| A Shocking Day on Elbert
Having moved here from Maine two months ago, I've been madly in love with the mountains. I had hiked Peak 1 a few weeks ago to see how I would cope with the altitude and was happy with the result. Next goal: a 14er.
Logically, that meant I had to hike the biggest one around, which meant Elbert. It also meant I wanted to ski (I've just started, and I suck, so I wanted something mellow, like the east ridge). I wanted to do it on my birthday (April 23rd) but the storm and my lack of avy knowledge prevented me from doing so. I had to wait...
I left Keystone early (a little after 5, I think it was) and the roads sucked. 70 was a sheet of ice and many vehicles were off the road. I had summer tires on the car and so I was very nervous, but the drive ended up being uneventful (for me). I was actually pretty shocked to see how clear it was once I came into Leadville and got to the TH. There was no snow, and it was pretty warm. I might even say hot. Due to my lack of 4wd, low clearance, and summer tires, I parked at the TH off of 24 and started hiking (a bit after 7).
I decided Elbert was not a sexy peak to bag, but it's the biggest so that's the wildcard. The clouds also made me a bit interested in what the weather would do.
The hike in was boring. It made me consider getting a steel skidplate and a lift kit for my Jetta Wagon TDI, because then I wouldn't have to walk so far. Regardless, it went by pretty fast. This mountain is sexy. What is it?
Before I'd gotten to treeline the clouds had rolled in.
I managed to catch up to two groups of two, two skiers and two hikers. We leapfrogged for a bit (minus the skiers) and that was annoying. I felt like I was tagging along with them and it was awkward, but our paces were similar. I felt ... weird. When I got to treeline it had started snowing off and on, and visibility was not very good. It was about a half mile or so, and would fade in and out.
The glacial formations out here still amaze me. At one point it had cleared up a bit, and got really warm (which was weird), but then it filled back in and got cold again. It was windy, but not overly so. I wish it was clear so I could have seen this bowl more clearly.
It was a bit higher than this when I started to hear a weird hissing sound. I just figured it was my water bottle releasing some pressure and so I continued up. I stopped to eat a clif bar or two and was amused at how puffy the wrappers were. I also started to get a headache. It wasn't anything major, just a feeling like my ears wanted to pop but couldn't.
After a couple thoughts of "When will this stop going up??" I caught up with the folks I was following. We couldn't see hardly anything and the flat lighting was inducing vertigo feelings. They had a GPS and were stopped and so I stopped with them. We believed we were at the top. Not wanting to walk around and fall off a cornice, I snapped some pictures and decided that this was good enough to be the summit. But where was the stick? From my beta gathering, there was supposed to be one. Oh well. They headed down, and I took a few more pictures.
The hissing was really loud now. It made sense to me, because I was higher than before, so the pressure difference would be higher, and the sound louder. Right? Well, I decided to take off my pack and eat lunch to wait and see if it'd clear up. As soon as I dropped my pack (with my skis, mind you) I got shocked on top of my head! I was confused for a split second, and then I realized what I had to do. I grabbed my pack and started (very nearly) running down the ridge, all the while thinking, my skis are really tall! Which makes me really tall! Well, not really, I'm only five-four or something like that. Regardless, it was exciting. I kept going until the buzzing stopped, then went a bit farther for good measure. The couple in front of me was nowhere to be found, nor were the skiers, though I could see their tracks dropping into a bowl. At least they were down, I thought. Perhaps the hikers had glissaded. They both had axes.
I stopped to have some food and reflected on how lucky I was. The day did seem much brighter from that point on (figuratively, of course. The clouds were still in full force). After a bit of food I put on my skis. I tried skiing down for a while, but the lightning made it difficult to tell where the ridge stopped and the air began. Also, the snow wasn't very deep and I hit a few rocks. Sadly, I put my boots back on and my skis on my pack.
The walk down was boring compared to what had happened previously. The clouds broke up for a few seconds every once in a while.
I managed to get a bit of skiing in right before treeline (only falling a couple of times. Skiing's hard! It's frustrating, too...) and met up with the two skiers who were behind me when I was eating again. They, too, had felt the shocks (from the edges of their skis) and managed to make it down safely. They skied past. I snapped a shot of what ended up being the clearest part of the day.
From then on the hike was in the snow. I saw there was only one car left in the parking lot closest to the TH, and so I assumed the couple had made it out fine. The skiers were right behind me (relatively) so I figured they would be fine, too. I secretly hoped they would pass me in their Jeep (or was it an Xterra?) and give me a ride out, but I also hoped I could walk out before they could drive out. I made it back to my car before they could drive out.
Round trip was about eight and a half hours I think. The stupid road added a couple of miles and some elevation gain. Grrr.
The drive back to Keystone was exciting, too, thanks to slush and snow covered roads.
I learned a lot on this trip, and will pay more attention to what sorts of sounds my metallic objects are making the next time I hike!
I guess I didn't make the summit, but I feel accomplished and am happy to be able to hike another day. My first 14er was 99.9% in the bag!
More pics here, but they're boring.
Here's the TR from the couple in front of me.