Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby Schoenhofer » Mon Jul 16, 2012 11:26 pm

I was driving through the Mt. Elbert area in September of 2010, stopped at the Black Cloud trail head, and just knew I had to come back some day. Now I'm making plans for another trip this September to include this. I started to research this and came across this place. What a great site!

My wife, my father, and I are planning on hiking Mt. Elbert on Labor Day. Since I am completely new to climbing mountains, or even long hikes, I plan to pick up some gear soon. I know there are probably some threads on this forum that cover some of my questions, and I will continue to search, but I see there is an abundance of experts here who could possibly help with some of these inquiries.

*A couple of things will make this a challenge. First, this will be the first day at high elevation for us on this vacation. Coming from Wichita, KS. Planning on staying in Buena Vista the night before. Next, my father has bad knees. I don't ever have a problem with high elevation, but my father, 56, may. As to his ability, we are working at getting him in condition, doing stair machines and such. It's an uncertainty. Assuming he can make it, but at a slow pace, what would be a reasonable estimate for time to summit? I've read to allow 8-10+ hours for the round trip. 5 to 7 hours to summit and 3 back down?

*We plan on taking an AWD Hyundai Sante Fe up to the East trail head (route 2 on this site). Looks like this trail is a little shorter than the North trail with a more consistent grade without any significant steep places. How do these routes compare for those that have climbed them? Is the East trail about an hour shorter, and a little easier?

*Would you expect it to be crowded on Labor Day? I think we could start hiking by 5am. Will there still be parking then?

*Are there any good 24 hour restaurants in Buena Vista? Seems like some breakfast would be good for keeping the energy level up during the hike.

*I really want to do Mt. Elbert, but in case we end up short on time, are there other peaks in the area that require less time to summit? Coming from Buena Vista, headed towards Aspen later that day. Looks like Mt. Sherman and Mt. Democrat are close to Leadville. Would these be the best choices for a back up plan?

-Any idea what the temperature at 10,400 trail head will be at 5am?
-How about at the summit at 10am?
-And coming back down during the warmest part of the day?
-I would guess a mountain top could warm up 40+ degrees, but if it's usually covered in clouds, perhaps not?
-Maybe 35 degree start, 20 degrees at summit, and 55 degrees later on?
-When does all the snow melt, by July? But does it start snowing again by early September?
-How about rain? I looked at the forecast on this site and this time of year shows about a 60% chance of rain at any given moment all week long. -Is September similar?
-I noticed Twin Lakes doesn't even average 10 inches of precipitation per year. Is this because weather approaches from the West and it's in the rain blind side of the mountain?
-Be off the summit by 12 noon?

-Backpack. I'm looking for a good pack of the right size for under $100. Many sites recommend High Sierra for value. I've found the 35L for $64, the 45L for $73, and the 55L for $99. I think the 55L is more than I need for size, but want to decide between 35 and 45. I'll be using this for day hikes unless I decide to start doing hiking/camping trips. I do plan on doing the Maroon Bells trail and some more hiking in RMNP on this trip. I like the idea of having chest and hip straps to keep the weight off the back. A lot of packs to choose from. I will go to try some on tomorrow. Any suggestions or things to keep in mind?
-All I really plan on bringing is clothes and water and some snack food. My car's GPS, a camera, maybe I can find a trail map. Anything else important to bring along?
-3L water per person is the recommendation? That would be a little more than a 24 pack of 12 oz bottles. Just under 20 lbs. What is the best way to carry the water? In the bottles? How would the pack mentioned previously do with this? I have a 2nd pack that my wife could wear to carry a minimal amount.

-Shoes. I want to get a pair of hiking shoes for a minimal expense. Especially in the event that I order them online and can't try them on first. I will firest try a few places here in town. If I buy online, so far I've found has really inexpensive Nevado's and has Columbia Walla Wallas for under $50. Everything recommends boots over shoes, but I've always felt better in shoes. Maybe because boots are so heavy. Any recommendations for good sturdy shoes with ankle support or light weight boots? Ideally, I'd like something comfortable I could use for disc golf or other outdoor activities as well.
-Jacket. I've got a Columbia light weight rain coat / windbreaker that I think will work.
-Wool socks and hat. Might not be that cold this time of year, but it will be good to have.
-Under Layer. So long johns are good for under clothing, but cotton is bad? What should I get, polypropylene?
-Pants. I think I can just take off my upper layers if it gets hot, so I'm not worried about a convertible pair of trousers/ shorts. What is a good lightweight synthetic pants for $40 or less?

I'm highly anticipating this trip! Thanks for any advice!!
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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby somethingrandom » Mon Jul 16, 2012 11:34 pm

East Elbert climb is definitely the better one.

