Monday, September 27, 2010

Walking on top of Colorado

Another weekend in a row we were fortunate to have our friends Neil and Meghan in town. Back in July our friend Kim decided to get tickets for the Colorado Rockies baseball fan appreciation game (complete with fireworks!) for Friday night and N&M took it as an opportunity to hang out with all of us in Denver. We decided that since we were all going to be together another 14er hike was in order because as we all know by now this is our favorite past time. Mt. Elbert was the natural choice since it was two hours closer to home for them and, being in Leadville, was obviously not far from home for us.

Mt. Elbert, at 14,433 feet is the highest peak in the Rocky Mtns. of North America. It lies in the San Isabel National Forest and is the second highest in the United States after Mt. Whitney in California. After studying the trail routes on I decided we should take the East Ridge instead of the Northeast Ridge which is the standard route. The reason being that the elevation gain would be less (4,100 instead of 4,700) and at the upper trailhead it would only be 8 miles roundtrip instead of 9. If you take this route however, it's a good idea to have a 4wd vehicle with good clearance so you can park farther up the trail. From the lower lot it's 12 miles roundtrip so you can imagine the further you park up the road the shorter the hike. Of course there wasn't a lot up here, just some pull off's on the road. With the Aspen's in full yellow color the drive was gorgeous up the road. Sadly a lot of the Aspen's had already lost their leaves but as you can see from the pictures we picked the perfect weekend before they all fell off:

aspen field that's half lost their leaves

close up of the trees driving in

off roading time!

Another reason for starting at the shorter trail was that we had our friend Sarah with us who has never hiked a 14er before and just moved to Colorado this summer. She's an old friend of Chad's and had sent me a message saying she really wanted to join in our next adventure. Knowing we had Mt. Elbert planned I happily invited her along and she accepted. She met at our house at 5:30 am and, after a slow start we were out the door. We reached the start of the trail about 9am. Chad has done Elbert before several years ago so we relied on him to guide us through the brush we had to bushwack through to get to the Colorado Trail which meets up with the Elbert trail.

this bridge has seen better days

on the colorado trail before it meets up with the Elbert trail

finally on the right path! the summit bandits - Neil, Meghan, Anna, Sarah, Malia, Chad and me
and Marley of course, bebe was romping around elsewhere

Getting to the right trail wasn't a problem but coming back we took a wrong turn so pay close attention when you go this way as to where the trail splits off.

The first half of the trail was gorgeous hiking through Aspens. These are, without a doubt, my favorite tree and the colors reminded me of when Chad and I had our engagement pictures taken in October several years ago!

You just never know when the leaves are going to start changing and one they are gone they are gone for the year so you have to enjoy while you can. And enjoy I did

Near 11,400 feet the forest opens up to some small meadows and then at 11,7000 the trail levels out before you climb about 3/4mile up and across the hillside towards Elbert's east ridge. There was a great open field with views of Mt. Massive and Sherman and Turquoise Lake which made an excellent stop for snacks and enjoying the scenery.

Meghan and Malia coming to join us

wait, is that snow I see? fortunately there wasn't a lot to contend with

Chad and neil sharing a rock. If you look really hard you can see sherman off in the distance to the right

The more elevation we gained the better the views became and it was such a clear day you could see for miles. We had amazing views of the Twin Lakes which I remember first seeing with Chad after we had gotten engaged and were driving home over Independence Pass coming from Aspen. While there was a lot of elevation to still gain and the trail was steep the trail stays consistent and we never encountered any talus or scree. At about 13,000 feet we took another break and a chance to enjoy the day:

Malia making it up, no tears or anything this time!

Our version of Advanced Base Camp at 13,000 feet

If you can't laugh, hiking is going to seem a whole lot longer than you like

Sarah and I with the Twin Lakes in the background

REI ad in the making, ready to keep going! Notice chad's already left us in the dust as has Sarah

Just above 13,600 feet the trail turns left and continues around the south side of the peak and 200 feet after that you begin to traverse west and turn right to begin the final climb to the summit. There are, of course, several switch backs at this point and the trail gets a little rockier but nothing too intense. I personally hate switch backs and did not find these to be long or terrible at all and from here the summit was in full view urging us onward and upward. Before we knew it we reached the top which, by all accounts wasn't too crowded for a Sunday. The top was even warm with hardly any wind which is rare for that altitude. Malia and Meghan were about 10 minutes behind us so we all got to enjoy the top together and of course the amazing views:

The couple that hikes together stays together! With La Plata in the background to the right (rounded looking mtn)

I just can't help but jump for joy

Long way down from the second highest point in the US

Team Summit Bandits do it again, and hopefully have another convert to our cult of hiking :)

We stayed on the summit for about 20 minutes talking to fellow hikers, snacking and marveling at how lucky we got for such a perfect day to hike. It took us about 5 hours to reach the top. Of course, what goes up, must come down so we bid farewell and started the 4 miles back down to the car.

Mt. Massive we will see YOU next year!

For some going down is easy, as evidence by Malia being last up but leading the pack down...yes that's her Waaaay ahead us followed by Chad and Neil. Chad actually got so far ahead at one point I had to yell at him to slow down. I don't think splitting up a hiking group is ever a good idea and hiking down it's easy to get carried away and forget your group is far behind you. It's also a safety issue because if you are too far ahead or behind you could get hurt and no one would know or be able to find you. Sarah's knee where her ACL was replaced was bothering her so she took her time and I stayed behind to make sure she made it ok. She was first up to the top but the coming down was rough on her knees and I wanted her to take her time and not feel rushed. I know how much a knee injury sucks and the mtns. are not kind to them!
Regardless I didn't mind taking my time once we hit treeline, it gave me an excuse to enjoy the Aspen's one last time:

As I mentioned earlier we had a bit of a time finding where we had exited the trail earlier and bushwacked to get back to the dirt road we parked on. We ended up a little farther up than expected and had to cross this dead tree over the water. Sarah showed us how it was done:

Finally at about six we reached the car just as the sun was casting it's last light on the forest.

Understandably we were all exhausted at this point and looking forward to heading home. The hike definitely took a little longer than expected which put us right in the line of traffic on I-70 on the way home. We said goodbye to N&M and went our separate ways home.

To date I think this was my favorite hike. The moral of this one just seemed so much better than any others before and even though we are such a diverse group with different ability levels we all made it to the top and had a blast doing so. The weather was so warm I only had a thermal on for half of the time and the sun was so bright and warm we all ended up with sunburns. Let that be a lesson in using sunscreen! The only thing I would have done differently is carry a less heavy pack. I carried my framed backpacking pack and it weighed a good 30lbs I would guess leaving me with some nice bruises on my hips today. I'm still fine tunning my day hike packing and after running out of water last week I wanted to make sure I was more than enough prepared. I am sure as time goes on I'll be even better about guestimating how much water I need. I know I overloaded in the snack department but hey, at least no one went hungry!

I can feel the hiking season coming to a close which leaves me a bit sad. I hope I can get Wetterhorn in as well as round two of Mt. Sherman with my mom before any real weather hits. Of course the mtns. are the boss and what they say I abide by. I just count my blessings they've been good to me and my friends so far and have brought us all a little closer together...

1 comment:

  1. I will say that this was one of my most favorite days ever!!!