Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Date Posted:  09/28/2010
Date Climbed:   09/26/2010
Author:  Jack
 Biking Colorado's Highest  

Ride/hike basics:
South Mt. Elbert trail from the paved parking lot
Distance: 12 mi
Elevation gain: 4,900'
Gear: bikes (all about 4-5" cross country bikes to encourage climbing)
Weather: perfect

Yesterday three friends and I attempted to ride both up and down Mt. Elbert via the South Mt. Elbert trail. I had heard that this trail was rideable all of the way to the summit. Maybe when people said by rideable to the summit they actually meant rideable FROM the summit.
The bikes ridden were two Specialized Epics (one 29er), a FS Specialized Stumpjumper Expert and a nice Titus Racer X. All of these bikes are cross country type bikes made for versatility. We had a range of rider skill-levels on the ride from the weekend warrior to everyday riders and xc racer. From the paved parking lot, the fireroad to the juction of the singletrack CO trail was a nice steady climb and of course all rideable. The short section of singletrack CO trail before you hit the South Mt. Elbert trail junction is beautiful relatively flat singletrack through aspen groves, but this is just about where the rideable trail ended on the way up.


We made the turn onto the Mt. Elbert trail and were almost immediately greeted by a very steep and technical slope that we could not ride. From the junction of the CO trail and the Mt. Elbert trail, I'd say about 85-90% of the route to the summit is unrideable going up. I knew by the basic trail stats that the route was going to be steep. The grade of the trail as well as technical aspects below treeline and loose rock towards the summit all contributed to the difficulties. We were able to ride some of the techy stuff for sure, but in my opinion, even a pro rider would not be able to ride up the vast majority of the South Mt. Elbert trail past the CO trail junction. That said, we were still having fun and certainly gave the technical trail a shot on two wheels.



The aspens had for the most part passed their prime colors, but were surely still looking nice.


We did not meet any people along the trail that had a big problem with us being on bikes. I think most of the people we passed probably just thought we were stupid for pushing our bikes so far. Haha. We of course tried to be as courteous to passing hikers as possible going both us and down.
Finally we made it to the crowded summit of Mount Elbert. Of course the obligatory summit shots were taken and some others even took pictures of us with our bikes on the summit. We didn't spend too much time up top salivating over the 4,900' descent ahead of us




This is what a 4,900' downhill looks like!!!!!! awesome.

I was able to ride all of the way from the true summit and the upper portion of the descent was certainly very rocky and loose.


After negotiating some tricky switchbacks and steep terrain up high, the trail returned to the east ridge and smoothed out a little. There were certainly still technical sections, but the trail surface was hard packed dirt rather than baby skulls and scree. Our brakes certainly weren't getting much rest on such steep terrain and my 4" of travel front and back was definitely getting worked!



On the way back i rode right up to a group of ptarmigans halfway between summer and winter color. Unbelievable camouflage! Can you find all three birds in this picture? I promise they are there.




We finally got down to treeline I was glad to see some shade again and I took a short break to let the hydraulics in my rear brake to recover after overheating a little. The woods offered no reprieve from steep rocky and now rooty terrain, but gave me flashbacks of some of the bigger descents I used to ride growing up on the east coast. This is where one of my friends and I made our best attempts at flying, but unfortunately neither of us succeeded




Were certainly a bit relieved when we got back down to the CO trail junction. Our arms and quads were able to take a little break. We cruised out along the CO trail and back onto the fireroad back to the parking lot. Even along the fireroad the aspens were gorgeous.




What a day. In summary, it was a very interesting trip to say the least. I am glad that I went, as were all of my buddies. Guaranteed that I am the only one of my friends that can say they rode a bike from the summit of the second highest mountain in the lower 48 8) Even though I had a nice day, this is not a trip that I would ever do again... ever.
Maybe I saw some of you all on the trail and I hope we didn't bother anyone on this wild escapade. Hopefully this will shed light on the route for others thinking about the trip. Peace.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions

You are a moron!
09/29/2010 13:49
Please keep your bikes off fourteener trails. CFI and their team of hardworking individuals work very hard to create and maintain sustainable trails to the tops of these mountains. Thank you.

