| Mt. Elbert with kids
I had researched the climb up Mt. Elbert. I read trip reports, studied the trail map, viewed the photos. I took my family up to Mt. Evans last weekend for some elevation practice. I knew we had to start early to summit before the weather brought lightning. I thought I was prepared. I was so, so, SO wrong!
I packed the gear, packed the car (my husband packed the coffee), loaded up the family at 2:30AM Saturday morning. We drove from Lakewood, over I-70, and arrived in Leadville at 4:30AM. Thank the light for coffee. After a really annoying detour in the town, we made it through to the dirt roads of the San Isabel National Forest. The directions on 14ers.com and Google were excellent and easily followed, even in the dark. We arrived at the Mt. Elbert trailhead parking lot just after 5AM.
After bathroom trips, gearing up, repacking and breakfast, we started up the very well-marked trail at 6AM. We were all very excited, especially the 3 year-old when she got to lead the first mile. 44 minutes later, the girls were a little grumpy. Their moods changed quickly after taking off some layers and eating Nutter Butters.
Mile two was successful with lots of encouragement, beautiful scenery, and singing. The break was a little longer. We started the third mile at 7:30AM. We had to break again soon thereafter, but everyone was still happy and having fun. The 7 year-old helped some people with trail repair by moving two shovels-worth of dirt. What an awesome kid.
According to the Garmin, it took 1hr 20min to reach mile four at 12,895 ft in elevation. I don't remember how many breaks we took, but they were numerous and frequent. I started carrying the 3 year-old in little bursts, and the strain on my system was evident. I just kept encouraging and reminding her to take it slowly. She was a trooper and just kept going and going and going. The 7 year-old showed little signs of fatigue.
Sometime soon after, the 3 year-old just couldn't walk anymore. We were so close to the summit that we couldn't just stop there. I ditched my pack. My husband and I wrapped her up, secured her to my back, and continued to climb. She fell asleep almost immediately. The trail was clearly visible and the weather was fabulous, but carrying a sleeping toddler above tree-line is horrendous.
I could not believe how difficult it was. The terrain was steep with loose rocks everywhere. I had to use my hands often. Class 1? I thought that meant I could just walk to the summit! At 13,870 ft, the 7 year-old was so far ahead that I couldn't see her anymore. I freaked out. I handed the 3 year-old off to my husband and took off after her. My resilience was failing. My determination was failing. My heart and lungs and brain were running a marathon.
A few minutes later a descending hiker asked, "Anyone looking for a kid?" "I am! 7 year-old, stripey pink shirt?" "Yeah. She's just around the corner up there." "Thank you!" I climbed a little more, and there she was. She was crying. I began crying. We had a tearful reunion at just under 14,000 ft. She had taken a false trail and had to call for help, then realized we weren't right there with her. A nice hiker named John helped her down to the real trail and gave her some water. Thank you, John. Hikers are wonderful people.
We rested. Even through the tears, she wanted to reach the top. We climbed. We rested. We climbed. I worried about my husband and daughter down below. We climbed some more.
At 4.9 mi, 14,020 ft, we sat down and accepted defeat. We didn't want to summit without the others. We were exhausted physically and emotionally. Hikers offered their water, food, and encouragement, but we were done. We sat there for a long time. Previously, a man had come by us and said that he had gotten very close to the summit but was cramping up and had to go back. I couldn't understand that. How could you be so close, within a few hundred feet, and not just finish? I know now.
So we started the long trek down when I heard my name, and saw a tiny little girl and her father climbing up the steepest section just below. I couldn't contain the tears as they approached. We shared our experience with them, they told us of theirs. The 3 year-old woke up and said she missed us and could climb now, so up they went. Incredible. Amazing. I am humbled by the tenacity of a 3 year-old.
Unfortunately, when the 7 year-old and I told them we had decided to go back, the 3 year-old whole-heartedly agreed. My husband and I asked them if they were sure. They said they didn't care if they got to the top or not, that this was good enough. OK. Let's start getting off of this crazy mountain. Then it started to snow.
The descent was almost harder than the ascent. The pace was slow. We were worn out. Somehow, we made it down. My husband and I took turns carrying the 3 year-old off and on, but I'd bet she hiked 8 miles on her own two feet. The 7 year-old did the entire 9.81 miles. How is it that my fancy GPS device tracked us at 9.8 miles without reaching the summit, but all the trail information says 9 miles roundtrip?! Sigh. We reached the parking lot at 5PM, 11 hours after we started.
I can't believe we tried that. I can't believe those girls made it so far. I can't believe we didn't summit. I can't believe how hard it was. I can't believe how amazing my children are. I can't believe my husband was on-board with this. I can't believe I'm thinking about going back up there and making it to the top. I can't believe the girls aren't even sore. Wait a second. I can believe in anything now.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):