Peak(s):  South Elbert - 14,134 feet
Date Posted:  05/05/2009
Modified:  05/06/2009
Date Climbed:   05/02/2009
Author:  DHatfield

 Nice spring day on Mount Elbert  

"South Elbert" (14,134')
Partner(s): Susan Paul
Trailhead: Black Cloud Creek
Distance: Approx. 6.0 miles
Elevation Gain: Approx. 4,700'

The weather forecast changed quickly on Friday, so "West Evans" – our first choice for a new unranked 14er – was out. "South Elbert" still looked good, even with a 90% chance of precipitation and 25 mile an hour winds. The accumulation was only going to be an inch or so, versus a foot on Evans, and the roads were clear, so we changed our itinerary and decided to give it a go.

We left Colorado Springs early Saturday morning and took Hwy 24 west and back north to Hwy 82, then west through Twin Lakes for a little over 10 ˝ miles to the trailhead, which is hard to see since the silly sign is really small and faces south – away from your sight as you drive down the road.

The peak from the trailhead.

We started under partly cloudy skies, and a toasty 43 degrees. The trailhead was dry but we weren't sure about snow higher up, so we strapped our snowshoes on our packs and hit the trail just east of the trailhead. Soon the day started shaping up and we could see Rinker Peak and La Plata Peak, and even some blue sky too! Around 10,800 feet we had our first creek crossing.

The first stream crossing.

Up to that point we only crossed a couple of very small patches of snow, however after the next stream crossing, and climbing a small embankment, we encountered plenty of the stuff so we left the trail and post holed for about 100 yards to a clearing. From the clearing we had a good view of most of our route up higher and determined that snowshoes wouldn't be necessary so we stashed the extra weight.

We ditched our snowshoes here.

Past the clearing we remained off the trail for a little bit to avoid the snow in the trees and then re-connected with the trail near a grove of trees just below a cabin. We spotted a guy skiing with his dog, but kept quiet because we figured he was probably enjoying the solitude too.


We took a break and noticed a lot of noise like rock fall, but we couldn't see anything so we figured it was elk or bear moving around up high in the trees, knocking stuff down.

My lunch? Why, it's berry good. Thanks for asking.

After that, the trail rose up to a tailing pile around 11,200 feet, and was mostly snow-free. Instead of following the trail back into the trees we just started hiking up the steep drainage and then regained the trail above the trees.

Looking up to the east ridge that is about 0.50 mile and 1,300 feet above.

Every once in a while the views to Ellingwood Ridge, La Plata Peak, Rinker Peak, and of coarse South Elbert would come into view.

The summit disappears.

We switch-backed a bit along the trail, before noticing how perfect the snow was for kicking steps, then we just went for a nice traverse up the steep snow slope to the ridge.

The ridge.

Topping out.

At the top of the ridge we headed west toward South Elbert and at this point it started to get a little windier so we put on goggles before continuing on. The ridge went straight forward as we ascended into the clouds but we could still see about 100 feet in front of us.

Somebody's got a case of the summit fever.

Meerkats are such funny creatures.

From the summit we could barely make out the lower slopes of Elbert, but not much else. We took a short break here and took pictures before heading back down.

Why do all the summits shots look like this?

This is Susan's "Hurry up and take my F—ing picture" face. She gets a little cranky when she's hungry!

Though it was windy and snowing at times off and on, it was surprisingly nice out the whole day and we were having a great time.

For the descent we followed pretty much the same way.

Springtime in the Rockies. Gotta love it!

Looking down the east ridge.

I miss the summit already!

Looking back at the east ridge leading to the summit.

The snow was still surprisingly firm, but easy to grip with just our mountaineering boots and no crampons. For the steep section after leaving the ridge we remained on snow as much as possible and plunge stepped down to make it easier and quicker.

Cool looking penitentes.

Looking south at Twin Peaks (13,333' – left) and Rinker Peak (13,783' – right).

La Plata Peak. Isn't there East La Plata over there, yet another unranked 14er.

After getting down and retrieving our stashed gear we proceeded back to the trailhead. This is first time I can remember getting over 14,000 feet in early May with no snowshoes or crampons. What an incredible day!!

Bye-bye Mount Elbert.

Thanks again Susan for joining me on yet another trip since I greatly enjoyed your company and looking forward to the next outing, hopefully soon

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

02/05/2011 00:22
That bowl of berries looks tasty. I think I‘m hungry.

Another classic TR. You somehow make the pain look so fun. And that is something that I always struggle with. I have so much fun I bleed with pain. But trying to express that is difficult.


Good Route.
05/06/2009 12:38
Black Cloud is a great route to Elbert(S. Elbert in your case). Its probably good that you didn‘t have sustained views of La Plata, its really distracting, :-). And yeah try finding that Black Cloud sign at night as I did.


11/30/2010 17:28
Aubrey - Glad you like the classic report and I enjoy writing them too. Tasty indeed it was - I'm on a health kick right now. We have been doing a lot of climbs in not so great weather lately so we keep getting more and more comfortable with it, however I must admit there are times when we are in pain as well on some trips. You will get better too.

Baumgara - I take it you did that route to Elbert? I agree that is and incredibly great route for Elbert as we did get some views of La Plata off and on through the day.... so I added a picture above. Good gravy finding that sign must have been nearly impossible; they really need to turn that thing 80 degrees so it's actually useful.


Nice Spring Day?
05/06/2009 18:32
The title is (deliberately?) deceptive. I ran into Ken N and Jean A on Elbert(that‘s the tall one, right?) on the 6th. While being blown around and pelted by flying crust and spendrift, we agreed we were ready for some wildflowers.

I love the penitentes photo.


05/06/2009 18:40
Its all relative . Oh I‘m so ready for real spring too!! Well after I get a few snow climbs in first.


Nice pics
05/06/2009 18:44
Thanks for the good narrative--definitely a good day for goggles. As always, you guys rock. (But please let me know when you plan to head up to E. La Plata...!) But wait: aren‘t ”penitentes” people who are sorry for their actions??


05/06/2009 21:56
It will be awhile before we do East La Plata as our plate is a little full right now, not to mention we want to do Ellingwood Ridge when we do it so hopefully later this year. You are way too there Patrick in reference to your last statement - yea I‘m sorry for alot of things.


11/30/2010 17:28
Compared to the wind on Hunts, post-holing on Rain, and loose talus on Bross, this was by far the most pleasant hike I've had in weeks. Great route, awesome terrain, and the weather wasn't nearly as bad as it looks in those pictures – I was in wool liners all day, until I threw my jacket on, up on the ridge. If I ever do Elbert (real Elbert) again, I'm taking this route. I can't imagine what the views must be like on a nice summer day!

PS: You know you‘ve been hiking with someone too long when they can read your facial expressions through your face mask...

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