Ascent of Mount Elbert on 2015-09-07

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Monday, September 7, 2015
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Elbert
    Elevation:4327 ft / 1318 m

Ascent Trip Report

From the town of Elbe, I went south about 6 miles on Highway 7 and turned right on the signed Forest Road 74. After 2 miles I reached a Y, the right fork was signed to a Christian camp, and I went left. That was the last sign I saw. Road 74 wound around in the forest, gaining elevation with switchbacks, and I ignored various aide roads. For the first several miles the road was in excellent shape. A GPS track is very helpful in navigating the maze of roads here, see the track with this report. I was helped by the track of “ChadL Painter” on this site. For what it’s worth, I think I was on FR-74 to FR-283 to FR-7312, but there are no signs.

The upper parts of FR-74 started getting a bit brushy and overgrown, an unwelcome development considering the good condition of the lower portion. I drove my car over a small berm the tested its angle of attack a bit, then came to a clearing where I veered left on FR-283. This road was very narrow, brushy, and rocky, and after 0.25 mile of this I figured I had inflicted enough damage on my car and the road was unlikely to improve. Plus, I had a mountain bike with me. So I parked at the next wide spot in the road, near the NE “283” label in Section 27 on the USGS map, got out my bike, and starting pedaling.

I was glad I did. The road could certainly be driven by someone with a narrow high-clearance vehicle who didn’t care all about their paint job, but I found a mountain bike to be almost as fast, much less stressful, and pleasant exercise. The road did lose and then gain a fair amount of elevation, but it was never too steep to force me to dismount despite my poor mountain bike skills—a few times big rocks in the road forced my bike into the brush, no big deal. There were a few very nice flat stretches, but enough rocks, ruts, and brush to make me glad my car was behind me.

The weather today was overcast with low clouds, and while there was no rain and the road was mostly dry, the trees and brush were drenched with recent rain and/or dew. I heard there was bad bushwhacking on Elbert, so, wanting to give the sun more time to dry out the vegetation, I biked past Elbert, then the road junction just to the west, and then down to the Elbert-Rockies col. Here the main road went down into the valley, and a very overgrown road led up the ridge. Here I finally stashed my bike and started hiking the road. It was overgrown a bit with slide alder, but one nice thing about that otherwise annoying plant is that its leaves don’t hold as much water as conifers do. I was still getting pretty wet, though.

The road ended at the foot of The Rockies. Off to the left, in the old-growth forest, was a nice hiking trail, which I happily followed, dry among the huge trees. However, the trail started fading out and soon became brushy and hard to follow. I lost it at a big dirt cliff marked with pink tape, which I climbed, and I think I picked up the trail again. But it was very, very difficult to follow in the brush, and 10-foot high firs are now growing right in the middle of it. I got utterly soaked on this “trail” since it was basically of a bushwhack. But it was probably better then fighting the brush without its occasional short sections of footway.

The trail came out on an open slope just below the summit and after a few more brushy switchbacks I was on top of The Rockies. Debris and metal footings for a long-done lookout where there, as well as an American flag on a tree and a nice little register jar left by Fay Pullen a little over a year ago. About 8 people in 4 parties had been up here in the past 13 months-—no wonder the road and trail are reverting to nature. One strange thing-—way down in the valley I could hear a pack of dogs barking nonstop the whole time I was on top.

On the way down I did a better job of following the faint trail, avoiding the dirt cliff, but I still got very wet from the brush despite occasional sunbreaks. The road hike was better and I was soon at my bike, grinding out about 400 feet of gain back up to Elbert. Trip reports had mentioned bad bushwhacking on the north side of Elbert, so I took the west-side road south a bit, hoping to gain the south ridge, which looked more open. Just before the road dropped downhill, I stashed my bike again and headed straight up Elbert.

My uphill route was almost entirely through waist-high grass and other plants. My legs and feet got drenched, but at least my upper body was able to dry out. For a former clear-cut area, the footing was pretty good. My route was steep and climbed over some rock slabs at one point, but seemed like a very easy bushwhack overall. The summit area of Elbert was a clear-cut moonscape of stumps and grass, I checked out all high point areas and saw no register. The clouds had still not cleared enough for me to see Rainier. My GPS readings were consistently higher on Elbert than on the Rockies, but of course that is not conclusive.

I descended Elbert on the open, grassy south ridge to the first col, then down the valley. Again, it was mostly waist-high brush and not too bad, but there were areas of a spiny plant that were best avoided. I came out on the west side road south of by bike, a short uphill hike away. Glad to be done with the off-road travel, I biked back to the main east-west road and turned right for the 3.6 miles back to my car.

The Rockies and Elbert are sometimes called “dumpster peaks” and being logged-over hills in the shadow of Rainier certainly don’t make them a major destination. But if you moved this little range to virtually anywhere in the eastern 2/3 of the USA they would likely be a dominant and popular collection of 4000-foot peaks. Judging by trip reports, the condition of the roads and trails in this area has deteriorated in the past decade as logging has declined and recreational visitation stays low. It’s a shame--these peaks have good views and some pleasant forest and deserve more attention. I saw no one on my Labor Day trip.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:947 ft / 287 m
    Total Elevation Loss:827 ft / 252 m
    Round-Trip Distance:5.7 mi / 9.2 km
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:4 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country, Bushwhack, Scramble
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:747 ft / 227 m
    Distance:1.4 mi / 2.2 km
    Route:SW Slopes
    Start Trailhead:Rockier-Elbert Col  3580 ft / 1091 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:827 ft / 252 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 627 ft / 191 m; Extra: 200 ft / 60m
    Gain on way out:200 ft / 60 m
    Distance:4.3 mi / 7 km
    Route:S Ridge
    End Trailhead:Road 283  3700 ft / 1127 m
Ascent Part of Trip: 2015 - Rockies-Elbert

Complete Trip Sequence:
1The Rockies2015-09-07 a1060 ft / 323 m
2Mount Elbert2015-09-07 b947 ft / 289 m
Total Trip Gain: 2007 ft / 612 m    Total Trip Loss: 2007 ft / 612 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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