Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Date Posted:  05/20/2013
Date Climbed:   05/19/2013
Author:  samoarob
 A Mud Season Hike  

Inexperienced 14er hikers, we completed Mt Elbert 5/19/2013. We didn't summit at the official 14,333, we ended at the 14,138 on the north side. After completing Quandary and the 14ers in the Mosquito range last Sept, I would say, this was tougher because of the snow and we encountered 3 storms. I live in Dallas and I studied the 14ers before making my way up to Avon where my daughter and my sister-in-law and hubby live. I do a lot of hiking especially in Hawaii, I hike in the non touristy (more challenging) areas. I've hiked mountains in CA as well. My brother-in-law, Jim, insisted that we would hike from the north TH. Before leaving Dallas, I had my mind set on the Southeast TH. I figured that the Canadian winds would blow on the north-side more so than the south. Maybe my Jim was thinking shorter distance.

First off, I would like to say thank you to this web site. I downloaded the GPX files from this website and it saved our lives or a least made things much easier. Descending from the top of Elbert, the last storm literally covered almost all of our tracks and we could barely see the trail. We had to transverse a couple of times as my iPhone was in my pocket and after areas that didn't look familiar, I pulled out the iPhone and looked at our waypoints and found we had gone too far to the right a couple of times. After getting into the treeline, it was even worse. I had to hold the phone in one hand and trekking pole in another while postholing our way down LOL. The ground was much more mushy coming down.

What I want to find out from the replies, could this have been easier if:
a. Not hike during mud-season?
b. Would it been easier doing Elbert from the SE TH?
c. Would it have been easier doing another 14er this time of year?
d. No pain no gain? (that's what I keep telling my wife lol)

If I get 20 replies that I should not be doing 14ers during mud season, then I am not coming back until June lol. Jim has completed 7 or 8 14ers himself and it was my daughter's first. Saturday night, the night prior, Jim was uneasy about hiking since it was pouring down rain. I was determined since I only have a small window before returning to dallas. I kept checking the weather reports for Elbert and it was showing 'light' snow ending Saturday night with a 1 to 2 inch accumulation. I thought, how hard can that be lol.
We started out from Avon at about 4.15am, the roads were about 75% wet and by the time we arrived in Leadville, it was completely dry. YEAH, I thought, this is going to be a good day. We made our way to the north TH and it was dry as well, even better I thought. When we were in the trees at about 5.50am, the snow was very packed and maybe snow covered about 50% of the trail. It was not bad at all. After getting to the end of the treeline, we checked out the mountain, and I would say the mountain was about a 50% covered with snow. As we hiked there was no more than 6inches and most of the covering was about 1 to 2 inches. So we were not in avy danger....I think lol.
The first set of clouds start rolling in around 930ish and we couldn't see any peaks. It was dark and depressing. We didn't know wether to turn back or keep going. We kept going. Oh boy lol. Fighting our way through the storm for about 20 minutes, the sun finally shines it's beautiful head. Before 11am, the sky started getting dark AGAIN ugh. Another storm comes rolling in. Do we keep going or we turn back? We kept going. oh boy lol. Finally we made it to the top. We thought that we had peaked at 14,333, but it was not. We were like a 1/10th of a mile away. We were on the flat surface on the north side at 14,138. My daughter wanted to keep going. There was that last ridge that looked like razor blade thin with deep drops covered with snow. We could not see any rocks on top of the ridge. That was not good I thought. If it was just me and Jim then maybe, but not with my daughter.

Enjoying the rest of the top of Elbert at 12pm, I saw massive clouds coming in from the west. Holly crap! We quickly picked up our gear and started making our way down. At about 200 ft down, this storm just beats us to almost death lol. It felt that way anyway. The winds were at least 50mph. We could barely stand. My daughter was literally scared. She started to panic. I was scared myself, but I couldn't show my daughter. She was screaming at me as we couldn't hear from the winds blowing that her face was freezing. I grabbed her, moved her in front of me, hugged her tightly while my back faced to the west so that she could not feel any snow and on top of that keep her and I warm, plus hopefully to calm her down. My back felt like a bunch of 12 gauge pellets constantly shooting at me. She indicated a few times that she wanted to keep moving. I knew we still had 6 or 7 hours of daylight, so we had plenty of time. I kept telling her in a 'calm' voice, it was going to be over soon. It felt like a lifetime lol. It was like that for 20 minutes. Finally, we were free to keep moving.

After the storm, the rest of the afternoon was bright daylight. I was thinking we should have started at 12pm lol. But who knows. We arrived back at the treeline at about 2:30pm after making 2 wrong turns. In the trees, the snow was mushy, we were postholing a bunch. That wasn't fun since we were hungry and tired. We made it safely back to the car.
It was a great day even if it was tough. I can't wait to do my next 14er.

My last question: Would it have been easy to hike the last 1/10th of mile to the official summit? Any comments and advise on what I could have or should have done would be greatly appreciated.

The beginning

Beginning the hike after we parked

After 1/2 hour into the hike, Jim and daughter put on spikes. I couldn't help but take the photos of the snow in the trees.

We were almost to the top of the treeline.

Okay, I give up, spikes come on.

Jim hiking up. See the storms behind us.

I thought this would be a great photo

I think this was the 2nd storm coming in.

me at 14,138 feet
what a beautiful day. This was taken of the west side on our descent.
this was taken of the east side almost to the treeline.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions
matt pierce

05/21/2013 19:01
Sorry to be a purist of sorts but you can't say ”we completed Mt Elbert 5/19/2013” or ”Enjoying the rest of the top of Elbert at 12pm” - you didn't summit.

As far as advice - youre just learning some lessons that many of us learn when we start out so don't be too scared off by not summitting

1. Learn to dress properly for conditions - I see you wearing some cotton and you need some gaitors etc...

Also - learn to protect yourself - like with goggles and a balaclava...

2. Stop relying on an iPhone for navigation - you need to be carrying a map and compass and other of the ”10 essentials” so you can navigate your way out of a bad situation

3. Your start time sounds good - this is just the time of year that storms are common - if you don't like hiking in storms don't try to be a peakbagger (i.e. stay below treeline)

4. Consider taking a beginner course like the CMC's wilderness trekking school or BMS...


05/21/2013 23:54
Thanks Matt.

Steve Climber

thoughts pt. 2
05/09/2014 12:26
Matt Pierce nailed it. Glad you had a good trip, but definitely look into ditching the cotton and adding some protective/comfort gear. Goggles/balaclava and gaiters will make a world of difference on days like this. The summits will always be there. Just make sure you give yourself the best chance to get back to enjoy them.

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