Climbing 14ers in Colorado is a big deal and I enthusiastically caught the bug shortly after moving here eleven years ago. From my first laughable attempts to wiser, more sophisticated epics, it was a good time. I motored my way through a dozen or so in my first three years before realizing that the fun part was climbing mountains not the fact that their summits were above some arbitrary magical elevation. No doubt, there are some awesome mountains above 14,000’ (Longs, Little Bear, Torreys), but there are plenty of 12ers and 13ers (and even lowly 11ers and 10ers) which are equally awesome (Pacific Peak, Mt. Toll, South Arapaho, Mt. Adams, many many more!). But slaving to the tick-list subjects people to plenty of 14ers which are, quite frankly, nothing but a waste of time (Sherman, Bross, I’m looking at you!). So I threw out the tick list and moved on to climbing the interesting mountains, not the tall ones.
Since 2006, my tally has stood at 14 out of 50-something 14ers and it seemed like a good place to leave it. However, things fell into place nicely and I ended up renewing my Coloradan card. I was looking for some high-altitude trail running, the Oliver family was camping down in the Sawatch, and Eric was similarly looking for high-altitude tapering opportunities. Eric and I showed up at 10 and bivied late Saturday night, then Meggan’s friend Kirk showed up for a early-Sunday start making us a moderately-fearsome foursome.
According to the guidebooks, the “South Elbert Trail” is the best on the mountain. This route ascends the east ridge of the mountain and is called “South Elbert” because it starts from the South Elbert Trailhead… which is also on the east side of the mountain. The routes that go up the actual south side of the mountain are called something else. Fortunately, the mountain itself is less mysterious than the naming of its trails; a hike up with no technical difficulty besides a couple of early-season snowfields to negotiate.
We climbed it. It was nice. Elbert is a really big mountain and this was brought home by the fact that it took much longer than usual to get from tree line to the summit (since the summit is a couple thousand feet higher than the things I normally climb). I managed to spend about 45 minutes on the summit itself soaking in the impressive view and sharing in the big party scene that the state high point becomes on nice weekends before heading down.
In the interests if maximizing scenery, Eric and I ran down the “standard” Northeast Ridge route while Meggan and Kirk followed more sedately. It was much steeper and looser at the top than our ascent route and I was glad to not be one of the dozens of people slaving away on the way up. After a blistering 4000’ descent in 50-minutes, we turned south and followed the Colorado Trail as it rolled beautifully through the forest back to the South Elbert TH. The wildflowers were out and we spent quite a bit of time attempting to get decent macro images with our tiny point-and-shoots.
Total stats for the day: 14.3 miles and 5000’ of gain in 5.5 hours with a lot of dorking around looking at the scenery and taking pictures. More importantly, a new mountain (which happens to be a 14er and a state high point) with old and new friends amidst some spectacular scenery. It was a great and auspicious start to the 2014 mountain season, (certainly better than last year’s delayed start!).
Map and GPS track HERE.