miles of hiking with 4,700 feet of elevation gain and was totally worth it.
We camped at a dispersed camping location not far from the road leading to the trailhead. We found a great spot close to a creek. There are actual campgrounds with fees along the road as well, but we arrived around 6:30 pm on Friday night and no problem finding a dispersed spot.
We woke up at 3:30 am to make some coffee, inhale some protein bars for breakfast and pack our gear for the day before heading to the trailhead at 4:00 am. I’d guess we started hiking around 4:20 am in total darkness. We relied on the light from our headlamps to navigate through the wooded trails for over an hour until the sun started to rise.
As the trees started to thin out, signaling we were approaching tree line, the sun illuminated Elbert as a glowing golden peak.
One we were above tree line, the trail became much narrower and rocky. It was also the first time during this hike that we could see just how much trail we had ahead of us before the summit… which was quite a bit… and slightly discouraging.
And then finally, after winding switchbacks through the rocky and grassy terrain, we turned a bend and suddenly it didn’t feel so far away. But we were looking at a false summit.
In the photo above, you can see how the trail starts to wind behind the false summit. In that section, the trail became noticeably steeper with quite a bit of loose gravel and rock. In this section, while we were descending, more than one person stopped us to ask things like “how much longer do we have to go?” or “how much more elevation gain do we have left?” It felt really great to assure them that that part was the most difficult section and once they get past the first false summit, it gets easier.
A few easy false summits later we made it.
We found a place to sit and enjoy our summit beers and snacks before starting the very long descent.
And while going down is the easiest part for many people, I actually dread it. It’s hard on my knees and my toes. And on this day, to make it worse, we encountered a number of people who were still on their way up just SITTING DOWN ON ROCKS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TRAIL. The single-width trail was already acting as a two-way street and these people were causing the worst traffic jam ever. Needless to say, I was happy to get back down to tree line where the trail widened out and we got some shade under the trees.
But, with this being a class 1 hike and the highest peak in Colorado, it’s a popular one for the Average Joe to do, hence the failure to conform to basic 14er etiquette.
We made it back to camp and soaked our aching feet in the icy cold stream, filtered some fresh water, cracked open some more beer and cooked a delicious lunch with the Jet Boil.
I’m looking forward to coming back to camp and summit the neighboring Mt Massive.
Have you done Elbert or Massive? Let me know in the comments!
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