Mount Elbert (14,443′) | CO Rank: 1/637
Sawatch Range | San Isabel National Forest | Twin Lakes, CO
08/22/20 | 11.6 miles | 4,133′ gain | Class 1
For my birthday last year, I climbed Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado. As both a 14er and state high point, Elbert counted towards two of my long term goals and was my 11th Colorado 14er and 4th state high point. My friend Tori came with me to help celebrate.
We started from the South Elbert Trailhead which is easy 4wd (or Subaru-able with some difficulty). There is a ton of dispersed camping all along the road and around the trailhead. The trailhead itself is super small and rutted with minimal parking and even less room to turn around. Easier parking can be found ~0.15 miles below the trailhead; this is where I’ve parked (and camped) the handful of times I’ve visited the area.
The trail starts in a beautiful aspen forest and follows the Continental Divide Trail/Colorado Trail (CDT/CT) for ~0.4 miles. We followed signs for the South Mount Elbert Trail (though really we were on the eastern side of the mountain). The trail quickly gains elevation after leaving the CDT/CT, switchbacking to treeline. Once out of the forest, we’d typically have good views but the darn wildfire smoke was getting in the way. I was afraid we’d have another day like on Crystal Peak the week before, where the smoke was so bad it aggravated Tori’s asthma and made me feel sick, but we seemed to be in a bubble of clean air. We neither smelled smoke nor felt any negative effects.
There is a good break spot near treeline that we took advantage of. It seems that many people stop here as the wildlife was particularly “friendly”. A gray jay was dive bombing us, we assume trying to get us to drop our popcorn. Sorry, none for you!
Once above treeline, we continued our climb. Elbert was in view the whole time now and it looked really far away.
Volunteer trail crews were working on re-routing a section of trail and restoring the old, eroded section. They were enlisting the help of hikers to carry logs on their way up the hillside. Of course we said yes and each carried a log a few hundred vertical feet up to where it would be installed. Each log carried was one less trip for a volunteer, so we were happy to help!
The trail curves around the south side of the mountain and switchbacks a handful of times before reaching the summit. Once I hit 14,000′, my body was done and I moved even slower (if that’s at all possible). Eventually we topped out and pushed through the crowd (yes a crowd) to touch the summit at last.
It was such a good feeling to finally summit this mountain that I had yet been unable to finish! We didn’t have much for views (due to the smoke) and the summit was insanely busy but I didn’t even care.
We still had a long way back to the truck so we didn’t stay at the summit long. We took our lunch break down lower where we could get away from all the people. Once we were finished, we made quick work of the trail back to the truck.
I was elated to have finally climbed this mountain that has eluded me for so long. Elbert was my first new 14er in nearly two years! I think this means I’ve finally broken my 14er drought. Now I’m just hungry for more! C’mon summer 2021!