09/29/2010 14:08
My husband and I have done several of the 14ers as ”duathlons” but never rode all the way to a summit ('cept for Evans). Other good 14ers to try: Pikes(the Barr Trail is sweet), Antero, Princeton, Castle/Conundrum, Bross and we are going to do Missouri from the Huron TH this weekend or next.

mtn_ascent: Mountain biking is not inherently destructive to trails if done in a responsible manner, ie not sliding around corners, etc. As long as you are not in Wilderness Areas, it is perfectly acceptable to MTB on the trails. Your opinions might be better received with a post title that shows more maturity than ”You are a moron!”, too.


Jillaye is correct ...
09/29/2010 20:58
I was curious myself and did a bit of research:

From the Wilderness Inquiry Website: In 1980, Mt. Massive was proposed as an addition to the adjacent Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. Through a technical blunder, Mt. Massive became a separate wilderness, with nothing physically separating the two areas besides the imaginary line of the Continental Divide. The Mt. Massive Wilderness Area was designated by Congress in 1980, and now has a total of 30,540 acres. Mt. Elbert is also on Forest Service land but is not itself a wilderness area.

From the Wild Snow website: Around 1980, during the developmental days of mountain biking, we did lots of riding in legal (big W) Wilderness here in Colorado. Doing so was legal for a while, until environmentalists and user groups such as equestrians freaked out and pressured the Forest Service to make a ruling against bicycles in Wilderness.

Looks like your ”You are a moron!” statement is out of line in this instance, mtn_ascent. Mt. Elbert is not in a designated Wilderness area, and thus, is open to mountain biking.

Chicago Transplant

09/30/2010 15:03
Definitely a unique ascent and descent! Singletrack isn't my thing, I actually prefer uphill mountain biking to downhill and I usually stay on Service Roads on my descents, other bikers think I'm nuts, all that effort just to ride a road

FYI, jillaye's suggestions of Missouri and Castle/Conundrum are actually in Wilderness, you can bike the approaches on the roads, but not the trails beyond, and certainly cannot descend from the summits.

Elbert is not in wilderness area!
10/15/2010 13:37
Nice report. I did a unicycle descent of the East Mt. Elbert Trail a year ago:

I was challenged while hiking up by an individual who told me what I was doing was illegal because he mistakenly thought Elbert was in Wilderness Area. I explained to him that it was not and even showed him my map and guide book that clearly showed Elbert is NOT in Wilderness and thus open to riding. That aside I tried to be very respectful of those around me, especially on my descent. As I wanted to ride as much of the downhill as possible and to avoid any collisions with folks on the trail I'd often wait until climbing parties would pass by before I started my next downhill section.

I had a total blast and would do it again, though next time I'll make sure my unicycle is equipped with a brake as I think I could have ridden a bit more. BTW, carrying a unicycle to the summit must be much easier than carrying a bicycle!


Response to mtn ascent
03/03/2016 15:18
I would just like to provide mountain ascent with some field work and scientific papers that show that mountain biking is no more harmful to trails than hikers and much less than horses. For reference here is a website The IMBA also has a study, but that has an obvious conflict of interest.

I agree that we need to do as much as we can to preserve sustainable trails. The OP may indeed be a moron, but not because he rode a bike on a trail.


Thanks for the info
08/14/2016 10:08
Great work! While this is an old-old post, I appreciate the information. I've biked part of the standard route to Elbert and hiked the rest to the top in 2014. This week I will take the south route on my bike. Its interesting to see how upset people can get over human-powered recreation. Responsible trail use is the name of the game, regardless of your non-motorized mode of transport.

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