We began the trip with a warm-up hike of Harney Peak in South Dakota. We then moved further south and did an 8 mile round trip hike to Fern Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park to acclimatize. The following day we headed toward Mt Elbert. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of making reservations on the west side of Independence Pass in Snowmass Village, about a 1 1/2 hour drive. Big mistake. I highly recommend staying in Leadville or in one of the local places near the trailhead.
We woke up at 4:00 am on a crisp morning to make the dangerous drive through Independence Pass in the dark. On the way we saw 5 Bighorn Sheep, 4 deer, 2 elk, and unfortunately ran over a rabbit. We safely arrived at the campground at about 6:00am for one last bathroom stop. The 4WD on our Ford Escape took us another half mile up the 4WD road to where we began our hike at exactly 6:18am. It had to be the most beautiful day possible on Mt Elbert. It was a clear cool morning, the temperature when we began hiking was probably around 45 degrees but it felt great. We walked across a nice bridge as we headed further into the beautiful aspen trees. After walking about 1/4 mile we came across the trail junction of the Colorado Trail and the South Mt Elbert Trail. We signed the register and were surprised by the sudden steep ascent up the mountain. Thank goodness we had lots of energy starting off. After one hour of climbing at a rate of 1,000 feet/hour we reached treeline. From then on we just kept placing one foot in front of the other until we finally reached the summit. I must say, being a flatlander, we both began to feel a little nauseous around 13,500 feet. We came across some snow that we had to cross. Nothing to extreme though. The view from the top was unreal. We shared the summit with about 20 other hikers when we arrived around 11:00am. We thought the hard part was over until we began heading back down. The 2 1/2 hour descent left us with sore feet and my husband had 5 blisters. The moral of the story is wear good shoes! I also recommend using 2 trekking poles. We got a good deal at backcountrystore.com. I highly recommend this hike for anyone looking for a challenge and a beautiful summit. Good Luck.