IntroAfter my last trip to Guadalupe Peak, I was hungry for more. I decided to celebrate my one year commitment to a more active lifestyle that I would try a more challenging summit. After researching on SummitPost, I decided I would take a week off of work and go to Colorado for a couple of 14ers: Mt Bierstadt and Mt Elbert.
In preparation, I continued my gym workouts, increasing my cardio by including stairmaster sessions increasing in duration until I could do an hour regularly. I also increased my treadmill runs in duration and ran on the hill setting. Out of the gym, I did some longer hikes and bike rides in the 20 mile range. To get used to some of the elevation gain, I also went to Enchanted Rock here in Texas. After all of this preparation, I felt good about making it, but was still concerned about the effect of the altitude on my sea level lungs. To help with this, I planned to camp in Leadville, CO – elevation 10,152’ for the week. My plan was to arrive on Monday and set up camp; Tuesday climb Mt Bierstadt; Wednesday rest; Thursday climb Mt Elbert; Friday fly back to Texas.
My sisters wanted to join me for this trip, mostly because I was so excited after my first mountain experience. We agreed that they would go as high as they felt comfortable going and I would push for the summit. They really surprised me by how far they were able to go on their first attempt at climbing any mountain, let alone at this altitude.
Some of the key information that I was trying to research was not readily available, so I’ll present them at the end of the trip report as an Appendix. I’ll review the place we camped, where we ate, where we found the best buys for last minute supplies, etc here.
Mt ElbertDate: June 21, 2007
Elevation Gain: 4,700'
Distance: 9 miles
Duration: 7 hours
After climbing Mt Bierstadt, I was concerned that I would not be able to climb Mt Elbert after a single day of rest. We awoke at 0430 and broke camp. After packing everything up, we headed to the North trailhead and arrived at 0515. After packing everything up, I strapped up and headed out at 0600.
As I started the trail, I noticed that someone had left a good walking stick at the trailhead, so I picked it up to use on the trip. I was planning on buying some trekking poles, but thought the pricetag was a bit high for the amount of use that I would get out of them. Man was I wrong! The walking stick was curved and provided a nice shock absorbing bounce when I placed any weight on it. I will definitely be buying some trekking poles for my next trip.
The ClimbAfter starting up the trail, I found all of the landmarks noted on SP and 14ers.com relatively quickly. The stream crossing, the ring of rocks, the cabin remnants and the fork for the Continental divide trail all occur within the first mile or so.
After these landmarks, however, the trail quickly settled into a nice hike in the woods. I came upon a man and his wife and they allowed me to pass them at an opportune time.
It was at this point that I remembered from my previous trip to continue on with a slower pace that would allow me not to take so many breaks to catch my breath. I slowed my pace a bit and was able to push through to the treeline relatively easily.
Once at the treeline, I stopped to take some pictures and drink some more water. The mosquitoes that were with me through the forest were finally blown away by the light breeze. That was nice as I had left my mosquito repellent in the parking lot.
As I looked up the mountain, I saw the faint trail and was bowled over as it appeared to go straight up with no switchbacks! This was okay for a while, but I quickly became winded, even at my slower pace and had to stop regularly to catch my breath.
I was passed by a man and his dog. He seemed to be going so slow, but he never stopped to catch his breath. In fact, when he came by, we exchanged hellos and commented on the beautiful day, he wasn’t even breathing hard! Turns out he was from Colorado and the altitude did not bother him at all. The dog (Hunter) pushed on as well – these are some tough 14er dogs!
After cresting the first ridgeline, I took a break to eat some food and drink some more water. I looked across the valley and was able to see a lot of people on the south ridge. In my mind, this motivated me to see if I could get to the summit before them. They were a large group with a dozen or so people and had some elevation on me already, so I would have to hike hard to beat them.
I pushed on, using my walking stick on every step. There were several false summits, but I was ready for them thanks to my research on SP so I was not demotivated when I saw more mountain to go. After these false summits, I was passed by another climber, Chris. He told me that there wasn’t much more to go and to hang in there. I was feeling good, especially considering how I had felt on my Mt Bierstadt climb two days earlier. I think the extra days acclimatizing really made a difference. After coming to several small snowfields that I was able to walk around, I reached the final summit push.
This part of the trail was the most interesting to me with a large drop off on the right that allowed for some fantastic views. I was keeping my eye on the south ridge and saw that I was significantly ahead of the large group I had seen earlier.
The SummitI reached the summit at 1000 or 4 hours after I started. Again, I didn’t feel the tremendous sense of relief that I expected, but more a feeling of great accomplishment. I had climbed two 14ers in a couple of days! It was especially nice as I was considering not climbing Mt Elbert at all after my first 14er experience.
I asked Chris to take my obligatory summit picture and shared the summit with him and the man with the dog that had passed me. I signed the summit scrolls and sat down to enjoy the views. It was beautiful with many notorious peaks visible in the distance (Mt Massive, LaPlata Peak, etc). The wind was not blowing hard at all and it was clear, blue skies – what a beautiful day!!
