Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
User avatar
Posts: 183
Joined: 9/29/2010
14er Checklist Not Entered

Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby Rarefied » Fri Jul 20, 2012 12:06 pm

I side with Jim's suggestion of Sherman from Leavick for similar reasons. One is the somewhat steeper, loose section Jim cites in the gully leading up to the saddle of Sheridan & Sherman on the Iowa Gulch route (Photo 7 at: As a guy who has several years on your father and has done both routes, I can tell you he will find the Leavick route to be more pleasant. Also, the mining ruins on that route will create an additional memory for him.

Despite how it might seem, there probably isn't more than a 10-15 minute difference between the two drives to the trailheads. Leadville is ~35 minutes away & Fairplay is ~40 (the turn-off to Leavick is actually right before arriving in Fairplay). Then in both cases the final leg back to the trailheads is on the order of 15-20 minutes.

Posts: 9
Joined: 7/16/2012
14er Checklist Not Entered

Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby Schoenhofer » Thu Jul 26, 2012 8:40 pm

Thanks for all the info.

I bought a Gregory Z55 backpack for a good price as well as a 30L for my wife. Bladders, hiking poles, headlamps, clothing... Been busy on ebay and I think we got the gear pretty well covered.

A couple of items I still need.
*Food. We may cook something the day before and take it with us. We also plan on going on a 10 mile hike in Rocky Mountain Nat Park later in the trip. Bear Lake to some other lakes, on up to Sky Pond and back via Alberta Falls. What does everyone else use for high energy trail food?
*Trail Maps. I'm curious where to look for these. We may not need a Mt. Elbert trail map, but it may be fun to have one anyway. Also looking for a topo map of Rocky Mountain National Park.

I did find that hourly forecast link on the nws link.
That is pretty cool. Where is the best place to view the radar?
Does the weather typically come out of the west on the mountain or just seem build right above you?

On Mt. Sherman, the reason I said the East route was out of our way is because we are on our way to Aspen later that day. We'd want to lodge in Fairplay instead of Buena Vista if we wanted to do that route. From the pictures, if the gate was open, you could drive most of the way up the mountain. Assuming it is closed, can you park up by the gate?
User avatar
Posts: 138
Joined: 10/24/2007
14er Checklist (12)

Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby droidly » Thu Jul 26, 2012 9:52 pm

in regard to the peak choice: i am 56 yo and just did elbert with my wife. it's not technically difficult but long. coming from kansas with one day of acclimatization i would not suggest elbert, especially if someone has knee problems. a group behind us ascended with a 60yo guy with knee problems who really struggled..honestly i don't know how they got the guy looked painful. i am pretty fit and do a lot of trail running and i was very sore coming down. sherman is a piece of cake and easier than elbert even if you don't get all the way up to the trailhead.

as far as food goes: on elbert we each carried a six-inch turkey subway, a banana, an orange, two protein bars, a raisin bagel and various shot blocks and sport beans.

two years ago i went to sherman to hike an hour of acclimatization and ended up summiting with 40oz of water and some snacks. very easy you get a nice variety of topography..a little slope, a little meadow, some ridgeline and a beautiful view!

just a note on weather: i think it's unusual for the weather to deviate from the standard. pratically everytime i've hiked it's been the same: rains at night, clears in the early AM and builds in the PM. that being said, i don't think you should underestimate the weather. get up as early as possible and get down as quickly as possible. talk to other hikers on the trail.. i've found that people on the trail love to chat... it's not likely you won't see someone on the trail and it's good to check their opinion on the weather..

good luck!
User avatar
Scott P
Posts: 6527
Joined: 5/4/2005
14er Checklist (46)
14ers in Winter (16)
13er Checklist (30)

Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby Scott P » Fri Jul 27, 2012 7:25 am

Next, my father has bad knees.

As someone said, Trekking Poles!! Bring them for sure, no matter what mountain you attempt.

*Would you expect it to be crowded on Labor Day?

Yes. Most of the 14ers will be.

Weather discussion:


-Any idea what the temperature at 10,400 trail head will be at 5am?

Anywhere 20-45, most likely upper 20’s to mid 30’s.

-How about at the summit at 10am?

20-50, most likely 30 to lower 40’s.

