At the culmination of a great father/son trip to Colorado, my 9 year old and myself were eager to climb Mt. Elbert. The beginning of the vacation was spent at Lagoon (Utah), a Rockies-Giants game (Denver), Elitch Gardens, and the Denver Art museum checking out the King Tut exhibit. But the big city life of Denver we experienced was plenty, and it was great to be heading into the mountains. I've been on some great high roads in California, Utah and Idaho, but all that pales in comparison to some of the great passes we drove over before and after Elbert.
We spent the night before the hike in Leadville to help acclimate. We left at 5:30am and drove up the South Mt. Elbert trailhead. Being with a young one, my primary goal was for him to have a positive experience and hopefully plant the seeds for a lifetime of hiking and climbing. He had done a few peaks in the Sawtooths, White Clouds, Lassen, Yosemite and Yellowstone, but his previous high altitude was about 11,00 feet. My goal was the upper trailhead. The road wasn't too bad until just before a creek crossing. We got across in a Jeep Liberty, but much less of a vehicle and it probably wouldn't have happened. We started out at 6:20am, hoping to beat the thunderstorms. All week the storms had built in the afternoon and from 12pm on it was rainy and stormy in many mountain locations.
The first part of the trail traverses across and after a second junction the trail climbs steeply for the first time. After a series of steep sections, the trail flattens out in a meadow area where we saw several tents. Just past here, we passed a large group of people and climbed steadily to the half way mark in elevation at a prominent outcropping. At this spot the trail is part of east ridge proper where you can see over toward the north route. The trail steepens even more at this point just above the 12,400 mark. We took it slow and steady, although in actuality we were making really great time. I was amazed at how 3 and 4 trails had formed next to each other- reminiscent of parts of the Sierras and the JMT. We saw our first tiny cloud at 8am. By the time of our descent this tiny cloud would grow 100 fold and be the genesis of a thunderstorm.
Just below the summit push, the trail turns south before climbing to the summit. My son was doing great, taking Power-Gel breaks every 30 minutes or so and drinking water. I made a point to be very harsh with the drinking aspect, knowing the benefits of hydration at altitude. At the summit ridge, I let my son John lead us to the top and we arrived at 9:15am in just under 3 hours and the 2nd party to summit that day. We took in the views, signed the log book (soaked and only a makeshift plastic box was surprising) and John enjoyed the praise he received from the adults. After about 15 minutes, we started down.
The descent went fairly easily, but both John and I felt the pressure on our knees. It wasn't quite like Borah knee busting, but it was rough nonetheless. As we made our way down we gave reports to those heading up and privately we joked about who was likely to get wet and or struck by lightning. There were probably 50 people heading up and it was apparent that is was definitely a beginner route and one of the easier high points to achieve in the West. At 11:30am we made it to the car, enjoyed cold pizza and drove out. We drove through Aspen and John asked me where Mary's house from Dumb and Dumber was. Later that evening we arrived back home in Boise and the culmination of a great father-son trip was complete. It was very rewarding to hike Elbert with my son- it's a perfect hike for beginners.
Trip Stats: 7.6 miles, 4000 ft, 5 hours