Our roadtrip to Colorado began in Rochester, NY on Monday the 20th. We departed Rochester early and made it to Indianapolis, where we stayed the night at a KOA. A huge storm came in around 4am and a tornado warning was posted so we got the hell outta dodge and hit the road early that day. We stopped in St. Louis and visited the Gateway Arch, ate delicious Kansas BBQ in Kansas City, and made it to CO Springs the next day. The site of Pikes Peak was a sight for sore eyes! The snow capped peak made the drive through the fly-over states worth it in the end. The next few days were spent in CO Springs being tourists. We set off into the Rockies on the 24th. We ate lunch in Leadville and made our way to the North Mount Elbert Trailhead past Halfmoon Creek.
Day One: 5/24/2013 We made it to the North Mount Elbert trailhead via a terrible dirt road around 1:30pm on the 24th. The weather was dry and cool, just how I like it! Each of us had to bring 2 gallons of water with us due to the lack of flowing water high up on the trail. We double checked to make sure we had everything we needed for the days ahead, threw our 60lb packs on our backs and hit the trail. We made slow progress but eventually arrived at a relatively flat and rock free spot at around 10,500'.
Our Base Camp at 10,500'
One of our tents
Our little slice of heaven in the mountains.
We set up camp and started to work on a nice campfire after clearing dry brush and pine needles from the area as to prevent a wildfire. We gathered plenty of down, dry wood and had ourselves a beautiful fire for the night! We relaxed, drank plenty of water, and ate a nice Mountain House freeze dried dinner before retiring for the night to get rest for the long day ahead.
The Ascent (Summit Day)
Day Two: 5/25/2013
We awoke to the sound of my alarm at 4am and hit the trail at 5am after a quick breakfast and some nice stretching. We followed the well maintained trail to the intersection of the Colorado Continental Divide Trail and the North Mount Elbert trail. We decided we did not want to take the Divide trail down to Mexico so we stayed on the Elbert trail. Not too long after the split did we start seeing large amounts of snow in certain shaded sections. This snow was annoying, but not unpassable as we made our way, posthole after posthole, untill we reach treeline at around 12,000'.
We finally had a good view of the summit! Not exactly... what was staring us in the face actually turned out to be my arch enemy, false summit #1. But I was quite happy to finally be out of the mess of pine trees and we took a nice break before setting off into the vast tundra ahead. I put on my mountaineering boots at this point and felt like Iron Man. Nothing could stop me.
Koflach Arctis Expe kept my feet nice and dry
The trail had a lot of little switchbacks as it meandered up the ridge, never getting too steep. At this point, I noticed the effect of the altitude on my lung capacity. I felt fatigued with every few steps I took, but continued to push onward.
Past the treeline at 12,000'.
We continued on the trail, not knowing how many false summits lay ahead of us. Mount Elbert's Northeast Ridge is pretty decieving and can drain your energy quickly. The views really started amazing me past treeline where you could look back and see the magnificant landscape of the Colorado Rockies.
For every few steps we took, we needed to take at least a 3 to 5 second break. Step, Rest, Step, Rest... it seemed endless, but we were in good spirits and did not drive all the way out here to give up so easily. We pushed onward, deviating from the trail in certain sections that were under snow, but leaving the fragile arctic vegetation alone. There were no clouds in site, making the summit a real possibility for each of us. We had yet to encounter any other climbers.
Finally, we made it up the first "hill" and could see a large false peak standing in our way.
Alas!! Other climbers behind our lagging party member in green! We also noticed ski mountaineers on the southern route, making progress above the coulier.
4 or 5 more climbers. Our member in green.
These other climbers may have had a later start, but they were fast! They came out of nowhere and passed us in a matter of minutes as we gasp for air every few steps. We would pass many others that day, some did not make it to the summit and must have turned around at some point.
The coulier had many footprints in it and must have been climbed in the past week or so, but we made our progress via a simple scramble around the right flank of the ridge. It was probably the steepest the trail got, around 20 to 30 degrees on loose rock.