-When does all the snow melt, by July?

More or less, but usually a few snowbanks last through the summer (though not on the trail). Probably not this summer though.

But does it start snowing again by early September?

Sometimes. It can snow any day of the year, but usually not much that time of year. Every once is a while a big snow can happen that early.

-How about rain? I looked at the forecast on this site and this time of year shows about a 60% chance of rain at any given moment all week long. -Is September similar?

September is usually a bit drier in the Sawatch than mid-summer.

-I noticed Twin Lakes doesn't even average 10 inches of precipitation per year. Is this because weather approaches from the West and it's in the rain blind side of the mountain?

Yes. Rain shadow.

-Be off the summit by 12 noon?

Or earlier, depending on the weather.

First, what direction does it usually come from?

That time of year, west and south. A cold front can come from the northwest. Fairly rare that early, but possible.

This shows the weather at 13,261. So I supposed we just subtract 5 degrees roughly to find the summit weather. I notice that most of the days only warm up about 15 degrees here and the lows aren't any colder than Leadville. I find this odd, as I would expect it to warm up 40 degrees or more each day in that thin air.

Nope, ridges and mountain tops almost always have a smaller range of temperature than the valley floors. 15 degrees is about right:

Wind-chill is much greater above timberline though and varies greatly from hour to hour.

Also, how are you finding past weather, or weather averages for September?

See above link though few days actually are average. Plan on 10-15 degrees on either side of average.

I just want to get as good of a guess range as possible so I can buy gear. Some are saying it will be 30 degrees warmer at the summit and some are saying it will be 30 degrees colder!

Neither is likely, but the wind-chill can certainly be 30 degrees colder on the summit than at the base. Actual temperatures, not so likely.
I'm slow and fat. Unfortunately, those are my good qualities.
Posts: 9
Joined: 7/16/2012
14er Checklist Not Entered

Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby Schoenhofer » Wed Sep 12, 2012 1:02 pm

Update: We summited Mt. Elbert!

All the information given here was accurate and very useful. Thanks to those who commented.

The gear I bought before the trip: 2 packs, 2 bladders, 3 trekking poles, synthetic top and bottom, wool socks and hat, convertible nylon pants: all of it came in handy. The 8-in-1 altimeter from Hong Kong was a piece of shiz, but to my surprise, my car GPS was very accurate on the the mountain for measuring altitude.

We woke up at 3am in the Buena Vista Super 8. It was my 2nd of 3 nights with almost no sleep. We didn't have any problem with the 4WD trail until a few hundred feet from the end, when a nasty hump in the middle scraped underneath my Sante Fe. Luckily that turned out okay. I was trying to imagine how fun it would be to drive in reverse on that trail if someone would happen to be coming the other way.

We didn't actually get on the trail until 5:50am. We started with a mother and 2 young girls, 8 and 9 years old. They were high pointers, they said, having been to the highest point in most or all of the states east of the Mississippi. They were afraid of mountain lions. Since we had no hiking experience, we were glad to join them.

Starting out, it may have been about 40 degrees. But I was quickly shedding layers after we started as the hike starts off very steep. My dad wasn't carrying a pack, so with the 5L of water I was carrying, 3 subways and lots of other food, headlamps and flashlights we only needed for about 30 min... my pack was quite heavy. I did fine, but I made some notes for next time. Not so much food, clothes, and unnecessary gear, and more water. My wife was carrying about 5L of water as well, but without any additional weight. 10L of water turned out not to be enough as we ran out halfway down the mountain. I can't imagine how some of the people do it with only a tiny pack with a small bladder.

It wasn't long before the little girls showed how much better shape they were in than we were and they cruised on ahead. We got passed by several groups. One was a guy and his dog and I remembered thinking that he looked like he was in pretty good shape. It wasn't long after that we saw him already on his was down. He'd never been there before yet he summited in only 90 minutes and was probably going to be down the mountain in less than an hour. Do mountains / trail routes have speed records?

