Mt Elbert, 14,433′, July 23, 1994


The data

Again, solo, I decided on an easy mountain to enjoy this Saturday. Mt Elbert being the highest mountain in Colorado and the 2nd highest pt. behind Mt Whitney in CA (lower 48) seemed like the right as it has a good trail all of the way to the top. The route climbs the NE ridge of Mt Elbert. I left Colorado Springs at 2:00am and arrived at the trailhead on half-moon creek at 5:00am on the Colorado Trail after 30 mins on a washboard road through the national forest; time to check the front end alignment!

It was still quite dark even with a full moon (I think summer is slowly slipping into fall – even though it is only July) so I opted for the headlamp again and started up the trail that started at 10,500′. After about 40 mins, the headlamp was off and the dawn’s colors were flooding the forest. The trail is very large and free of stones; sort of like a highway! It is a gentle climb while on the Colorado Trail, and then the Mt Elbert Trail veers off and climbs steeply to timberline. I had thought there was one hiker ahead of me and I confirmed this above timberline when I saw him about 30 mins ahead.

Again, the trail is quite good and ascends up the ridge on several good switchbacks. Even though this is quite a “tourist and popular” mountain, the alpine tundra is in great shape as it appears people stay right on the wide trail. I was very happy to see this on a well-trod mountain as many other mountains in Colorado are suffering from erosion by inexperienced hikers making their own trails. I hiked up to a small knob on the ridge (false summit) where I met a guy coming back from the summit with an overnight pack.

This was the last day of his vacation and he had spent the night alone on the summit with a bivy bag. He was headed back to Ft Collins and work. After coming around the knob on the right, my altimeter read almost 14,000′. Looking up at the “summit” I smiled as the additional 433′ on this mountain looked quite long. When I reached that “summit” I smiled some more as it was a false summit with another 200 ‘ to climb. I headed to the top and arrived at 8:15, almost 3 hours exactly from when I started. The guy who had started earlier that passed me was going down about 200′ from the top so I HAD IT TO MYSELF!

On the top of Colorado and alone. This I would think is quite unusually as the summit may see a hundred people on a weekend day. It was cloudy and in the high 40’s with a moderate wind. I donned some extra clothes, ate my lunch (at 8:15) and enjoyed the view of the Ellingwood Ridge on La Plata, and Massive to the north. There were some bomb proof rock circles at the top that someone over the years had put a lot of effort into constructing. I looked everywhere for a register to confirm my partner had climbed Elbert last week, but could not find one.

After about 20 mins my hands started to get numb so I headed down, using my trekking poles to make excellent time on the trail. I passed at least 45+ people on their way up my route and could see at least 20 people on the SE ridge silhouetted against the sky. I smiled to everyone knowing what crowded summit it was going to be shortly. I did meet lots of nice people though, one a college student working for the forest service during the summer. She was on a hike to the summit just to check on people’s safety. That’s the kind of job I need!

I reached my car at the trailhead at 10:13am, and found the parking lot full. It is also the lot for Mt Massive, but most I would say were on Elbert. I contemplated going up Massive since I was here, but another 13 miles and the need to get back to the family nixed that idea. Although Elbert is a popular mountain for tourists visiting Colorado it is a very beautiful mountain to climb and with the good trail, very enjoyable. If you want solitude, start early and on a weekday. Happy hiking!

Sawatch Range, 9 miles, 4400’ elevation gain, 4 hours 56 minutes