| Aug-tober on Elbert
Round trip distance - 9 miles
Total time - 5 hours
Up to this point we'd always had the pleasure of hiking 14er's on blue sky days. As we watched the weather forecast on the days leading up to the trip though, we knew we weren't going to be that lucky for this one. We planned on doing a quick hike up Mt. Elbert and then head over to Mt. Massive and tackle two in one day. Todd and Carl had arrived in Leadville the evening before. Todd was a pacer for one of his friends for a segment of the Leadville 100 mile trail run. He'd committed running alongside his friend for a five mile stretch that was supposed to take place around 10:00-11:00pm the night before our hike. I guess Todd's run, and most of the race for that matter, was a mixed bag of weather ranging from rain, snow, and sleet. All in all Todd and the guy he was pacing for made out fine. We learned later he finished in 50th place. Amazing!
I left Colorado Springs at 1:30am with the plan of meeting Todd and Carl at the Mt. Elbert trailhead at 5:00am. It was pouring rain most of the drive with occasional spots of slushy snow thrown in but as I got closer to Leadville the skies parted and a beautiful full moon revealed a lot of snow in the high country.
As I got closer to the trailhead there were crew members, racers, and signs all around of the Leadville 100 that was wrapping up. Todd, Carl and I met up with no problem at the trail head and at 5:15am we started the ascent. It was an unrelenting up hill climb, a nice packed dirt trail but non-stop uphill the whole way. We quickly began to heat up and soon we were all taking a break to shed a layer of clothing. There were a few flurries making their way through the canopy of trees but despite threatening skies and a distant rumble of thunder we managed to luck out and didn't really encounter any forms of precipitation aside from what was already on the ground.
Carl and myself just above treeline
As we got above tree line the fresh layer of snow that had fallen the night before increased slightly. It was more of a pelletized kind of snow but the coating of it on all the rocks and surrounding mountains made for a spectacular view.
Fresh snow on the trail
Looking over to Mt. Massive
The rest of the hike up was rather uneventful, a few false summits, more snow, colder temps, and amazing views between the breaks in the clouds.
The long haul up
Looking up towards the top of Elbert
We summitted at 8:30am. The temperature at the top was 31 degrees but with the breeze the wind chill was probably around 20 degrees or less. We stayed long enough to take a few pics but due to the cold conditions we quickly turned around to start the descent. There were lots of other people on their way up, some from the non standard route that we could see coming in the distance and lots of others hiking up the same way that we did. As we headed down the brief weather window we had at the top quickly disappeared and the top of the mountain was totally encased in clouds. We could see Mt. Massive, our next goal, across the valley and the weather that was heading for it didn't look much better causing us to rethink the days future activities.
Todd and Carl on top of Elbert with Mt. Massive in the background
Sandwiched between the clouds on top of Elbert
The trip down went pretty quickly. I don't know how many groups of hikers we passed that were heading up for a view of nothing but fog. We really lucked out by getting up there at just the right time! Some of the rocks were a little slippery on the way down due to the snow but it was a pretty quick enjoyable hike down.
Heading down into the clouds
We made it down to the trail head at 10:00am for total round trip time of about 5 hours. Our legs were a little tired but not bad but because of the weather we ended up cancelling the second 14er of the day.
After packing up the cars we headed into town and grabbed breakfast at one of the local restaurants in Leadville and checked out the final times of the Leadville 100 race that were posted near the finish line on one of the buildings.
Like we said to each other on the trail, every 14er is a unique experience and this one didn't prove to be the exception. Blue sky hikes are great but hiking in a wintery mix in the middle of August with snow capped mountains all around is also breathtaking. Mt. Massive and its rugged peaks were definitely calling to us but it looks like we'll have to answer that call on some future trip.
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