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Ascent of Mount Elbert on 2016-07-31

Climber: Gustav Sexauer

Others in Party:Artski and Katrina
Date:Sunday, July 31, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Elbert
    Location:USA-Colorado
    Elevation:14433 ft / 4399 m

Ascent Trip Report

Artski, Katrina, and I drove up to Mt. Elbert via Independence Pass from Carbondale the night prior. We intended to hike the South Mount Elbert Trail and needed a place to camp. We were too cheap for the campground and continued on to the disperse sites higher up. On the gravel road to the trailhead, Artski's Subaru was struggling. Katrina and I got out and helped push it up a 15 foot section of the road that was at the limit of it's abilities with no opportunity for gaining speed in the run-up. Someone we passed said that the road just got tougher later on, so we took the next site we found. It had a vista to the south of the lakes and put us just above 10000 feet. We ate dinner at the site next to us to deter any bears that may be around from disturbing our tent or car. Artski found a novel way to use his spork: putting beans in the spoon and putting a hot dog on the fork side. Later, a woman arrived at our dinner site, so we had a camp neighbor. We went to sleep right after the sun set over the Sawatch, but before it got dark. We woke up in the night and got on the trail at 3:33am. We knew we were going to be a slow group, and after our thunderstorm encounter on Cloud Peak last month we were not risking being in the afternoon storms. We hiked the road the rest of the way to the trailhead and didn't find any area as hard as the hill we pushed the car up, so we clearly could have made it. Oh well, we had a nice camping spot and it only added maybe 15 to 20 minutes in each direction. Crossing the stream in the road by headlamp light was also quite a start to a hike. Once at the trailhead, the trail was easy to follow the whole way up. We first passed some boggy areas, then left the CDT and headed west on the South Mount Elbert Trail. This first section of aspens and other trees seemed really steep in the night. It was also super hot, or maybe we just all overdressed. We had to shed a few layers. We kept catching glimpses of city lights to our right, and once we made it above tree line we saw that it was Leadville. In the high meadow, we turned our lights off because there was a clear distinction between the dirt trench trail and the green grass, plus twilight was beginning. The path seemed to cross the meadow diagonally, but at the end of the meadow it got to be much steeper as it went straight towards the peak and soon left the meadow for rocks. This was probably the steepest part of the trail and it was then that we saw people above us. We weren't the first hikers of the day like we had thought. We soon caught up to them in the rock switchbacks because they were taking such long breaks. It was a father and two sons. One of them thought the break was long enough to lay out on his camp roll. The sons were roughly 9 and 14 years old and said their dad wouldn't tell them what time they started hiking. As we continued up, one group was coming down, so we were likely the third group to start on this trail this morning. We then were passed by the woman who camped next to us who was certainly hiking quicker than us. We found some pika scurrying around as the trail did a long switchback on the more southern face of the peak. We were getting high now and the Sun had risen. We couldn't see the top yet and didn't know how much farther it would be. The trail came back on the more southeastern face and did some short switchbacks followed by the trail intersection with the trail from the northeastern ridge. We knew we were close, but didn't realize how close. We were worried about it being crazy windy and even heard furious flapping, but soon found it was just two guys wearing trash bags for warmth? in a rock shelter near us. The wind was minimal and it was a mere couple of minutes and we were at the top! The view was great to the west and so-so to the east. The eastern side had murky mountains below the Sun and too much evidence of large scale mining and dams to be pretty. We wondered which peaks to the west we had seen before from much different vantage points. It was just after 8 o'clock and there was little evidence of a storm coming. We were elated! This was the highest Katrina and Artski had ever been and it was state highpoint #10 for Artski and myself. On our way down began passing many people who were on their way up. The preparedness levels of the other hikers quickly peaked and began declining. Once we were almost back to the meadow we found a woman who was keeping her left foot ahead of her at all times and inching up the mountain. We thought she still had a chance. Others kept asking us how far was it to go and we debated amongst ourselves who was going to make it and who wasn't. Once we got into the trees again it was like a totally different hike, being able to see it in the daylight. The trail wasn't familiar at all. Eventually the other hikers asked us "how far to treeline" instead of how far to the top. We even saw some sitting down for a break less than 20 minutes from the trailhead at our pace. Dark clouds had moved in and we realized that most of the people we saw today were going to get wet, might not make it, or were in danger of lightning. We hustled back to the car and took down our tent in a hurry. A minute after we had bagged it up, it began to rain. We timed it perfectly! As we drove to Aspen for a late lunch the rain became a downpour that lasted for hours starting in Twin Lakes. We had a wonderful time and were happy to have this one under our belts. Katrina set our slow pace due to her asthma, but we really didn't stop much for her and no one had altitude problems so it was quite a success.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:4529 ft / 1379 m
    Extra Gain:75 ft / 22 m
    Distance:9.4 mi / 15.2 km
    Route:South Mount Elbert Trail
    Trailhead:10054 ft / 3064 m
    Grade/Class:Class 1
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:4 Hours 29 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:3 Hours 2 Minutes



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