Mt. Elbert - East Ridge
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|Difficulty:|| Class 1 |
Ski: Intermediate, D3 / R1 / III
|Trailhead:||South Mt. Elbert|
|Total Gain:||4,100 feet (starting at the end of the 4WD road)|
4,900 feet (starting at the paved TH)
|RT Length:||8.5 miles (starting at the end of the 4WD road)|
12.5 miles (starting at the paved TH)
|USGS Quad.:||Mount Elbert|
|County Sheriff:||Lake: 719-486-1249
|National Forest:||San Isabel|
From U.S. 24 south of Leadville, take Colorado 82 west toward Twin Lakes. Drive about 4 miles and turn right onto the 24 road. Drive 1.2 miles up a hill to the main trailhead parking area (paved) on the left. This is the lower trailhead and 2WD vehicles should park here. Continue 50 feet past the lower TH and turn left on Forest Service road 125.1B (4WD). From here it's 1.8 miles to the upper trailhead. Walk or drive up the 4WD road to reach the start of the trail.
Along the 4WD road there are many pull-offs and some camping spots. Near 0.5 mile there's a rough patch on the road but most 4WD vehicles should be able to get past it. Near 1.5 miles there's a very rough patch that will stop most vehicles. If you can't drive past this point, there's parking down the road a bit. Continue to the end of the road to find parking throughout the trees and the start of the trail.
Photo #1, Photo #2 and Photo #3 show the general route - from a distance. Leave the parking area and cross a small creek on a foot bridge. Follow the Colorado and Continental Divide trails through thick brush and stay left at a small trail junction. Continue through an Aspen forest for 1/4 mile to a trail junction in the forest - Photo #4. If you continue straight, you will stay on the Colorado Trail heading north towards the North Mount Elbert and Mount Massive trailheads. Turn left onto the South Mount Elbert trail and hike up through the forest on the solid trail. Near 11,400', the forest opens up a bit and there are some small meadows - Photo #5.
At 11,700', the trail levels out before climbing about 3/4 mile up and across the hillside towards Elbert's East Ridge. Photo #6 shows some of the route as it nears the ridge. Hit the East Ridge at 12,400' and most of the remaining route is visible up to the west - Photo #7. You have hiked almost 2.5 miles from the upper trailhead but 2,000' feet of elevation gain remains. Hike past a small point (12,500') to your left and then haul west up the ridge for 3/4 mile to over 13,600'. Photo #8 was taken near 13,200' and shows the upper portions of the ridge. Between 13,400' and 13,600', there are a couple of spots where the trail nears the edge of the ridge - overlooking the west end of Box Creek and the cirque just east of the summit.
Just above 13,600', the trails turns left and continues around the south side of the peak (If the upper ridge is covered with snow, it may be easiest to continue directly west up the ridge). Near 13,800', traverse west and turn right to begin the final climb to the summit - Photo #9. Above 14,100', the trail narrows in a few areas but is still easy to follow. Continue to the northeast end of the summit, turn left, and walk up to the highest point. Photo #10 looks east from the summit.
The 4WD road probably deters many people from hiking this route but if you can drive all the way up the road, it's not that long of a hike and the descent is easy.
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