Friday, September 18, 2009

Mount Elbert

This past Saturday, Judy and I climbed Mount Elbert, at 14,433 feet, the tallest mountain in Colorado and the second tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, behind Mount Whitney. It was a fabulous weekend to be in Colorado. The aspens were turning color and the mountains were spectacular. The night before the hike, we stayed at the Ores & Mine Bed & Breakfast in Twin Lakes, 15 miles south of Leadville, near the base of Mt. Elbert and at an elevation of over 9,000 feet.

We had descriptions for three different routes and were persuaded by the proprietor, John Cornella, who has climbed Elbert 24 times, to take the East Ridge route which starts at the South Mt. Elbert Trailhead near their home. Donna Cornella provided us a fantastic breakfast of eggs, ham, toast, canned grapefruit slices and orange juice at 6:00 a.m. to help us get the day started right. We drove about .4 tenths of a mile up the 1.8 mile four-wheel drive dirt road, at about 9,700 feet, and hiked the balance of the road to the trailhead. It was through a spectacular forest of aspens with their leaves turning gold. From there we took a bridge over a small stream, followed the Continental Divide Trail for about one-quarter mile, then branched left and almost immediately started an insanely steep trail up the side of the mountain. Whoever did this trail had never heard of switchbacks. It is exruciatingly steep in many places along the way. After one steep section, below, Judy pauses in front of some aspens in their transformation from green to gold.

She then looks down the trail through a corridor of beauty.

After awhile, we broke out from the thickest stands of trees and caught some views across the valley. The mountain on the other side of Twin Lakes was awash in green and gold. The picture almost looks like an infrared camera recording various levels of heat.

Then we started to get some perspective on the aspens we'd just hiked up through. Sections were so gold it almost appeared to be saffron rice.

The mountain to the south of Elbert, which may be South Elbert, had a wonderful mixture of yellow, green and red, the red provided by ground cover. John Cornella indicated that mountain goats could sometimes be seen on the cliffs of that mountain, but I was not able to see any.

As we reached near treeline, we got good views of Mount Elbert above us. It is not a particularly pretty or spectacular peak. There is not much in the way of craggy rock or exposed cliffs. But the trail does head straight up the mountain with very little in the way of detour.

There are times when I am prone to altitude sickness and this day was not a good one for me. From the very beginning, I had no oomph. Based on the end of the day when my lungs were showing significant effects of pulmonary edema, I believe that I was not getting a good oxygen flow which sapped my energy and made the climb a real struggle. Judy was well ahead of me almost the entire way up and I just slowly plugged away. Because of my lack of oomph, it was not one of my more pleasant hikes. Below, we get higher on the mountain. The main northeast ridge route up Elbert follows the ridge, to the right of the picture, up to the summit.

Near the summit, looking back down on some hikers coming and going and on Twin Lakes, now far below.

The visual effects of the summit were deceiving. Coming up, it appeared that there were several points west of the summit ridge that were taller than the summit. Below, Judy in her red jacket, to the far right, stands near the summit.

Judy, at the summit. This was Judy's third fourteener. She previously had done Mount Whitney and White Mountain in California. She is an amazing hiker and fun to be with because she appreciates the beauty of the outdoors.

From the summit, looking west. At this point it was quite cold. We had already experienced several snow flurries, nothing sticking, and some significant winds.

Looking to the north from the summit is Mount Massive, the second tallest mountain in Colorado and the third tallest in the contiguous U.S.

The geographic marker at the summit.

There was a group of three men on the summit drinking a toast and talking about one of their buddies that had recently died. They had his ashes and were going to spread them around near the summit. Their buddy had climbed all of the fourteeners in Colorado and was apparently quite a mountain climber.

After a short time on top, we started down. With my ability to breathe well less a factor, I made substantially better time on the way down. We ran across three sooty grouse sauntering along, oblivious to us.
Judy ahead of me, with tree line and Twin Lakes ahead of her.

As she gets to tree line, Twin Lakes is substantially closer.

The last portion of the hike was again through the beautiful aspens.

The hike was worth the time we spent in the aspens, let alone the higher elevation portions.

Overall, we did 11.2 miles and had 4,800 feet in elevation gain. As indicated previously, I really struggled and found as we got back to the Ores & Mine that I had a pretty significant amount of fluid in my lungs. I was happy to get this one over with and hope that my body will respond better to the next fourteener. A month earlier I had no trouble at all with my lungs on Mount Sneffels. We have fallen in love with Colorado. The high mountain country is spectacular.

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