After Matt, and I abandoned our Nolan's 14 attempt early on Tuesday due to storms , we hoped to at least get in a few more hikes before we had to return to the flatlands. The weather was not cooperating for summit hikes, but after checking the NWS we decided we had a small window on Thursday morning, so we decided to head up Elbert. Joining Matt and I would by my wife, Erica, and their brother Jon. Matt, Erica, and I have been adventure racing together for almost 10 years and know each other's abilities pretty well, but Jon is not as active and we weren't sure how he would handle the hike since he had some issues with altitude earlier in the week. It happened to be his birthday, so we wanted to do all we could to make this a successful hike for everyone.
We got up at 4:00 a.m., and after chugging a little coffee and getting our packs ready, we left the RV Park in BV by 4:30. The drive to the South Elbert trailhead was pretty uneventful. We headed up the 4x4 road about 1.5 miles to the first creek crossing. I'm sure we had the clearance to get over the crossing and boulders that immediately preceded it, but I didn't want to have an issue in the dark with a muddy road so we parked here and began our hike at 5:30 a.m.
Within 15 minutes we had reached the end of the road and were on the trail. As we made the left turn at the Elbert/CT split we were able to ditch the headlamps, and the climb really began.
Erica at the Elbert/CT split
Erica was leading the charge up the first steep section with her trekking poles, as we all kept watching to the east for a sunrise over the Mosquitos. It took longer than I expected, but we finally got a great view of the sunrise as we reached a clearing at around 11,000'.
First Light on the Mountain
Sunrise from about 11,000'
Once we reached tree line we could see a couple of groups up the trail ahead of us. There were some scattered clouds at this point, but we could see more clouds creeping in from the west.
Jon on grassy slopes abover treeline -Twin Lakes Background
Erica on the grassy slopes above treeline
We moved pretty well up the gradual slopes of the southeast ridge to about 13,000, passing one of the other groups along the way.
Clouds sneaking up behind us
At this point, Jon started to need more frequent breaks, but we continued to make steady progress – all the while we started to see some of the lower clouds moving west toward the mountain and seemingly rising up the mountain behind us.
Bob, Jon, & Matt taking a break at about 13,500
By 13,500', we were beginning to get a little concerned about the clouds preventing a summit and Matt & Erica continued hiking ahead while I continued to break with Jon as needed.
Bob & Jon heading up toward the final switchbacks
As we reached the final switchbacks from about 13,800' we passed some huge groups that were coming down from the summit. One church group of 20+ teenagers said they had come from the lower trailhead at 1:00 a.m. What a long day they must have had! Erica & Matt waited for us at the top of the switchbacks and we all summited together at 9:00 a.m. (3:30). Although there were still scattered clouds in all directions and clouds obscuring the lower part of the mountain, we had a ring of blue sky directly overhead.
Erica on the ridge - just below the summit
Group photo on the summit
Jon with the birthday card we gave him on the summit
After several photos and a snack we started back down at 9:15 a.m. The trip down was uneventful and went pretty quickly. We alternated running and walking, passing the larger groups we had seen on our way up. By the time we were halfway down, the mountain above us appeared to be completely locked in clouds. We felt fortunate to have reached the summit just in time.
Looking up from the grassy slopes
Heading back down - out of the clouds
We arrived back at the truck at 11:00 a.m. after a 2 hour descent (5:30 round trip). Erica, who has struggled with AMS at much lower elevations in the past, had put in a great hike and accomplished something she wasn't sure her body would ever allow. Jon had pushed himself to the limit and had a great birthday story. Matt and I picked up at least one more 14er after being beaten by the weather earlier in the week. Now we were ready for lunch!