Elevation: 14440 ft ( m)
Elevation gain: ~4400 ft ( m)
Distance: 4.5 mi ( km) one way
Location: near Leadville, Colorado
Date: August 17, 2012
After hiking Wheeler Peak, I drove up to Leadville, Colorado and arrived at the Elbert Creek Campground at 5:30 on August 16. At 6:00 the next morning I began hiking up Mount Elbert, the highest point in Colorado and the second highest in the United States outside of Alaska (Mount Whitney in California is slightly higher).
Although the sun was not yet up, there was enough light to hike without a headlamp, and right from the start I encountered seven other hikers in two groups. Once I past these people there were only a few other small groups that I ran into on the way up. The first mile of the hike follows the Colorado Trail/Continental Divide Trail. The first two-thirds of this is fairly steep and is a series of switchbacks, while the rest is quite flat to the junction with the North Mount Elbert Trail.
The North Mount Elbert Trail begins with a short and fairly flat section, but quickly becomes steep and rarely flattens out thereafter. For all but the first half mile the North Mount Elbert Trail follows a ridge to the summit. At around 11,500 feet the trail crosses a small clearing that provides the first decent views. The trail reenters the forest only to reemerge a quarter mile later above tree line. Tree line is approximately the halfway point in terms of distance during the hike, but much less than half with respect to elevation. At this point you can see a false summit in front of you and if you look carefully you may be able to see the true summit to its left.
Just below the false summit a quick-moving cloud dropped some freezing rain on me for about ten minutes, but after it passed the weather improved. Once you have reached the false summit you have climbed the steepest part of the trail. But from here the going is still very slow as you approach 14,000 feet. As you near the summit the trail flattens out and you get views in all directions. There were several people already at the summit when I arrived at 9:30, and I previously passed a few who had begun the descent.
The North Mount Elbert Trail is one of three trails that go to the summit of Mount Elbert, although it is the shortest and probably the most popular. The view from the summit was not as great as I had hoped because northwesterly winds had brought in smoke from fires that were burning in Idaho and California. I could see north to Mount Massive, south to La Plata Peak, and west a ways, but I couldn’t see much to the east. By the time I left the summit there were many more people there, and I passed even more still hiking up as I hiked down. I arrived at the trailhead just after 12:30.
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