This trip started as a backpack and ended up being a mountain climb. Larry and Gary, my backpacking buddies, decided that backpacking was too hard and they wanted to climb a mountain instead. They wanted to climb a “real mountain”.....but not something too hard. So, after some research, I figured that Mt. Elbert would be the relatively easiest 14er to climb. I also wanted to start climbing mountains. After several years of backpacking, I decided it was time for something a little more challenging. I figured a few walk-ups would be good before tackling the more technical peaks.
We took Larry’s old Nissan Pathfinder because of the rough road to the Mt. Elbert Trail trailhead. We arrived at the Lakeview Campground where I expected it to be full. This is a large campground with plenty of RV spaces. We thought about hanging around all the next day to acclimate but decided “what the hell” and planned on climbing instead.
We got up long before sunrise to make a huge breakfast of eggs, bacon, grits, etc. That done, we drove up to the Mt. Elbert Trail trailhead. The road is rough but a 2WD high clearance vehicle can make it which will save you a couple of miles of hiking down a boring road..
We began the hike around 6:30 AM, crossing the Continental Divide trail, and switch-backing up through an aspen grove. The trail gets somewhat steeper after that, then arrives at a pleasant shoulder. The weather by this time began to look marginal and it soon began to sprinkle. We met a couple coming down the mountain. A woman in the group was whining because it was cold and raining. She had on jeans, a cotton sweatshirt, and no raingear. (I laughed, remembering myself in the same situation on Telescope Peak, California ten years earlier). Anyway, we continued up until treeline, still looking at the weather. I decided to continue since we hadn’t heard any thunder. It just looked like overcast and showers without storms. An easy to follow trail continued to climb above the treeline. A long gradual ascent follows the treeline section and eventually gets you to a steep section of switchbacks just under the summit. The summit was windy and crowded with people, most of which came up from the other trail. Larry and Gary were raving about how they climbed the highest mountain in Colorado when an elderly couple appeared on the summit. They must have been at least 60, complete with light blue wind suites, sneakers, and golf hats. Larry and Gary didn’t say much after that. After a sandwich, we headed down and finished a couple of hours later.
This was my first 14er and only my second mountain. I was now hooked on mountain climbing and vowed to learn all about it. My pure backpacking days were now over. I owe a lot to my backpacking experiences, but unfortunately, it’s now just a pain-in-the-neck means of getting to the mountain and the climbing.
Mt. Elbert deserves respect because it is the highest peak in Colorado and it is a strenuous hike in an alpine environment. Otherwise, it’s not too hard and makes for a good first 14er. I highly recommend this mountain for those looking for a great hike and great outdoor experience.