| South Summit of Mt Elbert: Happy Birthday Gerlinde!
Climb and summit ski of south couloir, South summit of Mt Elbert (14,134'), 4/19/2010
Matt (pioletski), Gerlinde
6 miles RT, 7 hours, 4444' climbed, ~3600' skied
One aspect of 14ers.com that I have appreciated is the opportunity to discuss the standards and rules that we set for ourselves. In that context I have mentioned that my list includes 60 peaks, not just the standard 54. It was South Elbert that prompted me to expand my horizons, and I hope this TR will demonstrate why.
A number of 14000' summits in Colorado don't qualify according to the 300 foot prominence rule. Some of them have such distinctive personalities that they have found their place on everyone's lists anyway. The most striking example, North Maroon, is generally counted as the 54th fourteener despite having only about 220' of prominence. South Elbert has about 250' and is more interesting than many "official" summits, even if it does look like a mere high point on the ridge approaching its bigger brother from the south. As a skier, however, the aspect of South Elbert that caught my attention was this gorgeous couloir on the south side:
It drops from the very summit down to treeline in Black Cloud Gulch. The route is a direct, no-nonsense climb from trailhead to summit in about 3 miles. (The TH, I should add, is a little obscure. The sign pictured below faces toward the road, not along it, so it's very easy to miss. More details on the trailhead directions list.)
Now, to introduce Gerlinde. She is an experienced climber, enthusiastic backcountry skier and former raft guide, and interested in just about any challenge. Never having skied a 14er before, and being curious about my peculiar obsession, she borrowed some AT gear from a friend for this trip.
We left my truck at 7:00 am, perhaps a little late for a south-facing ski run but it worked out fine (it is still April after all). We reached continuous snow at about 10,500' and realized that we had forgotten to bring Gerlinde's skins. Although it was 23 degrees in the morning, the snow in the woods had not frozen adequately, so we had about 1/2 mile of oh-so-pleasant postholing before the snow firmed up sufficiently for foot travel:
Nearing treeline, the going became much more efficient, and the views of the surrounding peaks began to emerge:
As you climb the couloir, La Plata peeks coyly over your shoulder from behind the Ellingwood Ridge. She showed various moods as we climbed. Frowning...
... downright sunny:
Looking up, our goal inched closer:
Here Gerlinde emerges at the summit. The angle gradually increases from about 25 degrees at the bottom to the upper 30s at the top.
There is a summit register of sorts:
The view from the top includes of course Elbert to the north:
Independence Pass and the Elks to the west - Castle at far left, Maroon Bells near center:
But La Plata dominates:
Here are two happy kids at the summit...
... getting skis on. Gerlinde:
We pushed off to reap a harvest of the best corn snow I have skied this spring:
Thanks for reading. I think this TR should provide sufficient beta for anyone who wishes to try this route, but I'm happy to answer any questions that remain.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):