Climbing Colorado’s Highest Peak: Mt. Elbert

Mt. Elbert in the distance on the dirt road drive to the trailhead the night before. My brain screaming, “holy crap (but not ‘crap’, the more fun S-word), I’m going to climb that tomorrow!?”

Number 1 on my summer 2018 bucket list is “Climb Mt. Elbert”, which is Colorado’s highest peak at 14,440 feet. This past weekend I checked that one off my list ✅.

Here are some of my experiences….

1. Mt. Elbert would be my 9th Colorado 14er and the first time I would camp near the trailhead the night before. Total Game Changer!

While camping at the Mt. Elbert trailhead parking lot is prohibited, I discovered a ton of dispersed camping options nearby. (Note: I camped on a Sunday night and found a campsite no problem. I would imagine Friday/Saturday nights could be trickier?) There are no amenities at these primitive campsites like water, picnic tables, or bathrooms, but they are first-come-first-served and best of all, FREE! These particular campsites did have fire pits, but the county (as is much of Colorado) is in a strict fire ban. All I needed was a quiet place to sleep before my 3:45am alarm, so this was perfect. Avoiding a 2+ hour drive from Denver right before hitting the trail: Priceless.

2. I love my Honda CRV! No, I’m not sponsored by Honda (unless they are offering 😉😉). I purchased my CRV about a year and a half ago and one of the big reasons that I picked it was for the fold down back seats. I figured it would allow me a comfy place to sleep or just relax on outdoor adventures.

I laid out my sleeping pad and bag and had plenty of room to sleep. I took this pic while reading and enjoying the serene forest all around me. I do love sleeping in a tent, but it was nice not to have to tear down a tent in the early morning hours before the hike. When my alarm rang, I literally crawled out of my bag, got in the driver seat, and drove the three minutes to the trailhead parking lot.

3. I arrived the night before my hike a couple of hours before sunset which gave me a chance to explore the area. Halfmoon Road (the dirt road to the trailhead) as I mentioned has lots of dispersed camping, but there are also a couple of pay campgrounds, Halfmoon Creek East and Halfmoon Creek West. Both were $20 per night and had vault toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. The sites were very scenic, private, and close to Halfmoon Creek, which I guess is a given considering their name. Duh!

4. Checking the weather ahead of time is essential, especially this time of year in Colorado in which dangerous afternoon thunderstorms are a concern. Starting a 14er hike before sunrise is always a good idea. Bonus: you get to see a beautiful sunrise!

The first two miles or so of the hike up Mt. Elbert are in the trees.

Finally time to take off the headlamp.

5. Although Mt. Elbert is rated a class 1 hike via the Northeast Ridge, it is long, 9 Miles roundtrip with a total elevation gain of 4,700 feet.

Coming out of the trees is a nice milestone: about halfway to the summit!

Treeline is approximately 11,900 feet.

6. In my pack, I had stashed the printed route info for the hike from http://www.14ers.com.

This trail is pretty well defined and heavily trafficked, even on a Monday morning, but it was still nice to see where I was and at what elevation. Plus at the summit, two guys asked me if I knew the names of peaks in the distance. I whipped out the paper and the final two illustrations had the peaks labeled.

7. Elbert’s next door neighbor….

This is Mt. Massive, the second highest peak in Colorado at 14,421ft. The trailhead is actually only a half mile from the Elbert trailhead.

8. June is a terrific time for colorful high altitude wildflowers on the trail above treeline.

9. I was warned ahead of time that Elbert has a few false summits. One person said 4, another 5, but I really only thought 2. Here is one:

10. Will the real summit please stand up?

The ridge leading to the summit looked daunting and long, but I was surprised. It took less than 10 minutes from this spot and it was very easy to navigate (not as rocky and scramble-y as some summits).

11. Ah yes! The summit! My 9th Colorado 14er and 2nd solo 14er.

After 5 hours (damn I’m slow…haha!), I finally made it to the very top of Colorado’s highest peak and the second highest peak in the lower 48 states. (Mt. Whitney in California is numero uno at 14,505 feet….shout out to Aaron who summited Whitney May 2018🎉)

Summit marker.

The view of Twin Lakes from the summit.

Picture perfect day. I actually stayed on the summit for about 30 minutes because the weather was so pleasant. I also enjoy talking to other hikers. I met people from all over the US on today’s hike. Of course, I met a fellow UB alum….we Buffalonians are everywhere!

One last view from the top of Colorado before making the trek down.

12. There are several trails up Mt. Elbert. I chose the standard Northeast Ridge. I could see lots of hikers coming up the East Ridge route in the distance.

There are some signs at the summit to guide you down the correct trail. “It’s all downhill from here” is what I like to say 😉.

13. Wildlife count:

Two marmots, a brown one and a blond one. The brown one is hidden in this picture. This is my wildlife version of Where’s Waldo? Surprisingly, no mountain goats today. I did see a fellow hiker with a massive white Great Pyrenees dog that looked like a goat in the distance. I saw a handful of squirrels, chipmunks, and butterflies.

14. Going down…

With loose rock and dirt, sometimes getting down can be even trickier than going up. I always hike big, steep terrain with hiking poles. I see so many others without them, so I guess it’s a personal preference. I lost count of how many times my butt would have been on the ground without them on the steep journey down especially after my legs were tired and had turned to jello.

15. Back to the trees! A very happy sight. Also, the shady trees make a great location to stop for peanut butter and jelly sammies.

16. This is me extremely happy, super proud, and beyond pooped about 100 yards left of trail. (About 9 hours after I started in the early morning hours)

17. So long Mt. Elbert! You made for an excellent adventure for this girl and I’m driving away with a huge smile on my face.

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