Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Date Posted:  02/01/2009
Modified:  08/24/2011
Date Climbed:   01/31/2009
Author:  4HClimber

 Elbert Wins (East Ridge) and Lessons Learned  

Elbert Wins and the Lessons Learned

Depart Lower trailhead: 6:30 a.m.
Arrive Upper Trailhead: 7:30 a.m.
Turn around – 1500 feet and .5 mile from summit: 11:30 a.m.
Back to Lower Trailhead: 2:00 p.m.

It was 6:30 a.m. and close to zero when Saxmotor (Brian) and I left the south Elbert trailhead (lower trailhead for the trail to the East ridge of Elbert). This was a snowshoeing trek from the start.

The sunrise hits the east shoulder of South Elbert while we were on the trail to the Upper Trailhead.

We made it the 1.8 miles to the upper trailhead (which can no longer be driven to in a vehicle until spring) in just over one hour. Things were going great at this point and it looked like we were going to have no trouble making the summit before noon.

Here's the bridge that crosses the creek at the Upper Trailhead. This gives you an idea how much snow we are about to trudge though for the next 2.7 miles.

About half way up and pointing towards our objective.

At 11:30 a.m. and 13,000 feet, and just after Brian ditched his snowshoes, I ran out of gas and one leg was cramping up on me. I had ditched my snow shoes earlier—too early as about 20% of my steps were breaking through the crust of the snow and making for some tough going. With a fierce wind facing us, I made the difficult decision that I had to pull the plug on my summit attempt. I called Brian back to me and told him that I did not think I could make the summit. I told him to go on ahead if he wanted (we probably had another hour or more to the summit). Brian just stuck out his hand and shook mine and said, "The mountain will be there another day." That was a classy response to a difficult situation. Thanks Brian!

This was where we turned around. Dang! The best part of the climb when you start to approach the summit and can start to get it in your sights..

At the turn around at 13,000 feet this is a look towards the east shoulder of South Elbert.

At the turn around here is a look back down the trail. We started very close to the twin lakes that you see in the picture.

Here's a parting look toward Elbert from the lower trailhead.

After a 9 mile roundtrip hike and 3500 feet elevation gain in snowshoes, Brian is glad to get them off of his feet.

On the ascent, we hiked 4.5 miles in 5 hours with a 3,500 foot elevation gain, most of it in snow shoes. It was a heart-breaker to turn around 1,500 feet and one mile from the summit, but I had to use my head on this one. I think I could have made it to the summit by 1:00 p.m. or so but I would have been seriously spent doing it. It would have made the descent very tough. The bottom line of this day's events is the old mountain climbing axiom about pride.

The Rule of Pride: The first rule is to never take big chances for pride. Think about having to explain to St. Peter (or whomever) how you died. If you don't like the way it sounds, don't risk it.
I had to swallow my pride and do the smart thing.

Lessons learned:
1. Brain learned to check and make sure he packed his hiking boots. He made the trek in some very un-water-proof trail runners.
2. Brian learned a new trick from me to have a hot meal on the mountain during a winter climb. When you leave the trailhead place one can of Beanie Weanies in a spare glove with two activated hand warmers and 5 hours later you've got a hot meal on the mountain.
3. I learned that a 9-mile pull through the snow is tough!
4. I learned not to depend on a Camel-back for a winter climb.
5. I learned how to handle a turn around with your climbing partner with class –Thanks Brian!
6. I learned in real life the meaning of the Rule of Pride.

Jeff Goodwin (AKA 4HClimber)

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Nic Job
02/01/2009 20:50
I am sure it was frustrating to have to turn around but you guys made the right call. 3500 ft in elevation in snowshoes is no pleasure cruise. I climbed Quandary last month and bailed on my shoes the first chance I got.

Brian C

Fun Day
08/23/2010 14:48
It was great hiking with you! We‘ll have to give it another go. I‘ll be sure to bring boots so I won‘t have to snowshoe in my tennis shoes again.

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