After about 20 minutes or so, I had drunk some more water and snacked a bit and got ready to head down. Chris’ girlfriend had made it up and the man with his dog had headed down, so it was a pretty calm summit. I felt lucky to have so few people on the summit as I noticed over 20 people had signed the day before.
Just before heading down, I noticed two marmots on the summit hanging out and sunning themselves. Wow – dogs and marmots on the highest point in the Rockies … pretty cool.
The DescentOn the way down, I really appreciated my walking stick. Having it was like having another leg to absorb body weight and provide balance.
Just as I was leaving the summit, I heard a noise behind me. I turned around as it sounded pretty loud and was greeted by a weird sight – a helicopter was coming over the summit. It looked like a military or government helicopter as I didn’t see any civilian markings on it. Maybe it was Search And Rescue from the Ranger station? It made a quick pass over the summit and headed off to the southeast and I didn’t see it again.
I also noticed dark clouds were beginning to form on the other side of the summit. When I looked east across the valley, I could see it was already raining there. This prompted me to head down as quickly as I could since I didn’t want to be the lighting rod up here!
I met several people on their way up and told them that it was clear blue skies when I summitted and how quickly the clouds had rolled in. I believe everyone turned back as the weather was looking pretty menacing.
The rest of the descent was quick, if not memorable as I was trying to get down as quickly as possible. I did not remember the forested portion of the climb to be so long, but it took a significant amount of time to get through that part of the trail. I got back to the parking lot at 1300 or 7 hours after starting.
My walking stick that served me so good today was left at the trailhead. Kinda like Tom Hanks in castaway when he lost Wilson, I felt a bit of regret to leave it there. I wonder how many trips it has made to the summit and back before and after my trip?
Appendix - CampgroundSugarLoafin Campground
In order to acclimatize better, we decided to stay at a campground at altitude. Since we would be there for 4 days, we wanted one with a bit of amenities. We chose SugarLoafin after doing some research and we were not disappointed. The check-in was easy and the price for all three of us was about $30 / night. The best amenities were the heated bathrooms with hot/cold showers. Those were really nice with our 0430 wake up calls. My sisters were with me and they both commented on how nice the ladies bathrooms were compared to what they were expecting. One word of advice, we moved our campground to get one near the ‘stream’. When we got to our campground, the ‘stream’ turned out to be a drainage ditch about a foot wide – don’t change to get next to it.
The campground was very close to the North Trailhead. We found this out by accident while exploring. If you take Lake Road 5 from the campground past the golf course, it will meet up with 300, leading to 11 and Halfmoon Creek road to the trailhead. It literally took 10 – 15 minutes from the campground to the trailhead. It sure was nice to get a few extra zzzzz’s!
Appendix - RestaurantsBrew Pub
We went here for dinner on our rest day. The food was good, with very large portions. I got the tomato cheddar soup and it was outstanding. One of my sisters got the bison burger and while it was good, the portion was WAY too large and she was unable to finish it. I’m not sure if it was because we were upstairs or not, but the service was a bit slow as I had to wait several times for refills on my water and other beverages.
Outstanding breakfast here. The breakfast potatoes were great. I had an omlette (you get to add up to four toppings) and it comes with breakfast potatoes and bread. One of my sisters had the stuffed French toast which was delicious! Great service and very reasonable pricing – for all three of us, it was around $25.
As most reviews state, they only serve filet mignon steak here. The hostess mentioned this as soon as we walked in. You only get to choose how large of a cut you want and how you want it cooked. All meals come with salad, baked potato and bread. I ordered medium well and I think it was cooked closer to well done, but the flavor was still very nice. I liked the simplicity of the place and where else can you get filet mignon for $8 – Vegas? All three of us was around $40.
Atrain Pizzaria (Frisco)
After climbing Mt Bierstadt, I wanted some pizza so we stopped in Frisco on the way back to Leadville. The pizza was good (we got a ½ pepperoni; ½ Hawaiin on wheat crust), but the service was slow. They only had 1 server for the entire restaurant. I wish they would have cooked it a bit longer as the pineapple was not cooked all the way through.
Mountainbuzz Café & Pizzaria
Stopped here for breakfast on the way to Mt Bierstadt in Georgetown. The menu was nice with a lot of breakfast sandwich options. I got the breakfast burrito (which was HUGE). I added sausage, ham, bacon and chorizo. I think the chorizo may have been too much as I had a gut bomb while climbing Mt Bierstad later that morning. Reasonable prices and they were the only restaurant we found open (at 0630) between Leadville and Georgetown on the way to Mt Bierstadt.
Appendix - StoresDollar General
We bought a lot of stuff at this store from pillows to hats to sunglasses to coolers, etc. Most of the stuff was very reasonable (ie $4 for two pillows).
We bought all of our food items for camping at Safeway. I was shocked by how expensive things were (eg $4 for strawberry jelly). My sister had a Safeway card, so we got a bit of a break, but it was still pricey. We bought our firewood here as well as our ice for each day ($1.29).