Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Date Posted:  08/09/2010
Date Climbed:   08/07/2010
Author:  inthemaze

 Mt. Elbert with kids  

I had researched the climb up Mt. Elbert. I read trip reports, studied the trail map, viewed the photos. I took my family up to Mt. Evans last weekend for some elevation practice. I knew we had to start early to summit before the weather brought lightning. I thought I was prepared. I was so, so, SO wrong!

I packed the gear, packed the car (my husband packed the coffee), loaded up the family at 2:30AM Saturday morning. We drove from Lakewood, over I-70, and arrived in Leadville at 4:30AM. Thank the light for coffee. After a really annoying detour in the town, we made it through to the dirt roads of the San Isabel National Forest. The directions on and Google were excellent and easily followed, even in the dark. We arrived at the Mt. Elbert trailhead parking lot just after 5AM. Image

After bathroom trips, gearing up, repacking and breakfast, we started up the very well-marked trail at 6AM. We were all very excited, especially the 3 year-old when she got to lead the first mile. 44 minutes later, the girls were a little grumpy. Their moods changed quickly after taking off some layers and eating Nutter Butters. Image

Mile two was successful with lots of encouragement, beautiful scenery, and singing. The break was a little longer. We started the third mile at 7:30AM. We had to break again soon thereafter, but everyone was still happy and having fun. The 7 year-old helped some people with trail repair by moving two shovels-worth of dirt. What an awesome kid. Image

According to the Garmin, it took 1hr 20min to reach mile four at 12,895 ft in elevation. I don't remember how many breaks we took, but they were numerous and frequent. I started carrying the 3 year-old in little bursts, and the strain on my system was evident. I just kept encouraging and reminding her to take it slowly. She was a trooper and just kept going and going and going. The 7 year-old showed little signs of fatigue. Image

Sometime soon after, the 3 year-old just couldn't walk anymore. We were so close to the summit that we couldn't just stop there. I ditched my pack. My husband and I wrapped her up, secured her to my back, and continued to climb. She fell asleep almost immediately. The trail was clearly visible and the weather was fabulous, but carrying a sleeping toddler above tree-line is horrendous. Image Image

I could not believe how difficult it was. The terrain was steep with loose rocks everywhere. I had to use my hands often. Class 1? I thought that meant I could just walk to the summit! At 13,870 ft, the 7 year-old was so far ahead that I couldn't see her anymore. I freaked out. I handed the 3 year-old off to my husband and took off after her. My resilience was failing. My determination was failing. My heart and lungs and brain were running a marathon.

A few minutes later a descending hiker asked, "Anyone looking for a kid?" "I am! 7 year-old, stripey pink shirt?" "Yeah. She's just around the corner up there." "Thank you!" I climbed a little more, and there she was. She was crying. I began crying. We had a tearful reunion at just under 14,000 ft. She had taken a false trail and had to call for help, then realized we weren't right there with her. A nice hiker named John helped her down to the real trail and gave her some water. Thank you, John. Hikers are wonderful people.

We rested. Even through the tears, she wanted to reach the top. We climbed. We rested. We climbed. I worried about my husband and daughter down below. We climbed some more.

At 4.9 mi, 14,020 ft, we sat down and accepted defeat. We didn't want to summit without the others. We were exhausted physically and emotionally. Hikers offered their water, food, and encouragement, but we were done. We sat there for a long time. Previously, a man had come by us and said that he had gotten very close to the summit but was cramping up and had to go back. I couldn't understand that. How could you be so close, within a few hundred feet, and not just finish? I know now.

So we started the long trek down when I heard my name, and saw a tiny little girl and her father climbing up the steepest section just below. I couldn't contain the tears as they approached. We shared our experience with them, they told us of theirs. The 3 year-old woke up and said she missed us and could climb now, so up they went. Incredible. Amazing. I am humbled by the tenacity of a 3 year-old.

Unfortunately, when the 7 year-old and I told them we had decided to go back, the 3 year-old whole-heartedly agreed. My husband and I asked them if they were sure. They said they didn't care if they got to the top or not, that this was good enough. OK. Let's start getting off of this crazy mountain. Then it started to snow.


