| Mt. Elbert - Northeast Ridge
This was my input for the forum question on this summer goals:
(quote="onepeakatatime")Mt. Elbert is the goal. Not because of its height, but because I attempted it in 2009, and was turned back due to an ankle injury. I just turned 70 and would like to finish that hike. I have been up Mt. Elbert 5 times this summer adding 1/8th to 1/4th of a mile each time. I have summited 8 13ers during my training and hope to go to Mt. Elbert's summit in the next few weeks. I have met a lot of nice people during my training hikes, and have enjoyed all the great stories and info on this site. Thanks to all!!!! Mt. Elbert will be my third 14er.(/quote)
I and my friend Rich have been waiting for the summer rains to clear so we could hike Mt. Elbert. We had already moved our planned hike several times. This week the weather turned sunny, so off we went. Since I had not done a 14er in 5 years, Rich was going to be my coach and encourager. He had done Mt. Elbert before.
So Thursday afternoon we headed out of Denver and drove to the Mt. Elbert Campground. There was no problem in getting a site. We decided to camp for the night and park there during the hike which worked out really well, since it is just a short walk to the trail head. After setting up our tents, we went into Leadville and ate dinner at Quincy's Stake House. Back to the campground for a little relaxing and conversation, then time for sleep at around 8:00 pm. We rested but could not sleep.
Anyway, we were up at 1:00 am, had breakfast and repacked the car. By 2:00 am we were on our way to the trail head. It was much warmer than I had expected (although it got colder as we climbed), but I always bring a selection of clothing and make my final choice just before the hike. There were only a couple cars and an RV at the trail head. I think we were the first ones off on Friday. Rich had me lead since I had been up this part of the trail 5 times already. There was a lot of scat on the trail and we thought a bear may have passed through there recently, so I was glad to have a hiking partner. I normally hike solo. The Colorado Trail was in good shape and we reached the Mt. Elbert cut off in less than an hour.
As we then started to gain elevation a little faster, the temperature noticeably started to lower and the wind picked up. We discovered that I was hiking at my normal slow pace (so I thought) and taking a lot of "breath breaks", while Rich, who is use to a much faster pace, was getting chilled because he wasn't heating up. He did not complain but it does show the importance of being equal hikers. As we continued and the trail got steeper, we began to see the lights of Leadville and also the headlamps of more hikers on their journey up the trail. Around dawn we reached the tree line. I noticed that it seemed longer to reach the tree line in the dark than the times I did it after dawn.
After a short break with a snack, we headed up the main switchbacks to get to the main ridge. I was beginning to loose all my energy at hit the wall at the top of the ridge. I felt that I would not make the summit and even suggested that Rich go on to the top and I would wait for him there. We rested and he went behind some rocks to get shelter from the wind. As I rested, I had some Cliff Shots hoping that would help. After a while I began to feel a little better. Rich has struck up a conversation with two other hikers and I joined in. As we talked, I kept looking at the rise to the first false summit and noticed that the trail consisted of many short switchbacks. I told Rich that I would try to go switchback by switchback and see what happens.
Then he took on more of a role as coach, walking behind, evaluating my pace. He would constantly telling me, "Slow down!", "Take smaller steps!", "Count one one-thousand, etc. between steps!", over and over again. I soon discovered that I was focusing more on how I was hiking than how far I had to go. It seemed at first to unbearably slow (That's coming from a slow hiker.). But as I continued following Rich's direction, I found that I was again making progress and felt more confident. The wall had come down! In some steep places, Rich went ahead of me to find the best route. Before I knew it we were above the first false summit.
Now I have pictures taken from others on this site from Mt. Massive of Mt. Elbert, and from those it looked like an easier grade up to the second false summit. Pictures LIE!!! That next section was much steeper than I expected, and longer too. I just kept following Rich's direction every time he would remind me that I was speeding up. One step at a time and eventually we reached the second false summit and could see our goal. Must be a party up there because there were sure a lot of people milling around. Onward and after 8 hours and 58 minutes Rich and I reached the summit. What a sight! The views are spectacular. I went over and signed yesterdays Mt. Elbert sign. Apparently there was no more room on the registry. We had our pictures taken, sat down and had some lunch. Everyone around was happy to be at the top. A lot more seemed to come up from Twin Lakes than Half Moon.
As we got up to head back down, it occurred to me that there is no place to bail on the way down! It is all or nothing, actually it is all, period! I learned what that really meant over the next 5 hours and 24 minutes. While I started down with a lot of energy, by the time I reached tree line I was wiped out. There was not much I could do about that, there was still 2 1/2 miles to go. I just had to suck it up and keep going. Finally and mercifully we got back to the car. What a trip! Talk about the agony and the ecstasy.
I have taken many picture over the whole trip fro 6 different hikes. I hope to get those to a place where I can share them.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):