Black Cloud Gulch 8/03

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      [Ed: Imported from Americas Roof ‘Summit Trip Reports’ forum]
      [By: markv on September 4 2003 at 3:35 PM]

      I stood atop Elbert yesterday, and my calves may never forgive me. True to form for me, i made this highpoint as difficult as possible. With Rainier looming in 3 weeks, i decided for practice to load up a 50lb. pack and head up the Black Cloud Gulch route of Elbert.

      First, if you are approaching the trailhead from the west on route 82, there is no sign! It’s the first turnoff on the left after the Mt. Elbert Lodge, and if you pass the red barn on your right you’ve gone too far. Do a U-turn, and you’ll see a small sign as you re-approach from the east.

      I started in the mid-afternoon, planning to go halfway up and camp. The trail was steep, the creek was running very well, and the route was obvious. I crossed paths with 3 other people, (and except for the peak itself, saw no one at all on the 2nd day.) I wasted an hour or more trying to find a suitably flat place to camp at 12,000+ feet, and ended up with my tent on an incline. I will never ever do THAT again. What a long night. Anyway, temps stayed in the 40s overnight, there were only a few sprinkles of rain, i saw 3 deer, and the views from this last bit of treeline were stupendous. If you’re planning on camping on the route, i now know of a few perfect places where i SHOULD have camped, down around 11,500 ft…if you want to email me, i can try to describe where they are.

      A word about route-finding in Black Cloud Gulch. The most useful topo/directional aid turned out to be a tiny trail pamphlet written as a project by a non-native english speaker, that the Leadville Ranger Station sent out to me by mail. If you call them ahead of time, ask for it! The visible “trail” IS the one described in this pamphlet, and is the route described in Colorado Fourteeners. If you are looking for the 2 “alternate routes” in that book, or for the trails mapped on or, good luck. There aren’t any visible junctions with the one real trail, which is actually NOT described and shown on those websites. At least when going UP, stick with the visible trail as it heads due north, and past the cabin ruins (about the size of an outhouse) bending northeast to the ridgeline.

      The 2nd day i started before dawn, since i couldn’t sleep anyway. The switchbacks north/northeast from 12,200 up to 13,800 were brutal with a full pack and no rest. I thought when i had filled up over a gallon of water at the last crossing of Black Cloud Creek (marked well on the map) i was just adding weight to my pack for training purposes, but i ended up drinking all of it before returning to the creek in the afternoon. I summitted S. Elbert and followed the ridgeline to the main peak, where i found about 10 people who had approached from the main trail from the east. They either must have been faster than me or started even earlier. I had been psyched to be perhaps the highest person in the continental U.S. that morning, but by summitting at 9:30 a.m., i wasn’t even close. Oh well. Total hiking time up (remember this was with full pack, so don’t laugh at me too hard) was 7 hours.

      On the way down, i decided to try to go “alternate route 1.” There was no trail going this way, but heading down and knowing where i was aiming to come out, it worked. At the saddle below the peak, i headed due south downslope. If you’ve been on the rockslide going from King’s Peak down to Dollar Lake and Henry’s Fork in Utah, you have an almost exact idea what this route down Elbert was like. Fun. Or not, depending on if you like picking and shooshing your way down steep loose rock. I aimed for the lake from which Black Cloud Creek begins, and then headed along the north/east bank of the creek for about the 2 miles until i intersected the main trail from the previous day. The terrain was mostly too good to call bushwacking…mostly open meadow, with a few rockfields to cross, and some overgrown bushes which mostly had deer trails through them to follow. It was isolated and classically alpine. I felt like i was the only person to try this route in a long time, but while walking on a deer trail through bushes up to my neck, i actually stepped on someone’s watch! Since it was in decent shape and still showing the correct time, i guess this route must see more use than it appears. I was glad to eventually intersect the trail again, just to know i wasn’t lost or anything, but after a few steps was wishing i was back off-trail again. Hiking time down was about 4 1/2 hours.

      I know this is a mundane and picure-less trip report, but hopefully it helps if you’re planning on this route. I really liked it, and i can’t imagine i would have liked the main approaches to Elbert as much. HP #10…next up, Rainier.

      p.s. i have a couple trail and food recommendations now for Aspen too if anyone is interested…

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