Not to mitigate your long post, but take a lot of water, start early, and you have a good shot at success. The trail up is quite steep (1200/mi) but also well defined car-summit-car so if one/more parties cant make the summit and turn around, its entirely doable. Just enjoy it.
-Just as soon as you idiot proof something, some a**hole is just going to come along and make a better idiot.

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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby pseudoghost » Tue Jul 17, 2012 5:59 am

My general rule of thumb for pacing is that you will not go faster than 1 mph ascending. As flatlanders, I'd say you'd be lucky to push 3/4 of a mile per hour with the elevation (Elbert is quite steep whichever way you approach). Plan for the same time down as up.

- I don't think there are any 24 hour diners in BV or Leadville, so you'll have to make your own breakfast. The closest restaurant likely to be open at that hour would be on I-70...

- There should be plenty of parking by 5AM, but you probably will want to leave earlier than that if you want to summit. We can still get afternoon thunderstorms in early September, so you want to be well on your way down by noon. I cannot stress that enough.

- Sherman from Leadville is probably the best bet for you (as there's a TH and well marked path that you can take to the summit from there). Democrat would require quite a drive around to get to the standard access for it, access from Leadville's side is probably not recommended for a newbie.

- As far as weather goes, I'd assume it will be in the mid 30s at the TH when you start. As soon as the sun pokes out, it will warm rapidly. Most summits will be between 50-70 degrees by mid day (but it can be chilly on top, so make sure to have jackets). All the snow is already melted this year. September is historically the best month to climb: no snow, and reduced chance for afternoon thunderstorms. However, that's not a guarantee. You need to watch the forecast closely, and watch the weather as you climb. Elbert is better than other peaks because you have more visibility of what's coming at you, but you still need to know when to turn around.

Good luck
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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby gdthomas » Tue Jul 17, 2012 7:30 am

All things considered, I'd forget Mt. Elbert and climb Sherman from Iowa Gulch. Elbert is 4,100' vertical from the 4WD trailhead. I'm not sure your car will get you there. If not, your planned route is 4,900' vertical and that's too much for your group. You don't want to test your father's fitness and knees on a mountain with more than about 3,000' vertical. If he gets tired and his knees start to bark at him, it'll take FOREVER to get down. Whatever you end up climbing, tell your dad to invest in telescoping trekking poles. His knees will love him for it.
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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby rijaca » Tue Jul 17, 2012 7:33 am

Regardless of which mountain you end up hiking, carry:

headlamp (flashlight)
map and compass
food and water
rain shell
Dick says Dump drumpf.
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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby LoneStar » Tue Jul 17, 2012 8:41 am

I successfully summited via the East Ridge route on June 24. Here are some impressions from that trip that may help you in your consideration:

1) Like you, I am a flatlander. However, I had been up in the mountains of central Colorado for a week prior to my climb. I am convinced this makes a difference for me. I done climbs previously - Humboldt last year and Grays the year before - where I basically just drove in and started hiking the next morning ... felt like dookie (can I say that on 14ers? :D ) Worked through it both times, but the start was rough. So that consideration ought to come into play for you and your party.

2) I am 55 and my fitness routine here in the gentle surroundings of the Texas Hill Country consists largely of walking the dogs in the evenings. That is to my detriment on my excursions to Colorado, no doubt. So, no extreme athlete here ... but if I had "bad knees" like your father, I'm not sure that Elbert - because of the fairly aggressive elevation gain - would be my choice. One of the things that struck me about the East Ridge route was the immediate and unrelenting gain once you turn off the Colorado Trail (just a matter of several hundred yards, I suppose) and onto the East Ridge trail proper. It felt like that trail was right in your face for the early going through the trees. It eventually leveled out on some nice meadow stretches, but by then you knew you had put in some work.

3) I'm a slow hiker so I knew I wanted to start early. I camped at the trailhead, woke up at about 4:30 and was moving up the trail by 5:00-5:15. It took me 5 hours, 20 minutes to summit. So thumbs up on the early start. (I think it took me 2.5 hours coming down ... very limited stops.)

4) I drove to the trailhead in a 4wd Sequoia. I saw one sedan up there ... don't know if it was AWD or not. This did not strike me as an overly difficult road, but it is rated as 4WD, so be on notice. There was a creek crossing, no big deal in the Sequoia. As has already been noted, if you have to park at the 2WD lot, you hike in will be extended and that part does not look like a lot of fun. ... always possible to catch a ride both going up and ... later ... coming down. But can't count on that.

5) East Ridge trail was not crowded. I guess it is a little more difficult to access than the Northeast Ridge?

6) All of that said, the views at the top are wonderful and the sense of accomplishment is rewarding. I've not doubt that the same can be said for Sherman or any other option you may choose, as well.

