Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Date Posted:  07/19/2006
Date Climbed:   07/10/2006
Author:  Ray06
 Elbert-Black Cloud  

I live in Virginia, suburban Washington D.C., specifically. When I turned 60 last November, I decided to make a physical goal in order to help myself stay in good shape. I considered participating in a triathalon or walking the Appalachian Trail. But what I have always loved is hiking and climbing mountains. In the 80's, I climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington State and Mt. Robson in Canada. In the early 90's, I climbed Popocatepetl in Mexico. Lately, however, my hiking has been confined to my favorite trails in Shenandoah N.P. and the mountains of North Cascades National Park where I serve as an assistant outings leader with the Sierra Club. I read about Colorado's 14er's and decided that a worthy goal would be to hike as many (and perhaps all) of the 14er's as a I could by the time I am 70. I also thought that although that the entire 54 mountains have undoubtedly been summited by many people older than me, it would be an unusual (if not unique) challenge for someone my age and distance away from Colorado to just now be taking up this challenge.

I decided to start off with the mountains of the Leadville area. I did this because they were among the highest but also the easiest to climb. I wanted to find out first if I still had the stamina and could quickly adapt to the altitude after coming from sea level. I used Gerry Roach's terrific book "Colorado Fourteener's" to gather information on trailheads and difficulty factors. I began on July 7 and stayed at the excellent Mt. Elbert Lodge Bed and Breakfast with Laura and Scott for the next 10 days.

The trip began badly. It began raining on the evening of July 7 and rained moderately hard throughout the 8th and 9th. I began my quest by hiking Elbert's Black Cloud trail on the 8th and this trail really lived up to it's name. I reached the ridge line within 3 hours but had to return before reaching the summit because of heavy fog and poor to no visibility. When I spoke to a man in the Leadville book store the next afternoon, he told me that "I've lived here for 31 years and have never seen it rain for so long in the summer". Great!

On the 10th, things got (and stayed ) better. I climbed Elbert from the east ridge and loved it. I met quite a few people who hiked it from the northeast ridge. After that, a friend of mine from Virginia joined me and we hiked Mt. Sherman, Mt. Massive and Pikes Peak. When he left, I hiked Gray's Peak and Torrey's Peak the last day of my trip. I would generally take a day off between hikes to rest or pursue other activities. These included rafting the Arkansas River, ATV riding, mountain biking, rodeo and visiting several national parks. It was a great trip despite the rough beginning.

I am now thinking about next year. I would like to schedule about 10 days to 2 weeks each summer to continue my quest. I was first inclined to hike the remaining peaks of the Sawatch Range in 2007 and 2008. However, I am beginning to think that if I am realistic in my desire to hike all the peaks, I may want to attempt the harder ones in the Sangre de Cristo and Elk ranges before I get too old. I am a good rock scrambler but do not have a great deal of technical knowledge in my background. I would welcome any suggestions from more experienced climbers.

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