This was a group trip with friends of mine from thebackpacker.com
and everyone was kinda gathering at my little apartment in Arvada to then make the trip to Mt. Elbert. So on Thursday night everyone arrived at my place – my apartment looked like an REI store vomited in my living room! Gear EVERYWHERE - it was awesome.
Friday morning, TMac and Dhutch (gear sluts) wanted to check out the GoLite sale in Boulder so he picked her up at my place and they headed out. The rest of us hit MickyD’s for a quick breakfast and then we discovered a flat tire on DeltaHiker’s car.
How many TT’ers does it take to change a tire? I ran the jack, Pennsy ran the lug wrench and Bateaux shuffled tires. We’re signing up for Nascar pit duty next week.
Riding out to the trailhead involved crossing over the Front Range and the Ten Mile/Mosquito Range and then entering the Sawatch Range – Pennsy and ENS were in my car and for most of the ride they were a little slackjawed. Deltahiker was following me with Armymedic and BateauxDriver and they were checking out the views and drove past the exit. We had perfect blue skies and the snow capped peaks looked just tremendous.
Upon arrival at the trailhead we quickly changed boots and such, took a group photo (of course) and proceeded up the trail. Just being at the trailhead was an elevation record for most of the group. Since our plan was to basecamp for the Mt. Elbert climb the next day we had heavier packs than we might have otherwise – besides the fact that we were packed for a mountaineering expedition – snowshoes, crampons, ice ax, full winter camp clothes, etc. Seemed odd – no snow at the trailhead, but we knew it would be cold in camp overnight – and there’s LOTS of snow up on the mountain! Welcome to springtime in Colorado!
The hike up the 4wd road was fairly uneventful, a couple of nice overlooks for the shutterbugs – the views are great looking out over the Twin Lakes. We reached the junction of the Colorado/CDT and the Elbert trail and turned right – downhill to get into the beaver pond area where we planned to camp. Unobstructed views to the East of the Ten Mile/Mosquito range – spectacular! After pitching camp and looking for the best water source we proceeded to get the fire area ready – plenty of dead wood around, it appears there was a minor fire some years back but the area has either recovered very well or really just didn’t take too much damage. We discovered that we were camped on a snow/ice covered marsh area when we dug out some snow to clear a fire pit and we hit water! Pennsy laid some logs down for a base and proceeded to build the fire up over the water – a floating fire! That night, a little wine was passed around and we chatted and talked but not too late – the next day was our day to climb Elbert.
We woke up and got out of camp right around 8 am – a little later than I might have liked, but tolerable. The weather looked great as we proceeded up the mountain. About tree-line though, the wind picked up and a few clouds started rolling overhead. From up here the views were incredible – the Ten Mile/Mosquito Range to the East, Mt. Massive to the North – it was everything we’d hoped for. We kept climbing. The snow started falling but it wasn’t a white out – we could see the summit and the descent route – we kept climbing. At about 13,000 feet we met a couple of climbers coming down that we had spotted on the way up. They said they got within about 300 feet and turned back due to the weather. We didn’t think the weather was that bad and we kept climbing. The slope just kept going up and so did we. At 13,500 Pennsy, ENS and I could still make out one person in our group that was below – the others had turned back around 12,500 or so (they can confirm that elevation). We kept climbing. By the time we hit 14,000 the wind was blowing about 35 mph or so and snow fall stung our faces, but the descent route was still visible and the clouds rolling in didn’t seem any darker, so we kept climbing. Finally we hit the summit ridge and then we were there – 14,433 – the highest point in Colorado, the highest point in the Rocky Mountains and the second highest in the lower 48 states! After a couple of quick photos we started boogieing down the mountain. I did a short butt slide down one section which was a lot of fun. We met a guy going up with a snowboard – said he was training for a mountain in the Yukon.
We finally got back to camp and the crew was all there waiting on us. Dhutch was awesome, fixing us hot water for soup and making sure we were all in good shape. Deltahiker had even found my bagels that somehow fell out of my pack. After some food and some rest we fixed a proper dinner and stoked the fire. None of us stayed up late Saturday night as it was pretty cold and we were all pretty wiped out.
For this trip, I designated Pennsy the official shutterbug; his pics are hosted on webshots here
Sunday we woke up to a very cold morning – about 15 degrees with a little frost inside my tent. Sunny skies though and it soon warmed up to a nice day. This being a rest day we were all pretty lazy about getting camp broken down. We set things out to dry in the sun and lazily packed up and headed out of camp. On the way out of camp we noticed a message from Bison in the snow! He had come into camp the day before while we were all up on the mountain.
Hiking back down to the car we got an opportunity to slack pack a bit as TMac had parked his jeep about halfway between the trailhead and our camp on the 4wd road. So TMac ferried gear down to the trailhead and a couple of us (armymedic and myself) rode on the side rails drawing laughter from a couple of older ladies that were headed up the trail for a dayhike.
Before heading over to Mt. Massive to relocate camp we opted for a trip into Leadville for lunch. If you’re ever there, go to the Passtime Club – terrific place, and get a Bison Burger!
After lunch we found our way out to the Massive area and parked on Willow Creek road and began hiking in looking for a good place to camp. Just before the Wilderness Boundary we found a real nice spot with a big fire ring, some cut wood and a good water supply – looked like home to us! We stayed up a little later that night, it being the last night of the trip. We had a great time talking and joking and just hanging out. It was warmer (we were only at 9,800 feet compared to 10,500 the past nights) and the stars were out – very nice night. Dhutch, who is now the official TT chef, made some chocolate pudding that we all shared for dessert with some gorp provided by Bateaux!
The last day – the group split up. Dhutch had a sore ankle left over from last weekends adventure race (her team won), ENS was sunburnt a little and Deltahiker slept in. Armymedic had left with TMac on Sunday. Pennsy, Bateaux and I went up Massive with the idea of getting to tree-line at least to soak in some good views. We thought that maybe we wouldn’t need snowshoes – the snow on Elbert had been pretty firm for the most part – BIG goof on my part.
We planned to more or less follow the route set forth by Scott Patterson here
. We post-holed and wallowed in the snow – even crawled at times. Bateaux opted out but Pennsy and I kept plowing ahead. We were a little south of the point he refers to so that we'd know to turn right when we crossed the Colorado Trail. Never spotting the CO trail in the snow, we popped into a nice snow free meadow with killer views and a few left over mining artifacts and had a snack. We also spotted a saddle up higher that we made our goal. We had pretty much given up on the summit at this point due to all the time spent postholing up the hill and given that people in camp were sorta waiting on us. Plus, we didn't want to get back into Denver at dark thirty that night. Finally at about 11,500 the snow firmed up where we could actually travel effectively and we reached the saddle. We had the two southern summits and the primary summit of Mt. Massive right in front of us (but still a couple of miles away) – incredible. Mt. Massive is, well, massive – to say the least.
After getting back to Denver and cleaning up we all went to dinner and met TMac and his other half and had a great evening.
I’m really glad that everyone got to come out and hope they come back soon.
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