It seemed like we would never make it to Mount Elbert. Our original plan was to leave on Thursday night so we could avoid the crowds, but after working late we didn't have the energy to pack and hit the road. Instead we decided to leave Friday and sunrise hike on Saturday.
On the drive to the mountain a control arm broke in our van while we were grabbing lunch in Silverthorne. We deemed it unsafe to drive and had it towed. The auto shop confirmed that it was dangerous to drive, but they would not be able to find the necessary parts to fix it until Monday.
Determined to not lose our weekend we walked to an Enterprise and rented a car. Thankfully we had enough camping gear stashed in our van that we were able to transfer our things and get back on the road. We arrived at the base of Elbert just after dark.
Karrie and I set up camp at one of the many dispersed camping sites on the road in and fell asleep at 8pm. It had been a long and challenging day of logistics so we were spent. We were also planning to wake up at 4:45am to start our sunrise hike.
Ocotber 10, 2015
Last night was some of the best sleep we've had in awhile. It's been too long since we last tent camped. The sleep was so good that we snoozed passed our planned start time by 30 minutes. I have heard horror stories about the insane number of people attempting to hike Mount Elbert on any given weekend and was relieved to find only a few cars in the parking lot and no humans to speak of as we set off down the CDT by headlamp.
The stars were amazing. Orion and his dog, the seven sisters, a crescent moon, and a few extra bright planets were the most noticeable features lighting up the sky this morning. The first mile was relatively flat and easy. Then we left the CDT and headed up the Mount Elbert trail, here we began to slowly climb.
As we made our way up, a soft glow began to appear to the east. The beautiful warm colors continued to grow as we climbed. I hoped that we would reach treeline in time for the actual sunrise, but we were just short. However, we did find a small clearing where we enjoyed the show and snapped some photos.
Above treeline we had a clear view of the trail as it became steeper and seemed to climb straight up to the shoulder of Mt. Elbert. I was surprised that we couldn't see anyone ahead of us. We hiked on taking numerous breaks in the steeper sections. Eventually we reached the shoulder of the mountain (the first of 2 false summits), I looked back down towards the treeline and was again surprised to see that no one was on the mile of trail behind us.
After one more false summit we arrived at the top of Mt. Elbert where we were greeted by a friendly group of 6 people. Up to this point we hadn't seen a soul all morning. We all had fun congratulating one another, taking photos, and checking out the different peaks around us using a new app I had downloaded on my phone called "Peak Finder." We had excellent views of Massive to the north, La Plata and Huron to the South, Maroon Bells and Capital to our West, and to our surprise, a stunning view of Pikes Peak in the east.
The skies were clear and the air was fairly warm and still at the top so we enjoyed the peak for a while. Not too much later, we were joined by a guy from South Carolina who is working on climbing all 50 state high points (a feat that Karrie and I just recently decided we will attempt as well.) This peakbagger had only climbed 15 so far, but he was starting with some of the most difficult: Rainier, Hood, Denali, Whitney, and now Elbert. I enjoyed hearing his stories from other climbs.
Soon the summit was filling up with hikers, dogs, and even a few mountain bikers so we decided to start our descent. Now the mountain was lined with hikers dotting the trail all the way down toward treeline. It still wasn't terribly crowded though. More like a normal summer Saturday 14er, but in this case it's an unseasonably warm day in mid-October.
We made it down safely completing a journey that feels like it started about 36 hours ago when we had originally planned on leaving. I felt relieved.
Note: Elbert is listed on some websites as the "easiest 14er." I do not believe this is true and many of the folks I talked with today agreed. Sherman and Quandary are definitely easier and it could be argued that some other class 1 hikes are as well. My theory is that everyone is directed to Elbert because it is the highest in the state, still relatively easy, and it concentrates human impact on one mountain.
I have heard people describe weekend hikes on Elbert as “a disorganized parade” and “not at all like a communion with nature.” If you plan to hike this peak I recommend a weekday or the offseason. As always, please do your best to preserve this natural area by following LNT principles and obeying the signs.