On June 6th, 2002, I left my house just North of Denver for the extraordinarily beautiful drive across I-70 in Colorado. Driving early in the morning, I could see the sun coming up shining a mild light on the lofty peaks. I could see the slimmers of snow as I reached high country. My car struggling to get through the Eisenhower Tunnel, crested the great incline and I descended down the other side until I reached exit 195(rt. 91).
Rt. 91 is another gorgeous road which leads to Leadville. Leadville is an interesting town that reaches about 10,150 feet at its center. It sits in a high plateau, wide on all sides. In Leadville, I took Highway 24 for a few miles until I took a right on State Road 300. After a mile or so, I took a left at a sign that pointed to the Halfmoon Campground. I took that road for a mile or so, and took a right on a dirt road which leads directly towards the mountains. On these roads you will see two mountains. Mt. Massive on the right, and Mt. Elbert on the left. I drove down the dirt road for about 5 miles until I hit the Mt. Elbert trailhead.
At the trailhead, I listened to some music, in this instance, System of a Down, as I got ready, putting on my warm clothes and filling my pack with water and food for the trip. I knew the distance was only 9 miles round trip, but with nearly 4,500 feet to climb my work was cut out for me. It was a good thing I was in great physical condition.
The weather was mild. Not warm, but not too cold. Now on the trail, I walked for only a few minutes until I hit the South Colorado trail which quickly goes over Elbert Creek. From there the trail was steep. It took me about an hour to get above tree line.
When I got out of the trees I started hiking the alpine tundra. From the moment I got out of the trees, there was the steepest incline I had yet to see. It looked like an escalator to the sun...without the steps or the ground moving for me.
By the time I topped out, I was over 12,000 feet high. I could see Mount Massive's summits to the right.
Me on the summit
Not that the steepness stopped at this point, but it was more gradual. The reason is that the trail ceased to be a straight up climb, and became a series of switchbacks. Zig zagging up the trail with Pikas running all over the place, I finally got to another steep part of the hike. This time the hike was up towards the false summit. Once I crested this, there was not much more elevation to gain or distance to go to the summit. 20 minutes or so later I was on top of Colorado at 14,440 feet. It took me just 2 hours and 37 minutes to reach this point. Now on the summit, strong winds and cold temperatures caused me to shiver, so I ate my food, got my photo taken by a nice couple at the top, and headed down 15 minutes after I arrived.
Mount Elbert after I finished the hike
The mountain was not too crowded this day. There were only 3 or 4 people at the summit. I started the climb around 6:30am, summited a little after 9:00am, and got down before noon.
This mountain may seem easy for it's height, but never forget just how steep it is from the trailhead. No mountain requiring over 4,400 feet of elevation gain is going to be easy! Perhaps the reason I made it to the summit in a quick 2 hours 37 minutes, was that I was doing it partly as a workout, so I only took 10 minutes worth of break time the entire trip up to the summit.
I enjoyed hiking Mt. Elbert. I had moved to Colorado a few months before this hike, and this was my first fourteener. Perhaps Elbert is not as exciting as mountains where you have to find your own trail, but it is remote enough to keep out huge crowds, and the views of the area are fantastic. This is the highest Colorado has to offer, and that alone makes Elbert a worthwhile climb.
[img:34287:aligncenter:medium:Mount Elbert after I finished the hike]