My first Colorado 14're - Mt. Elbert
(Switchbacks are illegal in Colorado!)

9-10 Jul 2005 - by Derek Palmer

July 8, 2005
Plane landed in Denver Friday evening and headed over to REI to pick up some bits and pieces. Had to buy fuel as you can take it on the plane with you. Got some dinner and then headed out to the North Mt. Elbert Trail Head (N39.143107, W106.397983 @ ~10,050ft). Got to the trail head about 2:30am. I was suprised to find groups heading out at that hour!! They commented that it was the only way to avoid the crowds. Additionally, it is well know that this region makes its own weather and that it's a good idea to be off the peak by early afternoon as rain and lightning are almost a daily occurence.

I decided to grab a few Z's as I was going to stretch this over two days and really chose to climb Mt. Elbert as a work up for Mt. Whitney in September.

5am July 9, 2005
Headed out with a gaggle of locals. I was very suprised to see almost everyone with no gear at all. Most had a rehydration pack and a jacket and hiking poles and that was it. I've always taken the ten essentials, rain gear and extra food as a minimum. I learned very quickly that trail builders in Colorado don't believe in switchbacks! I think they must be illegal. Most of the trail was straight up the mountain. I'd brought a 35 pound pack to get a good workout. Boy did I ever!

The first part of the climb was to get up on top of the North ridgeline that I would follow to the top. I started out crossing Elbert Creek and then working my way up to the ridgeline separating Elbert Creek and Box Creek. This is the North Mt. Elbert Trail. At about 10,600ft you come to a split in the trail. Taking the right trail took me up the North Mt. Elbert Trail. Continuing left would have taken me to the SE over Herrington Creek to a NW ridge climbing parallel to Bartlett Creek.

Having read many of the post on this website I was ready for the many false summits. Once on the ridge the trail heads SW strait up the mountain. There is a long climb to get out of the trees and then a bit more gets you to the first plateau and a nice rest. This was at about 12,700ft. I'd planned to turn due south here and find a nice camp in the tarn below the summit wall. The views were amazing. There's even a beautiful lake in the tarn formed by the snow melt off the walls surrounding me on three sides. This is the beginning of Box Creek.

I set up camp and started my lunch. It was still late morning so I ate lunch and started exploring a bit. The wildflowers were spectacular. I found large patches of purple Halli's Beardstongue and yellow Alpine Sunflower. As promised by about 2:30pm the first of two rainstorms crested the peak from the backside, so I crawled into my tent and caught up my journal.

At around 4pm the skys lightened up again and I decided to do a water run. There were plenty of small streams running out from under the many snow fields, so I pulled out my filter and topped off a few water bottles. Do this in the late afternoon as in the AM the snow hasn't warmed up enough to flow water and you'll have to trek over to the lake for water. Took lots of photos of the sunset and hit the sack around 7:30pm at the prevous night I didn't sleep much.

4am July 10, 2005
Got a early start so I could finish breakfast and still have time to photograph the spectacular sunrise. The entire wall at the back of the tarn was lit up with a morning alpine glow. That was something to behold. I left my gear and headout with my daypack for the peak at around 5:30am. Climbing out of the tarn was a bit of work, but nothing compared trail climbing along side the tarn up to the next plateau opposite the wall. At points this trail was easily a 35-40deg slope. No sections were technical, just steeper. This was the second false summit! I'd brought my topo so I know there was another large dome ahead that I'd have to climb. The trail looked like it went straight over the rock dome, but instead turned right and worked it's way around the dome to and plateau behind the dome. At this point I'm at around 13,700ft. This was the 3rd false summit! At this point I was above the wall over the tarn and my campsite so I venture SE off the trail to get some photos from the top of the wall. My tent was a speck on the ground at this point. I got some great shots of the lake.

From this point it looked like a straight run to the peak. Again, very steep. But, as before, you get to the top breathing hard from the altitude. I'm a California flatlander, so this was harder for me than the locals who just streamed up the hill. I could see an entire string of bodies already coming out of the treeline below. I met up with a nice couple that had setup camp next to the lake below not far from my camp. We were the only ones up this high.

After a short breather, I finished the last section to the peak. From this last plateau it was only a short climb out along a spine to the peak. It's a narrow spine that affords some spectacular views of Mt. Massive to the north and the many mountains surrounding the area.

We all took a moment to sign the summit log. It was full and the first date in the log was only two weeks previous! We did find a blank line or two. The wind was pretty vicious. Be sure to bring a windbreaker and a fleece layer. I took some time to have a good second breakfast before heading down.

As I said before, it is steep. I underestimated how much work it is to decend a trail this steep. My thighs were burning the entire trip down. I saw more than a few folks slip and plant there behind on some ugly stones!

With some time to spare I tried to make a day of Mt. Massive as well. Big mistake! My legs were Jello by the time I reached the treeline on Massive. I was smart enough to turn around and head to the jacuzzi back at the hotel in Leadville! ;-) BTW, Bill's Sport Shop has all the pins and patches for the 52 14'ers in Colorado. I also got great advice from the nice young lady at the hotel for dinner. Quincy's does a fantastic filet mignon. They should, it's the only item on the menu! The best part of my trip? Since I was out in Boulder on company business, I expensed the entire trip. That's my idea of a great ending.

To file a trip report, please fill in the Report Entry form or contact the webmaster.