Ascent of Mount Elbert on 2012-04-07
|Others in Party:||Beth Liakos|
|Date:||Saturday, April 7, 2012|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Elevation:||14433 ft / 4399 m|
Ascent Trip ReportMt Elbert Hike Trip Report
Summit elevation is 14,433 feet. We started at 8:37am and finished at 5:37pm. The trail was a little over 3.7 miles one way and over 4000 feet of elevation gain. Luckily Amy, Beth, Evaristo and I were able to drive 1.8 miles up a rough 4wd road to get to trailhead or our hike would have been 11 miles total instead of 7.4.
We started in a leafless aspen forest and passed a small pond named: Lily pond.
The hard frozen dirt and blessedly hard packed snow made the initial hiking relatively easy except for that pesky little detail, oxygen. The weather was perfect. It was about 40 degrees but the combination of bright sun and altitude made it very warm and pleasant. Occasionally the wind would pick up and send a chill through us. We saw only 3 other people and one dog the entire day.
The trail wove up through conifer forests and grassy rolling fields. Snow was plentiful here.
Above tree line, there was only about 40% snow coverage.
Amy prepared us by telling us about the false summits as we admired gorgeous views of the Twin Lake reservoirs.
The Leadville guide book called the, South Elbert trail an “easy walkup for anyone in moderately good condition”. Ha ha ha, ha ha. The joker that wrote that line didn't mention a crucial little detail, no oxygen! Your body needs time to acclimate to the sparse oxygen. Beth's and my 50 yr old bodies definitely needed more time. We arrived on Wednesday and hiked on Saturday.
Amy and Evaristo who live in Leadville and are also a bit younger than us didn’t have that hard of a time. Beth and I on the other hand slowly huffed and puffed our way up.
I developed a little game imagining my body was large machine with different systems, manned by crews of workers. My legs, feet, stomach, and the all important lungs were manned with separate teams of guys working to keep their area chugging along. I, being the brain was constantly yelling down to the lung department telling them to process more oxygen more efficiently. The legs would shout that they would keep going just send more air.
After a stop where I inhaled a box of raisins I ordered the guys in the stomach to crank up the furnace and get some energy to the lungs. I tried breathing as deeply as possible through the nose and concentrated on expanding my diaphragm to the maximum to absorb as much air as possible.
The first false summit was no problem. Just before 2nd false summit, the heat shimmered above in waves like you see over a desert and as we drew closer the pure white cap of Elbert danced in the background on these eddies of heat. My excitement grew as I anticipated reaching the summit soon. It soon became apparent that we still had 1.5 to 2 miles to go. My head spun with dizziness, my heart sank and tears began to fill my eyes. I would never make it.
Even Evaristo, the taut lean Maleku warrior was hiking stooped over in what he called his monkey walk. We decided it was a good time to rest and eat. Amy had made us some humungous rice, bean and chicken burritos that were almost as big as our heads. We couldn’t eat them all, except for Evaristo. Energized by the food, we started again and soon lost the trail under snow and lack of foot prints. Oh well up is a direction too. We hiked left of a snow covered area close to a large bowl that we could easily slide into. We hiked over loose rock and small patches of snow. Beth said to us, if I can't go on, the rest of you go ahead. I said: Beth this is our day! We're going to make it! The weather is great; there will never be a better time. Suddenly we spotted a dog looking down at us and knew his owners were close behind so we must be close to the trail. The dog owners had no clue where the trail was but they were headed down towards the ridge that we just came up. Down is a direction too. The hikers also raised our spirits by telling us that we had less than a half hour to go and that just above the next crest was a small level rise to the summit.
Buoyed by the good news, we continued on with increased vigor until our lungs gave out again and we had to stop to breathe. But no matter, we were confident that we were going to make it. There was no stopping us now.
Amy & Evaristo went ahead and we could soon hear them whooping and hollering. We pushed up over the crest and through the snow covered gentle rise to the summit. The wind picked up considerably. We walked in slow motion past a three sided rough rock wind shelter that was filled with snow and very close to the edge of a precipitous drop. Amy & Evaristo cheered us on as we stumbled up to the summit. We were greeted by a strange sight: a stake with an Easter Bunny on it. We had made it!
We howled and sang and hugged until we were dizzy and had to calm down. The strong wind made us cold despite the intense sunlight. So after admiringly the striking beauty in all directions and taking some pictures we headed down quickly. Even going down we would sometimes lose our breath and have to stop for a minute.
We eventually found the trail and were soon down to the grassy slopes and the four lane wide trail that resembled a superhighway from above.
The blessed hard packed snow of this morning had turned to thigh high mashed potato mush. I developed a newfound hatred of snow. Totally exhausted and cursing up a storm. I tried crawling on all four until my hands started post holing into the deep paste too. I invented new and exciting curse word combinations. I discovered that if I held my hiking poles flat and used them like snowshoes for my hands that I could make some progress. We got to a snow free area and played a kind of leapfrog from one spot of bare ground to another. We abandoned the snow covered trail and bushwhacked roughly east until we got to a fairly snow free section of the trail again. We now got to an icy slippery section of the trail and put on our spikes for the first time. Now just a hop skip and a jump back to trailhead. It felt so good to finished knowing that we hiked the highest mountain in Colorado and 2nd highest in the lower 48 states. As Sir Edmund Hillary said it’s not the mountain that we conquer but ourselves.
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