From U.S. 24 south of Leadville, take Colorado 82 (Independence Pass) west toward Twin Lakes. Drive about 10.5 miles and turn right into the signed trailhead. When approaching the area of the turn-off, slow down because it's hard to see the turn. After pulling into the TH, the trail starts behind the first two parking spots on the right. Overall, there is parking for about a dozen vehicles.
Taken from the southwest on La Plata Peak, Photo #1 and Photo #2 show much of the route. In the trailhead parking area, locate the trail behind the first couple of parking spots and start up the great trail - Photo #3. Hike 1 mile up through the forest and cross to the west side of Black Cloud Creek on a small log bridge - Photo #4. Continue over 0.25 mile and cross back to the east side of the creek - Photo #5. Walk up through a grove of small aspen trees and reach more open terrain near 11,200' - Photo #6. 2 miles into the hike you will reach the remnants of an old mining shack at 11,600' - Photo #7. Follow the trail up through the rocks on the right as you approach the drainage below "South Elbert," the 14,134-foot point along Elbert's Southeast Ridge.
As you climb into the drainage, South Elbert is directly ahead but the trail soon turns east instead of climbing the drainage - Photo #8. Continue along the hillside through the trees to reach some mine tailings at 12,000' - Photo #9. Cross the top of the tailings and continue east through the trees. Finally, leave the trees near 12,200' and continue northeast up the steep slope - Photo #10. The trail is still very good and shows signs of recent maintenance. Keep climbing. Photo #11 looks down on the terrain. Above 12,900' the trail is a bit steeper and there are some loose sections that make traction more difficult. As you climb northeast toward the ridge crest, South Elbert is in view to the left - Photo #12.
Reach the ridge crest just shy of 13,600' and turn left to see the next task - nearly a mile of ridge hiking to reach the top of South Elbert - Photo #13. Hike over a gentle bump on the ridge (Photo #14) to get a better view of the ridge - Photo #15 and Photo #16. Drop slightly and follow a faint trail along the ridge crest (Photo #17). Hike up easy terrain (Photo #18) to reach the top of South Elbert where you have a view of the remaining route - Photo #19. Continue northwest over 0.5 mile along the ridge (Photo #20) to reach the broad saddle between South Elbert and the true summit - Photo #21.
From the 13,900-foot saddle, turn right (north) and hike up the final 0.75 mile of ridge below the summit - Photo #22 and Photo #23. Photo #24 is a look at the terrain along the ridge. Taken from near the summit, Photo #25 is the view down the ridge and Photo #26 shows the general route from South Elbert.
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