Getting thereI was staying in Vail this weekend and decided to attempt Elbert. It seemed like a reasonable 14er to attempt in spring, as there is no real avalanche danger and the ascent is fairly mild.
For winter and spring ascents, the South Elbert / East Ridge trail is the best route, since you can drive up to the Lakeview campground and start hiking at the 4WD road. This road adds another 2 miles (each way) to the trip. But it's still a significantly shorter trip than a winter/spring ascent via the North Elbert trail (since the dirt road up to North Elbert trailhead isn't plowed).
From Leadville, continue on Hwy 24 South for about 15 miles to Hwy 82. Go west on Hwy 82 for 4 miles and turn right (North) onto CR24 and drive past the Lakeview Campground to a parking area on the left, at the base of the 4WD road.
AscentI hit the trail at about 9am. The snow-covered 4WD road is a 2-mile slowly ascending trail that heads up towards the South Elbert trailhead. It was pretty tedious, but it's the best option for Elbert this time of year. I imagine that this road will be mostly snow covered for several more weeks.
At the end of the 4WD trail, you'll come to the South Elbert trailhead. Follow the wooden footbridge across the stream and head up into the Aspen trees. You'll see a sign that says "<- MT. ELBERT"
The trail gets very steep at this point, snaking through the aspen trees and heading up towards the East Elbert ridge. After an hour or so, the trail flattened and came to an open area near the treeline. It then continued towards the East ridge.
At this point, it became very windy. I would estimate that the wind was gusting to 50mph or so on the East ridge. I thought about turning back a few times, but I figured that I wasn't in serious danger and that the wind would probably die down, so I pressed onwards. It was pretty easy to follow the bootpack up the ridge, which occasionally ascended straight up snowy areas versus following the switchbacks of the trail. I wore my snowshoes until about half-way up the ridge, when I came to a large area where the snow had melted.
I kept pressing onwards and finally reached the summit at about 2pm. The weather was absolutely beautiful at this point. Not a cloud in the sky, and relatively little wind. I'm glad I pushed myself to the summit - it was very satisfying.
DescentAfter about 20 minutes on the summit, I headed back down.
One note... I seemed to veer a little too far south on multiple occasions, finding myself having to cut the slope back to the North to meet up with the trail. Stay close to the ridge to avoid this.
Another note... that damn 4WD trail sure does seem long on the way back!!! I kept thinking it would end soon, but it went on and on forever.
I reached the car at about 5:00pm. Total round-trip time was about 8 hours.
I saw 3 people total this day - one guy who was heading down as I was nearing the summit, and another 2 guys that were heading up with snowboards as I was on the way back down the ridge.