Sunday, October 02, 2011

Mount Elbert

After completing Mount Bierstadt, I began the journey westward to Mount Elbert. I stopped in Vail for a quick lunch, then jumped back onto I-70, headed south on highway 24 across Tennessee Pass, drove through Leadville, and then turned onto dusty Halfmoon Road. I arrived at the north Mount Elbert trailhead by 4pm...having a few hours to kill before sunset, I relaxed in the back of my truck and read Lord of the Rings (a classic that is long overdue on my list of books to read). Twilight finally arrived, and I settled into my sleeping bag, once again gazing upwards at millions of stars. I woke up about an hour before sunrise. The air temperature was colder than the night before, and because my sleeping bag is very effective in transporting moisture away from the interior of the bag, the outside of the bag was coated in a glaze of frost. The cold morning air motivated me to quickly get ready for the hike, and 20 minutes later, I was heading up the trail.

The initial part of this hike follows the Colorado Trail up to a ridge crest. The trail then splits, with the Colorado Trail heading south-eastward, and the North Elbert Trail heading south-westward. Above treeline, the North Elbert Trail turned out to be a non-technical, but seemingly never-ending upward journey. Viewing the terrain from below, it appeared that the summit was over the next "bump," but actually turned out to be a series of false summits. One short section, false summit #1, required a bit of class 2 "climbing" up a steep snow covered slope. There was no danger of a long fall, but a slip on the ice/snow covered slope would have been painful...so extra caution was required. Near the top of Elbert, another large snow field was encountered, followed by a walk along a ridge line to the true summit. After a little over 4 hours, 4700' of elevation gain, and 4.5 miles of hiking, I reached the highest point in Colorado. I estimated around 20 people sitting at the top, all quietly taking in the view and refueling for the trip back down. Similar to previous peaks, I found the descent to be more painful on the ankles and feet compared to the ascent. In addition, in order to cut down on weight in my backpack, I only brought one liter of liquid with me. I finished this before reaching the halfway point down the mountain...needless to say, I was dreaming of my big jug of Gatorade for quite a while.