Mt Elbert

This morning the weather looked overcast and windy but I had already decided that today was the day for going up Mt Elbert, at 14,433 feet Colorado's highest peak and the second highest peak in the main part of the USA. I had to drive almost back to Leadville from Buena Vista, where I was staying, and then took a dirt road to the trailhead, fortunately the road was in pretty good condition. The main part of the car park was full at my 8am arrival but I got a spot on a stony patch of ground nearby.

This trail makes a far greater elevation gain than the trails up the other fourteeners I've already done, over four thousand feet in four and a half miles. I started in dense forest of spruce, ascending immediately at a fair rate. There were a couple of trail junctions which, amazingly in my experience so far of Colorado, were signed, and the first landmark was a view down over Emerald Lake, well hidden in the forest. I could already see the trail was going to be very busy. I came out of the forest for a brief glimpse of the surrounding mountains, and the dark clouds above, then headed back into the relative darkness of the trees.

About half way up in time the trail came above the tree line. I felt I had a tail wind. Here, and for a lot more of the route up, the summit was hidden from view by nearby lower peaks I would have to scale first. The trail became a bit more rocky and loose, but it was a very good trail compared with Quandary and Democrat. None of it was as steep as those others, and the direction kept changing so I couldn't see too far in the distance and thus couldn't see an endless line of hikers ahead of me.

I enjoyed the climb, with mountain views (surprise!), lots of tiny wildflowers, marmots and chipmunks for company. I found the last stretch hard just because of the altitude, but hikers coming down were very encouraging and I was pleasantly surprised when they started saying I only had ten minutes to go to the summit. I knew there were several false summits but I wasn't sure just how many. It was windy and the wind was cold on my skin but with all the effort my core was warm. I saw a trail coming in from another direction, had a brief chat with some hikers approaching the summit who commented on my just wearing a T shirt, and made the final push to the summit. 

It was truly cold there, a fierce wind and my hands were getting numb. I quickly put on my fleece. I checked out the views in all directions. Mt Democrat was standing there looking very obvious. There was clearly bad weather coming. I had my photo taken and didn't stay long on top; it was in any case only a small summit area.

As I started my descent I felt it was raining a little. The views were better coming down than going up, cirques below the summit, tiny lake - the sort of thing you can't appreciate when putting all energy into forward motion - and the dusty path was damped down a little. Pretty soon I was warm again, well before I reached the tree line. The wind must have dropped completely.

The descent felt long. It was long. The sun was coming out and there was some blue sky. I enjoyed the view over Emerald Lake again, and this time I noticed that you could also see the car park from there, way, way below. I finally ate the Skittles I have been carrying around with me forever; I bought them as emergency food for the Saintélyon last December and I have taken them to lots of places! 

It was a five hour round trip by the time I got back to the car. The predicted thunderstorm started two hours later.


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