We finally made it to the top... of the false summit...
The trek up the first of four false summits was tiring, and we required a quick break. The wind began blowing up and over the ridge, with some good gusts chilling our bodies, so we began moving quickly again and threw on another layer or two before setting off towards what we thought was the summit.
We made slow progress, and all the was on my mind was the summit. I knew I had to summit no matter what. The weather was holding up well, with a few clouds over neighboring peaks, but nothing was going to turn us around. I could tell one of our party members was feeling the altitude like I was, but he appeared fine and clearly had his mind set on the summit, so we continued onward.
We neared the top of the second false summit, finally! you could see in the near distance what appared to be the summit! Nope... it was the last false freaking summit.
We made slow, slow progress, pounding our boots into the slushy snow as we made our ascent up the strenous section. The altitude took hold and made every foot step feel heavy and slow.
Looking out at Twin Lakes from the Northeast Ridge.
We neared the top of the last false summit and the summit ridge came into sight. All our hard labor was worth that sight alone. The reality of what we had done the past 5 hours set in and I could see finally see smiles on my fellow climbers.
Nearing the summit
What seemed like forever finally stopped as we walked the final 100 yards along the ridge to the small cairn, greeting those that had made the summit half and hour before us. It seemed as if all the cares in the world did not matter after the final few steps to the top of the Rockies. I congratulated my fellow climbers and posed for pictures on the top of the North American Rockies highest mountain around 11:30am.
A sea of snow capped peaks.
The views were to die for. Making the summit of Mount Elbert was our one and only goal, and I'm proud that we all made it together.
Looking out into a sea of snow-capped mountains
Elbert is the highest mountain any of us had summited to date.
Two of the three of us plan to move out to Colorado in the next year to begin a new chapter in our life.
Climbing these magnificient mountains is no simple task, especially under snow, but we plan on coming back time and time again, for the challenge, and of course, the incredible views from atop.
We started our descent down about 20 minutes after summiting due to several small cumulous clouds developing on 14ers in the distance. We wanted to make it down safely to treeline at a good time.
Starting the descent
As we started descending, retracing the packed down trail, we noticed many other climbers making their way up the North East Ridge, some very underprepared for the weather, in shorts and tee-shirts (Cotten!!!)...
A shirtless man that was wearing little more than a speedo zoomed past us as we climbed down the first large false summit. It was honestly the most bizzare sight I have ever seen on any mountain. Not sure if he was the ultimate badass or a complete fool. I still ask myself that question.
Regardless, we made it down to treeline by around 1:30 and continued on the trail, post-hole-ing our way through the melting slushy mass of snow that had been a breeze to pass over earlier that day since it had froze over. This had to be one of the more frustrating aspects of the day. As we slogged down this section, my excercise-induced asthma triggered and slowed my progress downward tremendously. I used my perscription drugs and rehydrated, but that did little to quell the extreme shortness of breath I was experiencing. I took a 30 to 40 minute break to get a grip of myself and allow my body to cool down. I am not sure if I had a small excercise induced acute asthma attack or if the altitude had triggered it, but I think it was the former. I will be better prepared next time at such an altitude.
This small issue did not stop us for long, and we made it back to camp around 3pm, 10 hours after we began our ascent, we were back. Exhausted, hungry, dehydrated.. we had ourselves a campfire feast of mountain house, crackers, and trailmix and drank at least a gallon of water per person. I gathered more firewood, changed into more comfortable clothing and we had ourselves a relaxing evening at 10,500'. The fire reignited our moral and we talked about our accomplishment with pride.
Relaxing at camp after a long day
The Ascent (Departure)
Day Three: 5/26/2013
We spent the morning eating a delicious granola bar breakfast and packing up camp. We burned the rest of the firewood and drowned the hot embers with some excess water. Our camp and footprint on the mountain was no more, and we left around 9am back down the trail to the trailhead. The sight of the car was nice, but the sight from the summit will be a fond memory of mine.
We ate a delicous meal in Buena Vista, but I don't remember the places name. It was the best brunch of my life.