| Elbert - Southeast Ridge (Black Cloud Creek)
Let me start by saying this was no "easy walk in the park," so as not to sugarcoat this ;) My legs could certainly tell you that today...
My brother Craig and I started out on the trail at 6am. We were a little worried about finding a parking spot since there is only room for about 12 cars at the Black Cloud Creek trailhead. However, when we started hiking, there were only 3 cars, including ours!
The first mile switches back and forth along Black Cloud Creek with a pretty steady incline. After crossing the creek, we reached a large open park where a couple people had camped the night before. Talk about the perfect camping spot! No one else around, next to a creek, and with an awesome view of South Elbert; those guys knew how to do it.
Another 1/4 mile up and the trail opened up out of the trees for a great view of La Plata. After another 1/4 mile of somewhat "easy" hiking, we were at timberline. This is where it gets interesting. The next mile is pure switchback style gaining some major altitude fast. I don't have a GPS or anything but I would guess you gain 1000-1500 ft within this mile. It kicked our butts. When we finally gained the southeast ridge, we were rewarded with our first view of Mt. Elbert. From here, our legs were wasted but the hiking gets a bit easier and the views are amazing! We summited South Elbert at 10am. From here, we could start to see how crowded the top of Elbert was becoming. I really started to appreciate the route we chose simply because of the solitude. The whole morning, we'd only seen two other people and we could already see 20 on top of Elbert.
From South Elbert, we had to lose 700 ft of elevation we'd worked so hard to gain in order to get to the summit of Elbert. As disheartening as it looked, it really wasn't so bad and we made it to the top of Elbert by 10:40. It only took us 40 min from South Elbert. We spent 10 min at the top taking pictures with the crowd before heading back down to South Elbert. From here, we ate a delicious PB & J lunch and played in the snow a bit before splitting up. My brother headed for Bull Hill, a 13er and I headed back UP South Elbert.
From South Elbert, it took me an hour and a half to get back to the trailhead. Thats cruising pretty fast with only one break. Craig climbed Bull Hill and made a loop back to the main trail and that while loop only took him an extra 40 min. From his account, Bull Hill was awesome because there is a little cabin around the top that has a great view of La Plata out the window. Wish I'd bucked up and gone with him...
All in all, going up took us 4:40. Coming down took around 2:30. 7 hrs round trip on this route and thats moving pretty fast. I would highly reccommend this route if you want to avoid crowds.
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