Peak:  Mt. Elbert (14er)
 Route:  East Ridge
 Range:  Sawatch
 Posted By:  happymtnclimber
 Date of Info:  02/02/2013
 Date Posted:  02/03/2013

Climbed Mt. Elbert yesterday via the East Ridge. It is possible to get a 4 WD car exactly a mile in toward the upper trailhead, but after that the two cars that attempted to go further both got stuck and had to back down to the pull off that is 1 mile in (used trip od on way out). As far as the route, one man yesterday had done some incredible trail breaking through about 1 ft, sometimes more, of powder. I would guess that there were 7 of us on the route yesterday based on the people I saw, so its pretty well boot packed by now, though it is certainly still very snowy and there were a few parts in which snowshoes may be nice. Other than that, microspikes are necessary for the ridge part of the route, but certainly nothing more. The trail is fairly clear on the ridge, except for a 100 ft stretch about 1000 vert. ft from the top. A couple of us lost the trail there and made our own way up, got to the summit, then realized there was a much easier, beautiful trail to the left (looking up). Watch for that. Avy danger, in my unexpert opinion, is extremely low. It's certainly a long, partially exposed haul, however, so prepare for a nice long day! Most of us dropped packs once we got the the ridge, its a personal call.

 Comments or Questions
Jean-Francois Gout

02/03/2013 15:57
Hi, just a few precisions:

1. Breaking the trail indeed was incredibly hard. I have been deceived by the very limited amount of fresh snow visible at the 2WD trail head and left my AT skis in the car. There was much more snow higher in the forest and wish I had AT skis or snowshoes. We were a total of 8 people on this route yesterday, and now snowshoe could still help but are not really a must.

2. There is one slope that could slide: at the top of the tree line, just after passing you span a fallen tree. While I was struggling to cross it, some of my steps would create clear fractures and twice I eared the typical whistling kind of sound made by the snow (scary). However, if the slope had slid, it probably would have had no real consequences because 1. the break would probably have occurred downstream of the track, and 2. the area concerned is small and quickly reaches a tree-dense area (no danger for other hikers). However, I'm not an expert and if you want to be super-safe, there might be options to avoid crossing this slope (probably on the left-hand side going up).

3. Microspikes can make feel safer on the ridge but don't worry if you don't have any. Good boots and hiking poles are largely enough (I had no microspikes and I left the crampons in the bag the whole way).

Indeed, in can be easy to loose the trail on the ridge (happened to me). Strangely, I found it easier to stay on the trail going down!

Oh, and the road to the 2WD TH is perfectly clear (that was my biggest worry, with a crappy rental car).

The trail en the forest (towards the end of the forest):

The trail after the treeline (as you can see, there is very little snow now) and the east ridge in the background (on the full resolution picture we can see two guys on the ridge ... maybe one of them is happymtnclimber):

The summit

Have fun and stay safe!


Please, forgive the grammatical errors, English is not my native language.


02/04/2013 14:23
Thank you both for the informational and valuable reports! I'm attempting this route tomorrow and all the information and pictures are very helpful!

Just curious, how long did it take y'all?

Jean-Francois Gout

02/04/2013 18:45
@vdavidoff : Left the 2WD trail head at 2am and was at the summit around 9.30am. Stayed at the summit until ~10am and I was back at the car at ~1.30pm

Now that the trail is broken, it should be much faster (I would say 5/6 hours up and 2/3 hours down if you are fast).

Have fun.


A bit more info
02/04/2013 20:18
Thanks to Jean-Francois's wonderful work, it took my partner and I 5.5 hours up, 2.5 hours back down plus some time at the summit from the pulloff 1 mile in on the 4WD trail. Add a bit of time if you are starting from the 2WD trailhead.

I did not need microspikes, but on the way down several places in the boot-pack were getting quite slushy and have probably frozen over by now. In my opinion, snowshoes/skis would have been more of a burden to carry/maneuver than any efficiency gains in the few deep spots.

As far as Avi danger goes, there are some impressive wind-slabs above very loose snow, but most of these areas are shallow enough that there is very little chance of sliding, despite fractures in the snow. If you are careful there are some nice glissades on some hardpack snow coming off the summit as well.

Enjoy and be careful.

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