My dad took half a Diamox pill before we started. I thought he'd still have trouble, but perhaps the medicine helped him as he didn't complain too much of any symptoms he had on the previous trip when we slept in Leadville. My wife, however, started diminishing when we were about 1000 vertical feet from the summit. She had a headache and was dizzy. She was taking these quick shallow breathes and I had to constantly tell her to draw deep breathes and hold for a couple of seconds. I didn't want to leave her behind and we decided to push on. People were coming down the mountain saying that our weather gap was rapidly closing and we only had maybe 30 more minutes to summit. It probably took us another hour and I was pulling my wife the whole way, but we made it. One on the top and rested, she felt better.

That's one incredible view from the top. I can see how climbing 14ers can be addictive. Mt. Massive was obvious to the North. I think we saw Pike's Peak. I don't think we could see the Maroon Bells. I wish I knew more of the mountains as they could be seen in every direction. We made it at about 10:45, right at 5 hours. There were about 12-15 people up there. It was funny seeing people adding rocks to a delicate stack to temporarily lay claim to the highest point in CO. I took some pics, but I'd have to figure out how to post them here. The weather was probably almost 50 degrees up there, not too windy, and no sign of any storms. We were only up there for probably 15 min and then we were on our way back down.

My dad gave up one of his poles for a while and I found I could make some good time down the mountain with one of those. I ended up giving it back later when he started slowing down. As we progressed down, he got slower and slower. Once I waited half and hour to see if he was still behind me as my wife was setting a much quicker pace. He was not in good condition when he caught up to me in that bald spot in the middle of the pine meadow. By this time it was probably almost 70 degrees. We were out of water and the only thing I could do was put some more sunscreen on him and put the rest of his gear in my pack. I thought my wife would be already down and waiting for me at the car as I had the keys, but I quickly caught up to her. I had forgotten how steep the trail is in the aspen grove and it had slowed her way down. I helped her down walking backwards in front of her. She still kept slipping, but I didn't let her fall. That last part was pretty tough. When we got down, it was 9 hours into our hike and it was yet another hour before my dad made it.

So as everyone expected, it was pretty rough on us non-acclimated flat-landers. But it was well worth it. After rehydrating, everyone was fine. My dad was sore for a couple days, but fine. We went to the Maroon Bells the next day and hiked the small loop, but didn't take on the Crater Lake trail. We played some amazing golf courses: Lakota Canyon Ranch (New Castle), Raven at 3 Peaks (Silverthorne), and Arrowhead (Littleton), when the morning weather surprised us with 50mph winds coming over the front range and our golf balls blowing off the greens! Also played some of the country's finest disc golf in Red Feather Lakes and around Pine, CO.

We also did a 12.5 mile hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, 3 days after our encounter with Mt. Elbert, just enough time to recover. I left my pack full of food and gear at the hotel! If we drove back to get it, we would have had to take the bus back in. We used a couple of smaller packs and stuffed them full of as much water as we could get in. We started at Bear Lake and hiked to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and then Haiyaha Lake. To our surprise, we still had some left in us when we got to the 4 way split that led up to the Loch. After the Loch is Timberline Falls, where the winds picked up and we had to scramble up some wet rocks. Lake of Glass is above that with the Glacier Gorge towering above on all sides. We made it up to Sky Pond with water and energy to spare. Beautiful hike! We went back via the Alberta Falls route, which is a great easy family hike of only a mile coming from the other direction. Even though this hike was probably over 2000' elevation gain if you count the downs and the ups, Mt. Elbert had prepared us pretty well for it. And we were much better at rationing our water.

All in all, 8 days and 2000 miles later, it turned out to be a very memorable trip. Those who live in CO are so lucky to have all this adventure so close by!
User avatar
Posts: 9
Joined: 7/20/2010
14er Checklist (33)
13er Checklist (2)

Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby spazbur » Wed Sep 12, 2012 5:19 pm

Congrats on the summit. I was up there on labor day as well, I remember talking to you guys for a bit. I am glad you guys made it, GOOD JOB!
User avatar
Dark Helmet
Posts: 240
Joined: 7/5/2012
14er Checklist (1)

Re: Beginners Hiking Mt. Elbert, 9-3-2012

Postby Dark Helmet » Thu Sep 13, 2012 9:17 am


I did that same hike in RMNP with my son age 6) last year and we loved it... I think we're going to try to do it again this year too.

Return to “Just Starting? Info for 14er Beginners”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests