Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Date Posted:  08/11/2013
Modified:  08/12/2013
Date Climbed:   08/11/2013
Author:  kivadiva1
 Mt. Elbert - South Elbert Trail  

So glad we followed through with climbing Mt. Elbert today! The weather report did not look promising (snow in early a.m., thunder, 40% rain in afternoon) but it turned out to be an absolutely perfect day to climb (clear skies, low 50s, sunshine). We started out in the dark (5 a.m.), following the “Route #2” directions provided by They are great directions! Unless you’re following them in the dark. LOL! We passed the main trail head parking lot off to our left (which is designated by a large parking lot and sign) intending to proceed up the 4WD road to the South Elbert Trail, but as we veered off to the right up what we thought was the 4WD road, we were met with a closed gate. Crushed, realizing we would be tacking two extra miles on to our 8-mile trek by taking the main trail, we headed back down to the parking lot. We sat there awhile waiting for the faint glimmer of dawn and a reasonable time to start hiking safely when suddenly a truck went flying past the parking lot and took the left fork in the road we had naively ignored. Whoever you were, THANK YOU. You saved our butts! Two extra miles on our day (in hindsight) would have been pretty grueling. Starting up the engine we took off and followed him up the left fork and very quickly understood that to be the 4WD portion of the drive mentioned on Our Honda CRV did great on the rutted, rocky road. There were a few larger rocks and a water crossing but it was no problem. I think one of the big lessons for us this time was that we need to be very, very careful when making our way to a new climb in the dark. Even with great directions things can be deceiving. For example, we overshot the parking area at the South Elbert Trail trail head and just kept following the 4WD road which quickly became pretty hairy. If it wasn't for a tree limb that had fallen across the road, who knows where we would have ended up! It was definitely a road and the parking lot among the trees was not visible to us in the dark. We ended up backing down the 4WD road (which I might mention had an apparent steep driver’s side drop off) in the wee hours of the morning – a great adrenaline rush to start off the day! The other thing that gave us heartburn was locating the actual trail head. We finally found it thanks to a helpful hiker who had taped a handwritten paper sign on the Continental Divide Trail post that sits at the beginning of the trail. It may actually have meant the difference between us climbing and not climbing the mountain! Unfortunately, some idiot actually TOOK THE SIGN DOWN at some point that day. It was no longer taped to the post or even balled up on the ground when we exited the trail nearly 12 hours later. I’m posting pictures of the area in hope that they help others find the trail head better.

The trail itself is wonderful. I won’t go in to too much detail about it as the fun is in discovering it for yourself but it was just so beautiful - aspens, flowers, mushrooms, berries, moss, lichen, running water in the streams/creeks, pika, marmots, birds, etc. The views are amaaaaaazing! We passed several camping spots along the way through the trees. Unfortunately, we also noticed used toilet paper and trash – more than usual I think – on this hike. I even saw a tissue box, clothing and water bottles tossed carelessly off-trail. Sad that some folks just don’t get it.

The trail offers very few “level” stretches of path. It’s pretty much all uphill from the start so you need to go in to this hike ready to work for the summit. And, I must say, even though this climb is considered a Class 1 and “easy”, newbies need to understand that it’s still very challenging. My partner and I were very thankful for our current level of fitness and for starting the climb early. As I mentioned before, it took us just shy of 12 hours to complete the hike. Practical mentions: There are plenty of places to make quick pit stops for snacking, a rest, or to sneak a bathroom break, the false summit is somewhat of a downer, and the downhill return is BRUTAL. Another lesson learned: Don’t.Forget.Your.Trekking.Poles. You’re gonna need them! The bottom line is this is a GREAT, challenging, scenic climb. You will drink every ounce of water in your Camelback, layer up and layer down a few times, need your sunscreen and apply your mosquito repellent. Mt. Elbert is easy as 14ers go and we even passed families with children on the path but “easy” is relative and I would highly recommend going into this activity after having conditioned your body for long uphill and downhill work. It will make the day more pleasant, less stressful and very rewarding. The views at the summit are unmatched. Just absolutely stunning and worth every step!

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Great job!
08/15/2013 02:01
Nice pictures...I plan to climb the same route in a week. Your post is very helpful. How difficult is the 4wd road for low clearance vehicles? Did you guys stay somewhere nearby overnight?


Thanks so much!
08/16/2013 01:08
Thanks for you comment! I'm so glad it was helpful. I think the 4WD road would be challenging with a low clearance vehicle. I'm sure you could handle it in something like a Subaru though (but definitely not a Lincoln or Camry)!

Yes, although I love to camp and there are TONS of camping opportunities all the way up to the trail head, we stayed at Arrowhead Point Campground in Buena Vista. They have RV, cabin and yurt rentals - it's a fantastic place. The owners are really great and there's a little shoppette there and clean bathrooms/showers, etc. They have a website and it's close to most of those Collegiate Peak 14-ers. We stayed in the ”Cozy Cougar” RV and it was really comfortable. $99/night. It was worth it as we were exhausted and I can't imagine returning to a tent that night.

You might consider trying out one of the local hot springs after your hike too. We went to Cottonwood Hot Springs and relaxed in their private hot spring pool for an hour ($15/each) and I think it made a big difference in our muscle recovery. Let me know how you like the climb!


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