| Mt. Elbert – northeast ridge
Round-trip Distance: 9 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 4,700 feet
After getting lucky and hitting a good weather window on Saturday on Massive, we thought we'd give Elbert a go on Sunday, even though the forecast was less than ideal.
We wanted to get a really early start, at like 5 a.m., but we didn't end up on the trail until 5:30 a.m., right as the sun was coming up.
The weather seemed to follow the same pattern as the previous day: clear skies and very little wind in the morning, building clouds around 8 a.m. or so, then rain/snow followed by isolated storms in the afternoon.
It was still mostly clear when we hit the first clearing, just below tree line:
As we adjusted layers and ate a quick snack, this bird kept harassing us, hoping for a handout.
Just below tree line we did encounter some snowdrifts, but they weren't that bad or deep, and they were mostly boot-packed so we didn't have to deal with any postholing.
In one area the routefinding did become somewhat tricky, but if you follow the most beaten-down path (and more or less take the higher tracks to the right), you should be fine. In some places you have to walk 50 to 100 feet on dry ground to regain the trail over snow drifts. Previous hikers have made many different tracks over the snow and through the trees, but overall this section wasn't very difficult or long.
Here's a look at one section of the trail across some snow drifts:
Jen, climbing up Mt. Elbert's broad northeast ridge, with Mt. Massive in the background:
Climbing the northeast ridge (Mt. Elbert's summit is out of view):
Same as the previous day (on Massive), clouds continued to grow and darken throughout the morning.
Above tree line, the trail was dry for a good stretch. This is about the time when we ran into a 63-year-old guy from New Mexico who was training for the Pikes Peak Ascent. He said he's run in the race every year for the last 40 years! Just as amazing, his wife has been there to watch him every year, even when she was battling cancer.
Somewhere around 13k and up, most of the trail was covered with snow. It wasn't very deep or slick, though, so we didn't need to pull out the axes or crampons. It was, however, very steep.
A billowy cloud band continued to grow behind us, but it stayed off to the east. Here are a couple photos of it stitched together, with two climbers making their descent:
After cresting the first false summit, I could see there was much more to climb (photo of me, taken by Jen):
Once I gained the second false summit, I could see the true summit, which was just a short ridge walk away.
As we made our way along the snowy ridge, we met a lone climber on his descent – a Romanian computer engineer from New York:
Another shot of the ridge:
Me on the ridge:
Here's a panorama I took from the low point on the ridge, with South Elbert on the left and Mt. Elbert on the right (best viewed large):
Jen coming up the ridge:
The snow-covered summit:
To our surprise, we gained the summit at 9:30 a.m., much faster than we anticipated, given the conditions.
Me on the summit:
Jen on the summit (South Elbert behind her, on the left):
The views were awesome! Here's one looking west (roughly):
With the clouds still building, we didn't spend much time up there.
On our descent we caught up with the Romanian, who told us he spent the last month riding his bike from New York to Colorado just to climb Mt. Elbert – after riding his bike up Mt. Evans first. We had some interesting conversations with him, and we learned all about his passionate political views.
Just before noon we made it back to the trailhead, beating the bad weather for the second day in a row!
Overall, we were really happy with our Rainier training weekend – Massive on Saturday and Elbert on Sunday. In total we gained 9,200 feet and we climbed higher than Rainier on both days. Plus, we spent two nights in Leadville, which is the same elevation as Camp Muir.
Now, if I can only manage carrying a 40-pound pack with 7 pounds on my feet, I think I'll be OK on Rainier. Of course, we have to get lucky with weather again, too.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):