| Mt. Elbert - Southeast Ridge
3RD TIME IS A CHARM
I didn’t give much thought to the flight from Minneapolis to Denver – I just simply don’t care for flying. For me there’s nothing that can make me feel good when I’m zipping through the air in a metal tube. However, flying first class was a first for me and a special treat thanks to my sister Cindy’s perks. It was a perfectly planned trip this time and we had the added bonus of our (as I call her) Little Sherpa Kristina. We put a lot of pressure on our niece – and had expectations that she would lead the way and inspire us to the top of Mt. Elbert. We wanted her to be the insurance, in addition to the many other changes we made to improve our chances for success. She surpassed our expectations and more than proved herself. There was no huffing and puffing going on in her world.
So I guess the third time was the charm and my sister was relentless in her determination to make it to the top. In fact I am quite proud of her and I could not have done this without her. The two of us have gone through quite a few ups and downs in our attempts to ascend this brutal beast of a mountain; a quest that has been going on since 2001. There was no denying us this time. We awoke on Thursday, August 2nd and were at the lower trailhead by 5:10am. And we took the summit at 11:32am. There were a couple of times near the top when I broke down and could not get a hold of my tears. I think I had the distinct feeling that I was going to make it and it was just so emotional for me.
Not one of us had any altitude sickness on this trip. We spent the first night at an elevation of 7,500 feet in Idaho Springs, Colorado. It was a dumpy little hotel attached to a laundromat. Oh, pardon me – It was a “luxurious laundromat” according to the sign posted on the building. The next 6 nights were spent at our sweet cabin overlooking Twin Lakes at an elevation of 9,600 feet. At times it was a chore just to bend over and pick something up off the floor. Or to even get up for that matter. The nights were wonderfully quiet. In fact when the refrigerator stopped running at night, the only sounds I could hear were the ringing in my ears and my heart beating.
Before arriving in Idaho Springs the 3 of us did a light acclimation hike in Genesee Park just outside of Denver. It was a nice way to start the trip and it was also a learning experience when Kristina spotted a Horsehair Worm. I’ve never seen anything like that before!!! Our second acclimation hike was the morning after leaving Idaho Springs. We ventured off to Echo Lake just north of Mt. Evans and hiked the Chicago Lakes Trail. We got a good workout that day and the sights were spectacular. Our third and final acclimation hike was going to be a nice jaunt to Lake Galena north of Leadville, Colorado but some bad directions by a young ranger had us drive short of this location and we ended up hiking the Bear Lake Trail and parts of the Colorado/Continental Divide Trail. When we reached the ridge though, the view was heavenly. Just getting to the trailhead was actually a challenge as we had to hike a long distance up a dirt road to get there. By Colorado standards – that was considered a road. It’s interesting how their perspective is different from ours. The Coloradans are by and large buff individuals. I am amazed at all the folks who bike up those steep inclines. And accordingly, Mt. Elbert is considered a class I or the easiest mountain climb.
Not so for us, but again we planned it just perfectly. Our next step was to add 2 days of no hiking but just staying high in the mountains and that’s just what we did. We spent one day at a hot springs resort taking in the warm water and the next day checking out the Mt. Elbert trailhead and then collecting rocks on the Twin Lakes beach. I might add that I got a touch of sun burn that day but it was nothing that was going to lead me away from my quest. I spent too much time in training to let that bother me. Since January of this year, I had been walking stairs at various hospitals and clinics with my backpack loaded to get in shape and this proved to be beneficial as I had no leg problems whatsoever. The hiking poles that I purchased also helped big time!!!
The climb took us about 6 hours and we hiked a distance of 5.92 miles to reach the peak. There was a party going on up there with at least 20 people!!! I guess that is the case most days. We ate our packed lunch and chatted on the phone. I was crying again when I spoke to my sweet wife, Melinda. In 2008 she was with Cindy and me when we attempted the north trail of Mt. Elbert and were brutally defeated. But the good thing is – Melinda has no desire to conquer Mt. Elbert. It was Cindy’s and my goal and we were determined! We hiked more than 3,915 feet elevation as that is the difference from the upper trailhead to the peak. We started from near the lower trailhead which was a long hike up hill in the dark. We planned for that as well though as the headlamps were put to good use.
The trip down the mountain was shortened because we had the good fortune of meeting a gentleman named Phillip - an orthopedic surgeon from West Virginia. He was in training for bigger mountains and Mt. Elbert seemed to fit the bill for him. He said he would give us a ride to the lower trailhead if we met him at his vehicle at the upper trailhead. Not wanting to miss out on this opportunity, we hustled even more going down and made it back to our cabin at about 2:40pm. (about 2 ˝ hours coming down).
Years ago I made a trip with my son Ian to South Dakota. We got invited to go on a long, long hike. I didn’t know it at the time, but that hike was to the summit of Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota. That trip was the beginning of a quest to take each of the high points of the 48 states. The second high pointer I completed was Minnesota’s Eagle Mountain. I made a few attempts at that one too before I made it – but I made it. Getting to the top of Colorado was very special for me. Mt. Elbert at 14,433 feet is not only the highest point in Colorado, but it is the 2nd highest peak in the lower 48 states. Mt. Whitney in California is the only peak higher.
A big thank you to my sister Judy who (although she doesn’t remember) came up with the idea to invite Kristina on this adventure. Also thanks go out to my sister Cindy’s co-worker Becky who helped me directly and indirectly with the massive amount of training that this effort took. I am forever grateful to my teammates. Thank you Kristina for being just the kind of person we needed to help us succeed. And to Cindy - for never giving up on this dream; WE DID IT! As always my wife Melinda has been so generous in helping to finance my quests and her love and prayers are priceless. And thank you Lord for the beautiful creations that you have made. You not only put the dreams in place, but you helped them to come true. It was truly an awesome quest!!!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):