Mount Elbert…or 14ers are hard.
2016 has been a great year for adventure, but finding time to sit down to write has been a bit of a challenge. Mother Nature has decided to intercede on behalf of our tiny blog audience by laying me low with a nasty cold that has made my biggest adventure of this week being a trip to the grocery store for chicken soup and cold medicine.
Today I have the chance to reflect back on a late July hike up Mount Elbert. At about 14,440 feet in elevation at its peak, Mount Elbert is the tallest mountain in Colorado. The cute mountain town of Leadville is nestled near the base of Mount Elbert and her neighbor, Mount Massive. There are 4 routes to the top and I chose the East Ridge as it is the shortest route with the least elevation gain. It’s probably the easiest route, but when you’re talking about 14ers, there are no easy routes (unless you drive up Mount Evans or take the Cog Railway up Pikes Peak) A beautiful drive past the Twin Lakes takes you to the a nice camping area and the trailhead. Those without 4wd need to park near the campground and hike to the trailhead. This will add 4 miles and 900 feet of elevation gain to the hike, so 4wd is highly recommended. The trail starts to climb about 1/4 mile in and rarely lets up until you get to the top. Up, up, up you go, through a pleasant mixed confier/aspen forest.
As soon as you break tree line, the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys below open up and become more beautiful and impressive the higher you go. Of course, once you get above tree line, trying to breath in air devoid of oxygen, the views become secondary to trying to oxygenate your body while performing strenuous exercise. Everyone has a different level of fitness, but the oxygen deprivation becomes a great leveler. With the exception of a few super-athletes, the closer to the summit you get, the slower the going gets. Above 13,000 feet, you start to wonder why the hell you’re doing this. You concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and are acutely aware that your hiking pace has slowed dramatically and continues to slow the closer to the summit you get. 14ers are a beast to hike and that last 1/2 mile to the summit is always an excruciatingly slow struggle.
It’s all worth it when you reach the summit. The summits of 14ers in Colorado are rarely lonely places. I’m always amazed by how many people are willing to make the trek. There’s always a jovial, party type atmosphere at the summit, with people bounding over the rocky terrain to take in the views and groups of hardy hikers rewarding themselves picnic lunches. Fluffy Dog and I enjoyed our own summit sandwich and cookies before heading back down.
Getting a little older means more aches and pains going down than up, but after a bunch of Ibuprofen and hot tub time, I’ll be ready to tackle another of Colorados amazing 14,000+ foot mountains.