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Solo, Winter, Night Ascent….NOT!
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Solo, Winter, Night Ascent….NOT!

Solo, Winter, Night Ascent….NOT!

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Colorado, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 39.09703°N / 106.5152°W

Object Title: Solo, Winter, Night Ascent….NOT!

Date Climbed/Hiked: Jan 30, 2007

Activities: Mountaineering


Page By: rematore

Created/Edited: Feb 9, 2007 / Feb 9, 2007

Object ID: 268320

Hits: 4902 

Page Score: 74.92%  - 5 Votes 

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Getting There

So I had a ski trip planned last week in Breckenridge and Keystone. I decided to arrive a few days early and attempt to summit Mt. Elbert. I spoke to a number of people here at SP, and they informed me that a South Elbert Trail ascent would be the best route.

Arriving in Denver, I drove West down Rt. 70 out through Dillon and Frisco. 
Sunset on Buffalo Mountain
I then headed South on CO – 91 toward Leadville. Just North of Leadville I stopped at a great ski rental place called Bill’s Sport Shop. The guys in there were a great help. [They can be reached at www.billsrentals.com/]

I told them of my plans to summit Elbert later that day, and I inquired whether they thought skis or snowshoes would be best. Having quite a bit of experience in those parts, they suggested snowshoes, and gave me a great deal. Ten bucks total for two days. We joked a bit about the cold, and because it was only around 10 degrees, I was not too concerned.  
View on Road to Leadville, CO

I got back in my rental minivan and continued South on CO – 91 until it turned into US – 24. US – 24 winds through Leadville and then on for about 15 miles before I turned right on to CO – 82. My directions told me to go 6.5 miles on CO – 82, but it turned out to be only 4 miles before I turned off for the South Elbert Trailhead Parking lot.

The Dilemma

I had told myself that if I arrived at the trailhead too late I would stay overnight in the car and set out in the morning. However, I had to meet my friends at the Denver airport the next evening, so I was disinclined to wait. One might say I was fool-hearty, but I’ll just say stupid. Thus, I set out at around 4:30 p.m.
South Elbert Trailhead

The Climb

To my surprise, the trail was well packed.  
South Mt. Elbert Trail
My snowshoes worked amazingly on the moderately packed snow. Since I flew in from Washington, DC at 20 ft. elevation, I was somewhat dizzy at the starting point of 10,500 ft. This uneasiness caused me to fall into the deep powder on the sides of the trail a few times.  
View from South Elbert Trailhead

Besides the dizziness at first, I felt remarkably good on the trail, and I was amazed at how gradual it climbed. I actually felt as though I was on a plain vanilla hike through the forests of Pennsylvania. There were some amazing views of the Elbert and Twin Peaks as I hiked the first few miles. By the time I turned left (west) onto the actual Summit Trail, it had become dark. 
Mt. Elbert from Trail

The night was incredibly clear and full of stars. Unlike anything I would ever see in the city. I hiked by Moonlight. The trail was clear as day. I stopped every couple hundred yards to gaze up at the stars or down at the lights of Leadville, which as I gained altitude came more into view.

At this point, I was moving pretty slow. I am not sure if it was the altitude or just the process of taking in my surroundings, but I felt as though I was moving in slow motion. I thought that if it stayed clear, I would keep moving until I got to tree line, and then reevaluate my goals. As I got closer to tree line I considered going for the summit and claiming a solo, winter, night ascent. But when I reached tree line, I found a good “flat” spot behind some trees for a tent. I decided to take a rest and hopefully go for the summit at sunrise. I think I was at about 13,000 ft.

There was an open field with many groupings of trees that seemed to block the wind pretty well. As I pitched my tent, the skies were still clear as day. As I lay in my Tent (in two sleeping bags), I realized how deep the snow really was. I thought I had excavated the campsite to a sufficient degree, but inside my tent, my feet and lower body began to sink into the snow. I kept sinking until I was at a 25 degree angle, and I kept sliding off of my sleeping pad.

To make matters worse, the wind picked up to around 40 M.P.H. and the temperature dropped to minus-20 Fahrenheit (without the windchill). Apparently, my tent was not rated for winter/windy conditions. The wind was blowing the tent flat on top of me and the snow stakes were coming out. I slept/persevered until 2:30 a.m., when I awoke to find my fingers and toes completely numb. INSIDE MY SLEEPING BAGS!!! I think I would have been ok down to about minus-5, but minus-20 is just plain insane outside of the Arctic.

I remembered Sir Edmund Hillary’s statement that a summit does not count if you do not make it back down, so I decided to bag the summit attempt and go down. This was probably a good decision because when I opened the tent door, I was surrounded by a whiteout blizzard.

So, I packed up my bag and exited the tent. The moment my body weight left the tent, it took flight. My freaking tent just blew away; right off of the mountain. How crazy is that? I briefly contemplated chasing after the tent, but before I knew it, it was gone. At this point I couldn’t feel my toes at all. You know it is cold when you are in two sleeping bags for a
few hours and your toes still get numb.

In an effort to warm up my toes I began running down the mountain. After a few minutes my feet were rewarmed, but the running at 13,000 ft. had killed me. I continued on, but I had to rest on my ski poles every couple hundred metres. I finally made it back to the car after about 2.5 hours of running/sliding.

In the end - No Solo, Winter, Night Ascent of Elbert.

I’ll be back, but probably in the summer.


View from South Elbert TrailheadColorado TreesMt. Elbert from TrailSouth Mt. Elbert TrailView on Road to Leadville, COWinter WonderlandSouth Elbert Trailhead


[ Post a Comment ]
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Dan the Jonesbrrrr-

Dan the Jones

Voted 10/10

sounds like a great experience. You doubled up the bags and it was still cold, and your fingers were still numb. The windchill most of been extreme.
Posted Feb 10, 2007 11:47 pm

rematoreRe: brrrr-


Hasn't voted

It was pretty crazy. Fun time though.
Posted Feb 14, 2007 3:59 am

Viewing: 1-2 of 2