Trails traveled: North Mount Elbert Trail, Difficulty: Black (Difficult), Class I
Out-and-Back, 9.5 miles round-trip, 4,700ft elevation gain, Summit elevation: 14,440ft.
Time: 6 hours
Weather: Clear, Windy
- Tallest Mountain Colorado
- Early riser
This is probably the last fourteener of the season for me. It is starting to get cold here. We are supposed to get snow in the suburbs on Thursday, which will likely signal the beginning of the end of Fall here in Colorado.
I wanted to get one last big hike in before it got unbearable up at the higher elevations, so I went for the biggest of all the mountains in Colorado: Mount Elbert. At 14,440 feet, Elbert is the tallest mountain in Colorado and the second tallest in the continental United States, behind only Mount Whitney in California.
It is a long hike at 9.5 miles and there is some good elevation gain of about 4,700 feet. I prepared the night before and got to bed early so I could get to the trailhead around sunrise at 7 am. I planned for the hike to take about seven hours so I wanted to make sure that I was off of the summit just in case afternoon storms rolled in.
The main concern on the hike was actually the cold. I had several layers and my heavy winter coat (which was too heavy on the hot hike back to the car). I also had a balaclava, a beanie, and winter gloves. What I found was that on the northwest side of the mountain as the mountain blocked out the sun, the wind and cold really intensified. I was glad I had all my gear, even if the hike back was a bit uncomfortable.
Where it is located in the Sawatch Range, and kind of centered in the middle of the high country in Colorado, the panoramic views were epic. Also being on the highest peak in the state, you could see all the big mountains around for miles, especially since the day was so clear. The nearest fourteener to Elbert is Mount Massive, which is only about 10 feet shorter than Elbert. It is the second tallest mountain in Colorado.
La Plata Peak is another nearby fourteener that is also very high. It has a unique shape as seen from Mount Elbert.
My favorite part about hiking fourteeners are the people you meet. Three guys that made it to the summit about five minutes before me biked up Mount Elbert and then rode the trail back down. They said they started at about 5 am! I also love encouraging the people on their way up after I leave the summit. I had just been there and I know how hard it is. I like to tell them to keep going and just take one step at a time. It’s fun when you can’t really see the route when you are near the top and you get to encourage them that it is only a little bit further. The moments are brief, but I like to see people’s faces light up when they come to the realization that they really are almost there.