Good luck and enjoy.
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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby edhaman » Tue Jul 17, 2012 9:00 am

I would agree with everything that's been said, especially the comments of gdthomas and LoneStar. Elbert was my first 14er, and first mountain. My age at the time was 44 and I was in Colorado on vacation from Florida. It took us 7 hours up and 5 hours down by the East trail. My general comment to people who've never climbed a 14er is that you really have no idea what it takes until you do it, and it will probably take longer than you think.

In my more recent climbing I've occasionally had knee problems. The last time was a few weeks ago on a 13er, and the pain on the descent probably slowed me to about 1 mph. I highly recommend hiking poles for everyone. Definitely make sure your dad has hiking poles. They can make all the difference on the knees, especially descending.
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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby thetoddman » Tue Jul 17, 2012 10:44 am

I think that the best advice you've gotten thus far is to choose a different mountain with less vertical and less total distance. You say that you have no problem with altitude, but you won't know until you've exerted yourself at that elevation and in all likelyhood, one of the three of you may experience some degree of high-altitude effects.

Concerning your weather questions - you've asked nothing about lightning which should be one of your chief concerns. Labor day would be toward the end of the monsoon season here, but lightning is still a very real possibility and I'd plan on being at whatever summit you decide on around 10am and back to treeline elevation and off exposed ridgelines by noon. Therefore, an item of equipment you may want to consider is a headlamp, so that you can get an early enough start. If you insist on Elbert, I'd probably aim for a start closer to 4am. With bad knees, your father's descent time will likely be the same as his ascent.

And as far as crowds on Labor Day, you won't be able to find a 14er that won't have a conga line all the way to the top! :)

Good luck with whatever you decide.
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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby Jim Davies » Tue Jul 17, 2012 8:56 pm

If you haven't already, read this.

Since you're starting in Buena Vista, I'd recommend Sherman from the east side (Leavick). Your car can probably make it to the end of the road, which will make for a fairly short hike, and the route goes through some interesting mining ruins. Elbert is not a good choice for a first-timer, as it's pretty long. The Leadville-side route up Sherman is also pretty short, but it's kind of a nasty trail with a lot of loose stuff, which you might not enjoy as much.

Weather that time of year is as good as it gets here. Don't listen to the masochists telling you to start at 4 am, as there probably won't be a thunderstorm all day; 7 or 8 am should be plenty early on a typical early-September day for Sherman. Just to be sure, check the forecast for the peak you're climbing as close as possible to the date you're going; especially look for the "hourly weather graphs" link, which will give you a good idea of what temperatures to expect throughout the day. Take extra clothing, gloves, hat, raingear, sufficient water (2 liters should be enough for Sherman, people vary in what they need).
Climbing at altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall — it's great when you stop. -- Chris Darwin
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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby Schoenhofer » Fri Jul 20, 2012 7:07 am

Wow, thanks to all for sharing! Great info here.

As far as my fitness, I don't know how to best describe. I'm 33, thin, and can run a few miles. But I haven't been pursuing getting in better shape until the last couple weeks. It seems to be progressing well as I'm putting a lot of cardiovascular work in. My wife is working hard at it too. She's pretty excited about this as well. I say I do well in the altitude because I feel good there. I have asthma, though not nearly as bad as I used to. But when up in the mountain air, I never have any problems breathing. True, I have never attempted anything this strenuous!

We will definitely get trekking poles for my dad, great suggestion. Seems like he'd be about 120 cm, but I'll make sure to get the telescoping type. I think he will be the most likely to get altitude sickness. I've read that you can take Diamox to increase the acclimatization. But if you take too much, it will reduce your performance? Would this be worth trying? Last time we went, he did suffer some effects. He had the biggest problem sleeping in Leadville the first night. So we want to sleep in Buena Vista this time. I guess our options are climb Elbert without him. He would take the car for a round of golf and come back and wait for us. Or climb with him and see how he is doing after the first 1000' vertical feet. I think it would be worse to drag him up 3000' and exhaust him thoroughly and have to send him back down. Or do as many suggest here and go for Mt. Sherman. If we do Sherman, I would think we'd have to approach from the West as it's too far to drive around.
Question: they say the main key in preventing altitude sickness is ascending slowly. If we were climbing Mt. Sherman, we'd actually be ascending faster because we'd be taking a vehicle to 12,000'. Is this just in general, or does it mean don't get too oxygen deprived when hiking? Take frequent breaks to restore the O2? Do you ever take your pulse when hiking to see if it is getting too high? How about those devices that attach to a finger and measure your oxygen level in the blood? I'd imaging those have got to be really expensive, but it would be the best piece of safety information you could have.

If we do Elbert, we'll try to be going up well before 5am. Sounds like 7am would be fine for Sherman.

