| Mount Elbert – Springtime in November!
Mount Elbert – Springtime in November!
Sgladbach suggested this as a great winter travel route, and he was not wrong. After getting turned back on Highway 24 last Sunday morning at 5:45 am in hideous road conditions and missing Antero with the gang, I was salivating at the idea of high pressure coming into the state and having mid-week off. I was ready to go solo if I couldn't find a partner.
Initially I was looking at a route which would start up the 4wd road on the East Ridge, but rather than going right at the TH, would continue up the road above treeline, ending near a NE ridge off of point 13,688. From there it would continue up Elbert's southeast ridge, joining the Black Cloud route. After being blasted in winds on Sherman's summit ridge the week before, I wasn't sure I wanted to spend over two and a half miles on a ridge at 14,000 feet in the wind. Still, the whole ridge looked like it would be a fun route, and would catch 13er point 13,688 and 14er point 14,134. And I like ridges, so it was worth a shot.
But then Nathan posted that his party had just done the east ridge on Elbert and put in a grand trench to 13,300, stopping due to lots of powder and being late in the day. All that remained was to bust the last 1000 vertical at altitude. That cinched it.
The night before leaving, jgoodhart contacted me and we decided to meet for a late start at the end of the paved road. With personal commitments and travel coming up, he would not be able to get out for a couple of weeks and wanted to get in one last climb this month. This was my first time climbing with him, and I have to say, Justin is strong, fast, and level-headed. I thoroughly enjoyed climbing together. He is also the fastest climber I've met. Really nice to have a partner that can move fast at altitude. Justin can move.
With a perfect weather forecast for the entire week and headlamps and down in the pack, a relaxed start did not seem like it should be a problem. The sun was already climbing high in the southeastern sky while still driving near Antero Res.
We parked just a couple hundred yards up the 4wd road because we'd rather climb than dig. But once we got to hiking, we quickly lamented the fact that we hadn't driven it. While there was some ice, there were plenty of patches of brown to get a vehicle to the 4wd TH, probably without chains. Still, it was not that far hiking, and it was a pleasant Spring-like morning.
We took a break and donned snowshoes at the base of the first hill around 10,600 feet. This was just a little way above the junction off the Colorado Trail. It felt good to get those things off my back.
Pretty quickly we learned first-hand why the CAIC was forecasting warm conditions at altitude, and why my driveway was icy but it felt like Spring on Elbert: "A very strong ridge of high pressure has landed over Colorado after the last storm system ... it has been warmer the higher up you go, typical inversion..." We practically needed shorts in the 11,000 range....even thoughts of wet release gently entered the mind.
Nathan's party's trench from the prior weekend disappeared after the meadows, likely not due so much to wind loading as melting. The sidehill up to the knoll at 12,500 was pretty much thin crust with lots of grass sticking up. Once we were around the 12,500 knoll -- the first bump in the photo below -- we ditched the 'shoes and hit mixed snow and scree with mostly dry conditions from about 13,000.
Up to this point, Justin led most of the way. I busied myself taking pictures and playing with the new snowshoe bindings, thinking I'd catch up. But working to catch him, I realized just how fast Justin can move. Kudos, Justin, nice job on this ascent!! Once the snowshoes were off and we were in spikes, at about 13,000, we moved together quickly and efficiently up the last 1400 feet to the summit.
At 14,000 feet we spied what looked like the summit up and to our left, but also another summit up and to the right. This was somewhat confusing. The map did not show much above 14,000 feet other than our objective. We continued upward, and the last 400 feet went incredibly fast.
You can see the East Ridge route climbing above the aspen grove near the center of the photo above, where it then ascends the wind-scoured ridge at the far left. Note Pikes Peak in the distance, just left of center.
The SE ridge was the original plan till we heard from Nathan that his party had busted trail for us on the standard route. This ridge connects from the lower route we had originally planned, as a continuation up the 4wd road to the SW ridge at pt 13,688 and linking up with the Black Cloud route. That would have been a long day.
The summit was breathtaking. We had warm, relatively windless conditions.
On the whole, the ascent went quickly. Not counting two 15 minute breaks getting snowshoes on and getting them off again and readjusting gear higher up, we traveled the 5000 vertical and six miles in just over three hours.
We spent over an hour on the summit. We must have been suffering from that high altitude condition known as Rapture of the Steep. It was hard to leave the summit with such nice conditions. My friends Audrey and Josh, who do a lot of 14ers, emailed me today about climbing and how the joy of the mountains at high altitude exert this magnetic call on our consciousness: "And now I know why they call you, O seeker of the boundaries of Earth."
Justin led the way down. He stayed in boots all the way. I put on snowshoes for the mid-section of the route.
We had a great day, but it sure felt good to get back to the car.
As we left and said good-bye to Mt. Elbert, the new crescent moon peeked at us over the ridge, as it followed the sun setting over the horizon.
Thanks to sgladbach for suggesting this route, and thanks, jgoodhart, for a great trip! I hope we get a chance to climb again soon.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):