The descent was almost harder than the ascent. The pace was slow. We were worn out. Somehow, we made it down. My husband and I took turns carrying the 3 year-old off and on, but I'd bet she hiked 8 miles on her own two feet. The 7 year-old did the entire 9.81 miles. How is it that my fancy GPS device tracked us at 9.8 miles without reaching the summit, but all the trail information says 9 miles roundtrip?! Sigh. We reached the parking lot at 5PM, 11 hours after we started. Image

I can't believe we tried that. I can't believe those girls made it so far. I can't believe we didn't summit. I can't believe how hard it was. I can't believe how amazing my children are. I can't believe my husband was on-board with this. I can't believe I'm thinking about going back up there and making it to the top. I can't believe the girls aren't even sore. Wait a second. I can believe in anything now.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Family Epic
08/09/2010 18:52
The effort was heroic. I am sure you will always remember the attempt that took you to the edge.

I am sure you had your heart set on the tallest one but Bierstadt or Grays at only 3,000 feet elevation gain might have been a good stepping stone.

Best regards


What a heartfelt account ...
08/09/2010 19:04
And two cute little kidlets you've got there! Sounds like a good learning experience for all of you (and a reality check for all those beginners that frequent this site ... reading about climbing/hiking can be much different than the actual event ). Glad that everyone got back unscathed. Better luck next time. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!


awesome effort
08/10/2010 22:23
it takes a tremendous amount of self-motivation to make to these summits... from the TH to the tree line is a very steep hike...
i see many adults and teenagers crapping out along the steeper ascent on this one, near the last 13000 feet .... your girls will get it next time


Keep it up
08/11/2010 01:06
Elbert isn't the easiest first peak for sure. It gets a little steep and can be challenging. I would recomend trying Beirstadt or Quandary. Thanks for posting, and keep climbing!

Climbing Roach

Great effort!!
08/11/2010 04:29
I also have had my kids out on a few 14ers and know how difficult it is. What an effort and great that you were able to turn around and try it another day. The worst thing I think would be to push the kids too hard so that they do not enjoy it. I would suggest what Neuder suggested, try Beirstadt. I took my 5 and 3 year old up there earlier this summer and both were able to summit on their own. The mileage is quite a bit shorter and only the last section required me to hold my daughters hand (3 yr old) on the way down.


Grays and Torreys
08/11/2010 16:48
Good effort. I cannot get my nieces and nephews or grandnieces and nephews to get up any Fourteeners or any other wilderness trails with me. I suggest that your family begin fitness training walks to better prepare the muscles for the next hike. Always bring and drink a couple of quarts of water during a long hike. You probably fatigued early due to low water content. Your photographs indicate good clothing preparation.

Yesterday, I did the summits of Grays and Torreys in six hours. Both peaks are a relatively easy hike of an eight-mile loop. A friend of mine took her seven-year-old son up Grays and Torreys earlier this summer. Grays and Torreys is like hiking a paved highway after the 17 other Fourteeners that I hiked this summer. Fourteener hikers are supportive. A few assisted me last week during a 28-hour, twenty-mile hiking ordeal that was written in a guide book as twelve miles. Another hike, Antero, was written as seven miles from high up a old mining road, but was actually fourteen miles from the lower trailhead. Guidebooks are written from different perspectives, but nothing compares to the hazards on mountains due to extreme weather conditions above tree-line. I frequently climb in snow, rain, high winds, and gloom of night.


thanks, and ...
08/11/2010 17:21
Thank you all for your encouraging words. I knew that it was going to be a challenge. My husband and I are training for a marathon (his first, my second) and the girls are incredibly active as well. We regularly hike and bike and run. We packed tons of water, drank regularly before and during. It was just more than I expected. The girls are in great spirits still, and the 7 year-old is ready to try again. The 3 year-old doesn't care either way. We are planning to try Beirstadt next Saturday, Grays and Torreys the next. This Saturday is an easy hike up South Table Mountain.

Again, thank you all. Thank you hiker John. It's really cool to be part of a community that is so appreciative of these wonders. Say hello if you see us!


Nice job!
08/20/2010 23:14
The mountain will always be there, it's the time with your kids that matters! Now that I read your report, Nutter Butters sound really good right now. Just a thought, you might take your girls to try Handies Peak. It is the easiest (by 14er standards) that we have done and the views are amazing! Good luck on your future hikes!


Just wow on the effort
12/13/2010 14:36
I just came across your post and am impressed you attempted Elbert with a 3 year old. We hiked with our 5 year old son up to the saddle of Tigger & Princeton Peak in June. A great family experience looking back. 8)

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