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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mount Elbert Hike Leadville, CO

August 15, 2012

From Rocky Mountain National Park, M and I drove to 3 hours to Leadville, CO to hike Colorado's tallest peak. At 14,440 ft, Mount Elbert is also the 2nd highest peak in the lower 48 states standing only 65 ft shorter than Mount Whitney. We set up camp at Elbert Creek Campground for $15 per night. The site was very quiet, secluded, and next to an ice cold babbling creek. It was the perfect place for us to rest and acclimate before our 10 mile round trip hike with 4700 ft elevation gain.

In order to not run into bad weather like we did on Mount Ida, we planned to start our hike at 2 AM. After sleeping horribly due to excitement and trying to sleep at 6 PM, we got ready in the dark. Equipped with 4L of water, 1 PB and J sandwich, 3 bags of trail mix each, we started our hike. 3/4 of the climb was done at night, which made it more enjoyable for me. Not seeing how much further and higher we had to go made the trip seem easier. The first 1/2 of the hike was under tree line and, since our headlamps illuminated at most 10 ft of trail in front of us, we hiked carefully but quickly, passing by fallen trees and countless switchbacks. It was quite spooky to hike through a forest in the pitch black, especially when we weren't familiar with the area. When the trees started to thin out, we passed a hiker who had camped overnight but didn't stop to talk seeing that he had just woken up. M and I continued onto the next part of the trail.

Beyond the treeline, there was a wall of alpine tundra looming in front of us, covering the stars. We slowly trekked up some steps until we reached the start of numerous switchbacks. The air was much thinner and colder now so we didn't stop to rest. Instead, we ate some trail mix and continued to hike up the rocky switchbacks until we reached a steep false summit. After hiking up the false summit, we could see the alpine tundra taper off and turning into a more rocky ridge.

At this point, we were about 3.5 miles into the hike and the sun was starting to rise, coloring the sky and haze around us. The rocks came to life and we, along with the little sprigs of flowers and grass, were greeted with a bright cloudless morning. Though it was a clear day, the smoke from the fires out in CA, ID, and WA blurred our surroundings and made the air much harsher to breathe in. While hiking on this rocky ridge, we ate a sandwich before continuing upwards. The trail was well maintained for this last mile and we climbed over 3-4 more false summits gaining 1500 ft in elevation in order to finally reach the peak. I was hunched over for most of this part since I felt it was easier to hike the precipitous terrain without trekking poles. The last push to the peak was relatively flat and we were happy to find a nice section of rocks that mimicked a lounge. We took shelter there for a couple of minutes from the bitterly cold wind and took in the view. Though the sun was up, it was too cold for M and I to linger long on the summit. We took a couple of pictures and headed down.

The descent was bone jarring to say the least. It was steep and the rocks that littered the trails tested our knees and balance as they would give way with each step we took. We did go slower and with the sun being out, we were finally able to take pictures of the trail. Overall, the hike was strenuous but not technically challenging. The trail was well worn and, besides the cold and the smoke in the air, the experience was mentally challenging and zen at the same time.

Mount Elbert Hike

(Most of the pictures were taken when we were hiking down Mount Elbert but I have them in order of how we hiked up, starting at treeline.)

Mount Elbert hike, highlighted in purple from Google. 

The very spacious campsite for Elbert Creek

Mount Elbert is the tallest peak on the left. Mount Massive is the tallest peak on the right.

Looking back at the first 100 ft of the North Elbert Creek trail.

Sign for North Elbert Creek trail

Looking back at the footbridge we had just crossed

Looking back at a tree that had fallen over on the trail

Looking back at a switchback in the treeline area

Looking back at the trail thus far.

Where the trail splits. Be sure to go towards Mount Elbert and not the Colorado Trail

Sign for Mount Elbert

Looking back down at the trail, quite steep

Looking up at the trail

Looking back down the trail, quite steep

Looking up the trail, comparison to M so you can see how steep it is

Area where the hiker had camped overnight

Looking up the trail

Looking back down the trail, almost out of treeline

Looking down at the treeline. We are now in the alpine tundra section

Looking up the trail and one of the false summits in the background. This is where we had to trek numerous switchbacks.

Looking down, showing how steep the trail is.

Looking down the trail again, small dot in the middle of the picture is Emerald Lake where we started the hike.

Looking up. The switchbacks are hidden on the slope of alpine tundra. This is what had looked like a big wall to M and I in the dark.

Hikers on the switchbacks on the slope

M sitting, steep trail behind him

Looking down the trail.

Looking down the trail. Over the first false summit, cannot see the tree line anymore.

2nd false summit, have to hike up and go around to the right.

Looking up, approaching 2nd false summit.

Looking down the trail.

Getting lighter in the day, near 3/4 of the way to the top. How the trail actually looked like when we were doing our hike.

Looking up. 2nd false summit.

Looking up, closer to 2nd false summit after you pass the ridge. There are hikers halfway up the slope.

M and I
Looking down, sun was rising. This was how the hike had looked like when we were going up.

A red hazy sunrise due to the smoke from the fires in the west. 

Looking down the trail from 2nd false summit. Very rocky and slippery as to rocks would break free, easy to lose your footing.

Looking up at 3rd false summit. No more alpine tundra grass. Trail goes up then swings to the right  near the false summit. 

Looking down the trail, where it swings to the right of the 3rd false summit.

Looking at 4th false summit. After you swing right , the trail goes up and you come to this sight. 

Looking up. The 4th false summit looked rather flat but this is how it actually looks. 

Looking down at the trail.

Looking up, nearing the peak.

Nearing the peak! Another false summit behind me. 5th one!

Looking up. The trail is on the left where there is some dirt. Behind the 5th false summit is the real summit.

Looking back to see how far up we've come.

FINALLY! The summit of Mount Elbert, 14,440 feet!

View of Twin Lakes from the summit of Mount Elbert, CO.

M and I on the summit of Mount Elbert.

M with the summit cairns and the beautiful Sawatch Mountain Range in the background.

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