South Mt. Elbert Trail 7-11-04

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      [Ed: Imported from Americas Roof ‘Summit Trip Reports’ forum]
      [By: StevenMW on July 15 2004 at 12:34 AM]

      Mt. Elbert, Colorado

      July 10-12, 2004

      Another Chance

      Last week, it bothered me that James and I were so close to attempting Mt. Elbert during my actual vacation week. Only the weather prevented an attempt on this mountain. This weekend, I would “extend” my vacation and try to go back to the mountain. This time, instead of driving all of the way, there would be a late flight to Denver. From there, a rental car would get me up I-70 to the turnoff for Leadville. From Leadville, I would go back to the trailhead near Twin Lakes. The plane arrived in Denver after 10PM. It was a little after 2AM when I arrived at the trailhead. There would be a couple of hours of rest in the car, and then the big attempt would at last begin.

      July 11, 2004

      The Climb

      Today, I climbed Mt. Elbert, the highest mountain in Colorado and the American Rockies. It would ultimately be about an 11 hour adventure from the time of the beginning of the hike to its end. This hike started at 4AM at the beginning of a four wheel drive road. Since I did not have 4WD, that would mean 1.8 miles of hiking each way to reach the Colorado Trail. It was dark, but not too bad with the headlight. A quarter moon and Venus could be seen in the predawn eastern sky. The road led through a grove of aspens and at one point, a stream had to be crossed by using slippery logs. Fortunately, one log served as a handhold. At the road’s end, a few vehicles were parked with tents set up next to them. A bridge crossed a stream here, which signaled the beginning of the Colorado Trail portion of the hike. This would last a quarter mile before reaching the registry and the turnoff for the South Mt. Elbert trail. Now, the climb would really begin. The trail ascended somewhat steep in some places through the tall aspens. Twilight was beginning as the aspens were gradually getting smaller. Along the left side of the trail was a view of one of the mountain’s many ridges. Likely, this was part of the south peak of Mt. Elbert. As the sun began to come up, the red alpenglow appeared on the face of the mountain. Eventually, the forest thinned into meadows and then disappeared. Above timberline was the trail through the alpine tundra. It was moderate in some areas and a little steeper in others as it followed a ridgeline up the mountain. A few other people were on this trail at times. Most people would move slower and slower as the elevation increased. Having just flown from Ft. Worth, the high altitude was having a definite effect. The heart rate went up with the trail. I would walk so many paces and then stop for a breather. It took some time, but it was the only real way to get up this mountain. Higher up, some cliffs and snowfields appeared. Along another ridge, I could see people climbing along it. This was the North Mt. Elbert trail which originated from the Halfmoon area. The views continued to get better and better. The trail continued up to a point where it was hard to tell where the top of the mountain was. Above a snow patch, I saw two people who had passed earlier waving at me. A guy coming down told me that it was the summit. A few final pushes led to an intersection with the North Mt. Elbert trail near some type of rock shelters. These shelters looked like they were designed to help shield tents from the wind. Just beyond this was the top of Colorado. At 10AM, I arrived on the summit after a good workout. There were about a dozen people up there with more on the way. There was a lot of room on the summit, so it gave everyone some space. I could now rest and look at the views. There were mountains in all directions. Many of them were 14,000+ peaks. This was truly the rooftop of Colorado. Very likely, few views could compare to this one. Just to the north was the second highest mountain in the state, the appropriately named Mt. Massive. To the east was a range that included the Continental Divide. The South had several peaks in the Collegiate Range and the impressive La Plata Peak. Many of these mountains were “fourteeners”. The West had a jumble of peaks including Snowmass and the Maroon Bells towards Aspen. Far down in the valley below was Leadville and the Twin Lakes area. Truly, this was a panorama. I signed the summit register with a comment about how an elliptical machine in Texas cannot truly prepare on for a climb such as this. After a long break on top of the American Rockies, it was time for the second half of the trip—the descent.

      In Search of Rest

      The descent was far easier. In some spots, I had to go slow to watch the footing. Fortunately, this was not so heart pounding as the climb. Frequently, I took photos and looked around for wildlife. A few marmots and pikas were around. The weather stayed good all day. Some people got a late start, so this would be very fortunate for them. Gradually, treeline appeared, and then the large mountain meadows. It was fairly warm at the lower elevations. Even the summit was not really that cold. With only a little wind and frequent sun, the mountain was very agreeable today. During the descent, I would stop at places to take some pictures of the sweeping landscape. Finally, I reached the register at the South Mt. Elbert trailhead. After 1/4 mile, I was across the footbridge and at the four wheel drive road again. Mentally, that road was the hardest part of the descent. At long last, the parking lot finally appeared after walking the “endless” 4WD road. I looked back up at Mt. Elbert and then drove to the campground to change and get some water refills. Driving back to Leadville, there was one last look at Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive. Leadville itself is the highest incorporated city in the US. On the way back towards I-70, I saw the only ugly sight for the day. This was the Climax molybdenum mine. Literally, a huge chunk of a mountain was destroyed leaving a large scar on the land. It was not a pretty sight. On I-70, I went back through the Eisenhower tunnel under the Continental Divide and eventually reached Denver after some heavy traffic in the mountains. I ate at Burger King and then went back to the hotel to rest before flying back early the next morning. It had been a long day, but thankfully the hike was a success. The vacation finally had closure, even if it took another weekend to finish the job! Truly, this was the most challenging high point yet for the year. No doubt, I would miss Colorado before too long.


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