We got lucky this weekend – we got to escape into the mountains for camping and hiking. We had plans with friends to camp near Twin Lakes and hike Mt Elbert…the highest mountain in Colorado.
Chris still had to work on Saturday so our weekend didn’t start until we packed everything into the car at 2am and started our drive toward Leadville. The drive was actually really peaceful. There are very few people on the road at that hour of the night and the moon was huge and so bright! Driving without headlights was actually possible…for about 30 seconds at a time…
We arrived at the campsite at 4am and took the term “car camping” very seriously as we did our best to catch some sleep in the car before the group got up to start our hike at 6am. Lynne and Alex were already at the campsite with their friends Josh and Kristy. It took us a while but eventually we got ambitious enough to get out of our sleeping bags and onto the trail.
Initially I was a little concerned about the hike. If we couldn’t make it up the 4WD road we’d be looking at a 12 mile hike, round trip. That didn’t sound all that appealing. Especially on minimal sleep. Sure, I had a 10+ mile run on my schedule for the weekend but that run would not have included 4,000 feet in elevation gain!
We lucked out again – the 4WD road was bone dry. We managed to drive all the way up to the South Elbert Trailhead which put us at about an 8 mile hike, round trip. Not bad. The road really wasn’t that bad either. A 2WD vehicle with clearance would have made it up there just fine.
…these birds are fearless – Chris held out his hand with a pinecone on it and the bird swooped down, perched on Chris’s hand, grabbed the pinecone then promptly spit it out as he flew away – Chris has this thing for feeding pinecones to wildlife…
We started out on the Colorado Trail which was deceptively easy. Before long we veered left and up the real 14er trail…immediate climbing. It may have been 36 degrees when we left the car but layers were stripped off in the first half mile of the hike. I spent the majority of the hike in capris, gaiters, a long sleeve base and a t-shirt. Depending upon the wind I’d alternate between a light zip up and my windbreaker, or neither.
The weather was perfect, the skies were beautiful, the animals were out and we were all in good spirits. We took our time with the hike averaging about a mile an hour. It was comfortable, it was fun and we had plenty of time to snack our way through our packs.
We knew this was going to be a rather snowy climb so we were prepared…at least in the gear department. We had waterproof shoes, gaiters and cold weather layers. We were ready. Well, I thought I was anyway. Climbing straight up hill in snow is not that much fun. Its actually kind of hard and rather discouraging.
Since the actual trail of switchbacks was snow covered we just headed straight up the mountain side. This ended up cutting off about a half mile, but there was a lot of steep up hill. We were basically on a long, snowy stair climber! Josh was kind enough to kick steps for us which made a huge difference but it was still a long climb nearly straight up! Those photos…are not exaggerated. We were really at that angle on the climb up, no wonder our calves are feeling it today!
Eventually we made it to the top! Oh, the glorious top of Mt Elbert. We were the highest people in the state of Colorado…which is saying a lot considering some recent changes in the laws! The hike was totally worth it. There is nothing quite as rewarding as sitting at the top of a mountain, eating a sandwich and looking out of a sea of mountain tops…that are all below your current elevation!
The summit was perfect. Very rarely do you have a chance to actually stand on the summit of a mountain 14,000 feet above sea level without battling the wind. There was barely a breeze at the top of Mt Elbert. It was a perfect day!
As soon as we had all fed our faces and took approximately 359 photos each we strapped on our spikes and headed down the mountain. Personally, I don’t think the spikes helped to much. I didn’t have the hardcore MicroSpikes like the others did but the snow was melting and slushy enough to just dig your heels into on the way down. Besides, everything below about 12,500 or so was mostly snow-free so spikes definitely were not needed there.
Usually the hike down sounds far more awesome than it is. You’d think downhill would be easier. It’s not. It does a serious number on your knees and quads. Any remotely flat ground becomes the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen, just because it gives you a minute or two to recovery. But this hike was different. There was snow. A snow covered slope has some advantages on the way down…like glissading. Which we definitely did! More on that tomorrow though…
We headed back to camp and ate our weight in chips while we waiting for 5pm to roll around – the time we deemed late enough to eat dinner without being considered “old”. Shortly after dinner Chris crashed into his sleeping bag – in the last 32 hours he had worked a 12 hour shift, slept 1 hour, hiked 8 miles up/down a 14er and only looked a little grumpy one time. I’m impressed! I stayed up for a while…until the sun was below the mountains – the time we deemed late enough to go to bed without being old. Apparently we are afraid of getting old!
It was a great weekend – we camped, we hiked, we summitted the tallest mountain in CO, we ate, we hung out with friends…and I spent two days away from my computer! I had my phone but it’s not quite smart enough to do much more than text, call and occasionally Google an interesting fact so it doesn’t really count. The computer thing alone is one reason I love escaping to the mountains!
The hike up Mt Elbert is considered to be one of the easiest 14ers – which is kind of an oxymoron because there is no such thing as an “easy 14er”. Even with the snow the East Route did not have any technical climbing or scrambling. The elevation gain was steady and not unbearable, especially if you actually took the switchbacks. Plus, the views from the top are amazing!
Check out Lynne’s version of our hike over at her blog: LGSmash!