Three Times the charm or Three Strikes Your Out
This would be my third try to reach Mount Elbert's summit. This is the only mountain in my life that I ever tried to climb and not made the summit, and worse it had not made it twice! It had been a long three days travel in a truck that was acting up when I began the hike up Black Cloud trail. The two times before had been up the North trail route and so I had decided to give a new route a try. The main reason for the change is that I had heard that there would be water available on this trail where once you leave the parking area on the North trail there is none.
The trail starts its ascent and soon you can hear Black Cloud Creek below and not long after that you meet up with it and cross it . I had not got clear answers to my inquiry about camp spots along this rout. There are several decent spots along the way, which one could utilize if they got a late start or just wanted to break up the hike. By midday I was surprised to find myself at the remains of the old miners cabin and mine tailings. Though early, I had planned to make camp and start at dawn the next day.
Not long after setting up camp two guys passed heading for the summit. Being August a few hours later a good rain shower developed, but unlike storms this time of year there was little lightning. The two guys passed through again and I asked them about the storm. They were up at 14,000 feet but the clouds were still above them and they. like me experienced no lightning. They had failed to gain the summit this day and the weariness in their faces showed the reason.
Three days earlier I had started this trip from sea level. I was surprised that the climb to 13000+ was not that taxing and after a meal I felt good except a bit off from the altitude. That evening I noticed it took more concentration to use the stove and prepare a drink. I didn't feel bad or nauseated , I would say I just felt the altitude like the last two times up at this elevation. The stop at this camp meant rest and plenty of water available so I stayed hydrated.
I spent a restless night in the tent, sleep was difficult and I could not settle into a comfortable position. It must of been around 4:30 I gave up on sleep, made coffee and packed for the summit. In darkness I picked my way through the talus slope and then the scrub to the swithchbacks leading up to the ridge at 14,000 feet. Pace slowed as I was feeling the altitude. I began a stumbling gait and got frustrated with the complexity of the straps on my pack and gave up getting my second platy of water out.
It was a beautiful sunrise and many colored peaks around. This side of Elbert was by far the prettiest. Great mountain views. I figure I was about 13,300 elevation, the 14,000 ridge looked reachable. As I sat and took inventory of my condition I had to admit I was suffering from early stages of AMS-Acute Mountain Sickness. I had visited here before, nearly 40 years before, so down I headed. My stumbling grew worse but I slowed and took more careful steps. I made it back to the trail head and it really wasn't til the next day that I felt right.
Who can complain about a couple of days in the high peaks? The mountain had got me again but also taught me a lesson. I had felt what altitude can bring, a reminder, some thing I had not known for many years. Climbers have climbed many peaks over a number of years not having problems with altitude, then one day it took their lives.