| Winter Ascent of Mt Elbert
What started out as simple conversation last fall ended up into a planned trip to Mt Elbert in March of 2010. I (usually in the red jacket or the Iowa garb in the photos) had hiked quite a few 13ers and 14ers over the years.. but always in the summer. A trip in the winter intrigued me... as well as three others from the Omaha area.
Four of us (Jeff, Jason, Beau and Dave) from Omaha began to plan in December about what the trip would look like. Jeff (white shirt in most of the photos) was an old hand at this. He had lived in the Fort Collins area for years and had worked at REI for several years before coming to Omaha. He and other friends had winter camped and hiked Mt Elbert in the winter twice before, so we had a great experienced guide to lead the way.
The weather forcast for the first week of March looked pretty decent and we were excited to get out there. We drove out on a Wednesday afternoon and stayed at some friends in the Breckenridge area (actually very close to the Quandary Peak trailhead). I had hiked Quandary 5 years ago and we had a great view of Quandary out the cathedral windows of their house in the morning.
Thursday morning (March 4th) found us making our way up over Hooiser Pass and down into Buena Vista to make a quick stop at the Trailhead store to pick up some MSR snowshoe tails for one of the guys. We arrived at the South Elbert trailhead at about 9:30 am and met up with two guys from Fort Collins (Greg and Samuel) that were going to join us. It was a great morning, with brilliant sun and temps in the 30's as we started up the trail.
There was a decent amount of snow and it appears that the area may have had 12 inches plus in the last week or so. There was a decent enough trail that we did not have to break trail on our snowshoes for most of the way until we got to about 10,500 or so. In addition to 45 lb packs, we were also pulling a sled with about 70 lbs of supplies. There were some interesting spots in manuevering the sled, but we (Jeff and Beau) managed to get it up without incident.
Arrived at about 11,500 feet and set up camp that we would call home for the next two days. Jeff dug out a snow cave to protect us from the wind a bit and got the MSR stoves going to boil some water. Nothing like dehydrated chilimac! On Thursday night, we actually had spaghetti and meatballs that were brought up by Greg and Samuel. AWESOME!
That night, the wind began to howl. Throughout the night, we had sustained winds of at least 25-35 mph, with gusts of more than 40 mph. Needless to say, it was a loud night in the tent, but we stayed warm. We got about 4 inches and some of that crept into one of the tents. Not good.
Friday did not bring any relief. The winds and snow continued and for parts of the day, there were white out conditions. However, that did not stop us from having a great time. We did some side excusions and got the sled out and had some great runs down the slopes! I was in the sled and do not have a photo that I can show.... good for that, as I crashed and burned on one part of the hill!
It was not until about 3 am on Saturday morning that the wind stopped and the snow ceased to fall. Woke up at 5 am to an amazing clear, star filled sky with a half moon hanging close to Mt Elbert. We were praying that Saturday's weather would be decent and we got just that. The day was absolutely perfect for hiking. Sunny and calm, with the temps quickly rising into the upper 20s.
At about 6:30 am or so, we made our way up the South Elbert route. Most of the snow that we were moving through above treeline was wind swept and crunchy, so snowshoeing was not too bad. We made good time and got to the ridgeline to take a break and snap some shots.
There was a decent amount of snow all the way up, but we could see that there were enough rock lines going up to allow us to ditch our snowshoes. We did that at about 13,200 or so and slowly picked our route up the mountain.
At about 14,000, we could see the area where we believed the summit was. There was a huge cornice of snow off of the south and east side of Mt Elbert that we wanted to avoid.
At about 11:20 am or so, we arrived on the summit, took in the amazing views, and began to work our way back down.
We stopped and talked briefly to the skiers that were coming up that morning (they did a trip report today as well). Looks like they were having a blast. As we decended, as watched their progress and saw them coming down from the summit.
Got back into camp at about 1:30 pm and quickly broke camp, as we wanted to get to the trailhead and get on the road back to Omaha. Saw the skiers blow by our camp as we were just about done packing.
Made our way back down the trail and at this point, it was well packed and made our effort much easier in moving the sled around. Made the trailhead at 4:15 pm, tired but pumped about the day.
Drove into Buena Vista, negotiated with the Super 8 folks to let us take a shower in a room for cheap, and then made our way back to Omaha, arriving at about 5:00 am.
What a great trip! We are already thinking about what we will do next year.
One of my favorite Bible passages was also something that we shared at the summit:
A song of ascents.
1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):