My biggest question still lies with the weather. First, what direction does it usually come from? I would guess the West. Coming from the East, can you see around Elbert well enough to see what's coming? The weather link to the national weather service on this site:
This shows the weather at 13,261. So I supposed we just subtract 5 degrees roughly to find the summit weather. I notice that most of the days only warm up about 15 degrees here and the lows aren't any colder than Leadville. I find this odd, as I would expect it to warm up 40 degrees or more each day in that thin air. Like ranging from 20 to 60 instead of 40 to 55. Unless it is constantly cloudy with no sun? And where did you find the hourly forecast? has an hourly forecast, but the closest I can get is Leadville, which I suppose could give me an approximation of the weather at the trail head. Also, how are you finding past weather, or weather averages for September? I just want to get as good of a guess range as possible so I can buy gear. Some are saying it will be 30 degrees warmer at the summit and some are saying it will be 30 degrees colder!

For gear, I still need to buy a lot of stuff.
-For the backpack, there are so many options, but I've read High Sierra is a good economical option. So I tried on a Hawk 45. How does this pack compare to their Summit 45? It says regular fit, torso sizes 15 to 19 and height range 68 to 72. I am 5'7 and the pack fit fine, although I may have had to tighten it up a bit more than halfway, leaving some loose straps hanging. I read how to measure the torso length and I am a 21. So according to this, I am both too short for this pack and my torso is too long? This makes no sense at all. Nobody who is 70" tall is going to have a torso shorter than 19".
It seems like the packs 55 and larger have a better frame for carrying more weight. While packs 35 and smaller have the lightweight advantage. I'm almost thinking to get two of them. One that I know can hold some weight and still feel comfortable and another for my wife. We have a standard backpack with just the shoulder straps that I've used on a hike before. On a climb like Elbert, does even a light pack need to have some hip straps to keep it from becoming uncomfortable? I plan on carrying water for myself and my dad with my wife carrying hers. If I carry 6L, that will be about 13 lbs. Sounds like I should have my dad carry the lightest pack empty that way I can give him his water if he needs to return to lower elevation. So I do need to buy two packs.
-I think I will get a 3L bladder to reduce the number of plastic bottles I have to carry. I'm hearing Camelbak is the best. Is $35 a decent price for one of these?
-Is there any decent trail GPS for $100? The car GPS doesn't actually measure elevation right? It just reads from points measured on roads only?
-An alternative to buying an additional GPS would be buying a compass, altimeter, and trail map? Compasses are cheap, but how about altimeters? I will probably want a trail map regardless if I get a GPS or not. What is the best place to pick one up for around $10 or less?
-I have a headlamp, but it's not nearly as bright as I read it would be. What is a good bright one for $40 or less?
-What are some good foods for bringing along on a hike? I'm sure there are infinite options, but what works good for you, keeping the energy level up?
-Will bring sunscreen, sunglasses, multi-tool, thermometer. Is there safety equipment I am forgetting? What do people pack in a first aid kit that's worth it's weight?

For clothing, I'm thinking something like this.
-Long underwear. Mine are cotton, so I'll have to buy some polypropylene or wool. The wool I saw was outrageously expensive. If it gets too warm, I may have to take these off.
-Pants. I have some really light weight black rain resistant pants I could use, but I wanted something that looked nicer. Nylon and khaki color or the like. Could be convertibles, but wouldn't have to be. Everything is $50 or more so far. Any good options?
-Jacket. I have a really light weight Columbia rain jacket/ wind breaker that should be good.
-Gloves and Hat and socks. Need wool hat and socks. I want to find some wool socks that aren't super thick.
-Shoes. Still looking for a pair of good hiking boots or shoes. Hesitant to buy online, but the prices are much better.
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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby bf31415 » Fri Jul 20, 2012 7:50 am

Summer conditions ends mid August on 14ers (in my experience). So if you're going labor day, it could be pretty cool on the trail and summit. And it's always windy on Sherman.

Some other items you might consider:

* Ski type hat.

* I've carried my sub-zero type balaclava and used it on DeCamLin in late June this year. Mid 30s temp with 20-30 constant wind plus higher gusts == brr. Better to have then not to have.

* ski googles. just in case its uber windy.
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Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby peter303 » Fri Jul 20, 2012 8:37 am

You can see frost at tree line, snow dustings, and black ice (verglass) ice at edge of streams after mid August. Especially when the coldest hour is dawn, the recommended latest starting time.

You can get effective 30 degree wind chills in July and August in the early morning if high enough, and with high wind, fog or rain. I almost always have a light pair of gardening gloves and cap even in the summer. They weigh almost nothing. Gloves can help protect skin during hand scrambling too.

By early September you should consider wind chills in the 20s at some part of your hike.

50 to 60 degree temperature swings during a mountain hike are not uncommon. It could be 20 or 30 at dawn and 70 to 80 in early afternoon sun at the end of your descent. So the old adage of layers applies: thermal layer, comfort layer, wind shield layer, rain/snow barrier layer. Add and remove as needed.

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