Should we, or shouldn’t we? Such was our wondering as to climb Mt. Elbert or save it for a different weekend. But we had a puppy-sitter (Emily’s sister Kristine) and no real reason to not go. Well, except that it was an 8-hour drive and it was already 5pm, and the fact that we were recovering from about 2 weeks of not much sleep; not to mention the possibility of a thunderstorm out there on the mountain. So, with nothing stopping us, we braved the commuter traffic to squeeze through Spanish Fork canyon and blast ourselves across the 480 miles or so to the trailhead.
Around 1 o’clock in the morning, on the 31st of July, we headed up the 4WD road towards the South Elbert trailhead. We came across a stream and decided to pull off the road just before it to catch some "Z’s." Sweet, blissful rest! No taking the puppies out of the car in the middle of a dream to let them piddle, or having to stop them from chewing on something, or waiting for them to stop bugging each other (previous Wheeler Peak camping experience). Nothing but good, solid, uninterrupted sleep!
I awoke the first time with a surprise at how light it had already become. It was 6:15am. The crisp morning air made me curl back inside my bag. A smile crept on my face, for it felt like Christmas morning. I wanted the "specialness" of it all to last just a bit longer, so I decided to sleep a little more and wait for Emily, who was still passed out in the bag next to me. It felt like 2 minutes when I awoke again. But this time I could no longer conceal my excitement. I quickly changed into my blue cargos and a clean white T-shirt, grabbed for some food and tried to rustle around a bit to wake up Emily. I was ready to conquer Colorado’s highest peak.
We crossed the stream and followed the 4WD road just a bit further until we came to the actual trailhead. It wasn’t much of a parking place at all. Tall, dense aspen trees dominated the area. It was amazing to think people had made a road through this. The lot looked like an SUV ad, with Jeeps, 4 Runners, and trucks stashed here and there amongst the trees. I smiled, as I had the best spot of all: right next to the bridge over the creek.
By 7:30am we were on the trail, which soon became annoyingly steep. We hadn’t warmed up much from the cool morning, so the get-go was a little rough. The logbook at the register was covered with names, so after trying to squeeze ours on, we headed up the South Elbert trail, which is a part of the Colorado trail. The aspens were rich in color, the trail a little damp from the morning’s dew, and we steadily made our way up. At a certain point, which I don’t remember as we ascended, we left the aspens and entered the world of the pines. The air was rich with freshness. A color-troubled snowshoe hare crossed us several times. Seems he couldn’t figure out where he wanted to go as he saw us approach; or which color to be, as his feet were still white as snow, but his body brown.
When we left the mystical pines, the trail leveled off for awhile as it crossed the ridge. Twin Lakes could be seen to the south, a small valley to the north. The sun was creating a beautiful world of colors all its own as it dissipated the gloom of a sleepy world below.
The ridge got steeper as it wound around the south part of the mountain. We could no longer see the summit. If you want a solitary hike, this is not the one, try Boundary Peak in Nevada. Elbert became a super-highway as we approached the summit, with hikers merging in from several other trails. The actual summit held just as many dogs as it did people. I missed my own 10-week old lab at home. One day she’ll be up here with me, I thought to myself as I stopped to sign the register. There was a patch of an old cornice just to the south of the summit. The surrounding mountains still retained many of their chutes and slides, making it a beautiful panorama of the Colorado Rockies.
My mother made the comment that all summits look the same at the top. I agree in some respects. Most peaks I’ve done are topped off with a gracious helping of just pain rock. To geologists, that may be more exciting. But the views from the top are always different. Different from peak to peak, and different than what you would expect. While you may see your surroundings at the trailhead, the view from the top can be entirely different. You are able to see things from a very different point of view. While you may be groaning to yourself as you see a formidable mountain in front of you as the climb begins, you will think differently at the top. From there, you realize how much is possible. As in life, when faced with a roadblock, it can be demanding. But with dedication and perseverance, you can overcome. Much strength comes from standing on the top and seeing what else awaits you out there in the unknown, knowing you have already conquered this part.