Mount Elbert (14,433 feet)
Via the North Elbert Trailhead (Northeast Ridge)
July 21, 2003
After Mount of Holy Cross, Sam and I decided that we need an easy day. We already had our sights on Mount Elbert anyway, so it was an easy choice. Since we were so beat from the Holy Cross hike, we cheated a little bit, and checked into a $45/night hotel room in Leadville. It was nice to get a shower and a real bed. This comfort, along with a bit of laziness caused us to get a bit of a late start. We started up the trail about 7:30am.
The most obvious thing about this trail is that it is, well, obvious! The trail is very well worn. The trail starts out in the woods. Initially, it is quite flat, but it starts gaining altitude pretty quick. A little over a mile (around 10,600 ft) into the hike, the trail flattens out. This is a welcome relief, except for the fact that we knew that we were going to have to gain some serious elevation eventually. During this flat run, we passed the exit for the Colorado Trail. The Mount Elbert Trail is well marked to the right. The flat trail went on for a ½ mile or more. Once this ended, the trail got drastically steeper. This is the price to be paid. Eventually, around 12,000 ft, the trail breaks tree line. At this point, I stopped to wait for Sam and take a short break. There was a pair of guys there that I started talking to. We quickly discovered that all of us were from Cincinnati, Ohio. What a coincidence! Well, it turns out that this was an organized trip from a Cincinnati area YMCA. When Sam finally arrived, he made the connection. It turns out that Sam was originally going to go with this group before I tricked him in to tagging along with me. What another coincidence!
Above treeline the trail actually tapers off just a little bit. Actually, the rest of the way up seems a little less steep than the stuff below treeline. I slowly pulled away from Sam again, but he was always close behind. I was starting to gain momentum, and I didn’t want to stifle the energy. At around 13,200 ft, I ended up with a pretty descent boulder climb. On the trip down I realized that this was unnecessary, as the trail circumnavigates the boulder field. I found out later that Sam did the same exact thing, and he even had a couple from Colorado Springs follow him up the boulder field. Other than this boulder field, the rest of the trip up was really easy. It actually seemed to get easier the higher that you went.
I ended up making the summit in 3 hours, 10 minutes. The first thing that I did at the summit was scout out ridge route to Casco, Frasco Benchmark and French. It didn’t look too bad, but I wasn’t really in the mood for the obvious 2000+ up climb required. Especially after doing the Halo Route on Holy Cross yesterday.
Sam made the summit about 30 minutes after I did. By this time, it had started to sprinkle a little bit and even a little bit of hail. Even with the little bit of precipitation, the sky was still pretty calm looking. The cloud cover made it pretty cold though. I continued to play with the idea of doing the 3 centennial peaks even up to the time that Sam started back down the main trail. Eventually though, I decided that I would save the effort for Missouri Gulch tomorrow and hopefully get 5 peaks. Also, the sky was starting to look a little questionable, and the ridge route that I had chosen would leave me at altitude for at least a few hours. I left the summit after just over an hour. Sam was surprised when I eventually caught up to him, just before treeline. We cruised the last 3 miles together. It took us just over 2 hours to get down from the summit.
I’d say that this is a pretty easy route overall. The 9 miles round trip can be a bit tough, but the terrain is no more than a steep uphill trail climb; unless of course you miss the trail, in exchange for some boulder hopping. Overall elevation gain was 4400 ft.
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