Updated: Jul 2, 2020
At 14,439 Ft Mt. Elbert is the highest peak in Colorado and second highest in contiguous US
4,700 ft elevation gain is an enormous one to take on, it has its fair share of adventure and risk, but an amazing sense of accomplishment once done.
Preparedness for the hike
Challenging but incredible, with stunning views of the Rockies - Mt. Elbert is true to its nickname the 'Gentle Giant'
The tribe set off with the goal to summit the highest peak in Colorado, we flew in from the Bay Area and decided to drive up to Breckenridge,CO for spending the night. Given the enormity of this 'Gentle Giant' we wanted to get some acclimatization in. The next day was reserved for some local hiking, for those of you who know the area, there are plenty of trails that will take you to over 10,000 ft. The day went off as planned. Given what we were going to undertake the next day, we knew we should do a quick gear check, hydrate and retire early.
That night the lack of acclimatization started to show in the tribe, given we had rapidly moved from sea level to almost 10,000 ft during the day. Nevertheless the tribe was determined to make the summit push, so we woke up around 3:30 AM, got ready and set off to the trail head near Leadville, CO we were going to approach the summit via the Northeast Ridge Trail.
It was still dark and cold around 4:45 AM at the base, headlamps on we followed the track of lights. There were hikers who had slept in their vehicles so they could catch an early start. Freezing hands got some respite as the first ray of light emerged from behind the mountain. One step at a time and taking breaks when we needed to catch our breath and soak in the splendor surrounding us. There was ample company along the trail. The tribe walked past some amazing woods, patches of snow and wildlife along the way, before we were out of the tree line at around 11,500 ft. Beyond this point was heaps of rocks, dirt and scree on the trail which we were about to tackle.
The altitude started to get to folks in the group, so the natural decision was to slow down the pace for the body to naturally adapt to the lower levels of oxygen. There are some fairly steep parts on the trail hence going slow and taking time to breath is the best way to tackle the altitude. As we climbed higher we could see the peak, with a rather steep accent. This gave us a sudden rush of joy that the summit was at close quarters. However, the joy was short lived, we came to realize, that was just a false summit and we had to go through a few more before the actual summit of Mt. Elbert was even visible.
On the way up we came across an injured lady being carried down the mountain by a fellow hiker, she had twisted her ankle on the rocks and was unable to walk. That was a warning sign for us to tread carefully. Also right around this place one of our tribe had to abandon their push to the summit and return, thankfully the call was the right thing to do, as the altitude and challenge was about to get bigger from here. At roughly 13,400 feet the route becomes much steeper. This next section of trail gains almost 500 feet in less than a mile along a scree ridge. And there you have it, right in front is the summit, once it was in real sight, we moved quickly to grab it. Spectacular views of the Rockies, had never seen anything like this before, we had made it. It was windy and chilly up there. As the rest of the tribe finished, took pictures, grabbed lunch, it was time to head back. It's critical to get to the treeline before the afternoon thunderstorms and lightning. Roots from our tribe was with us, a 10 year old who made it up with the rest of us, the words of encouragement from fellow climber certainly continued to motivate him.
The walk down was even more grueling on the tired legs than the walk up, they felt like jelly on this unending descent to the trail head. It felt like the hike was more like 15 miles than 9 miles.
12 grueling hours and absolute sense of accomplishment
Celebrating Tribe's Success
It was time to celebrate the success, the tribe enjoyed some great Mexican food and headed back to the cabin. That night was spent nursing some after effects of a sudden accent of altitude and blisters. The good part was that with some extra fluid and rest it wore out quickly and we were ready to take our plane ride back to the Bay. This is an incredible achievement to summit this 'Gentle Giant' and a must do for adventure enthusiasts. Good Luck!
Learning's from the tribe - There is no other way to tame altitude but to give enough time for the body to adjust, the effects of improper acclimatization can be fatal.