Elbert, Mount

elevation: 4,401 m.
height gain: 1,500 m.
area: Leadville,Colorado,USA
map: USGS 1:24,000 Mount Elbert, CO

Ref: 14ers.com
mount elbert

Mount Elbert from Leadville.
Picture courtesy of Tim Best.

Mount Elbert was the main goal of this trip; it's the highest of the North American Rocky Mountains, a real prize! When I started envisioning this journey, it was this mountain that I sought out. Several weeks before leaving, I posted my intentions on the 14ers website to seek a partner for the ascent; all my friends were unable to take the required time off. Several people tried to persuade me that the timing wasn't appropriate while some others asked: why early april? Well, because that was the free time I had before returning to work and after a long winter going crazy at home, I really wanted to go! A couple of climbers contacted me but cut-off communications after finding out I was only 4 months post ACL surgery... Two gentlemen seemed willing to accompany me despite that: Ian MacDonald and Tim Best. Both of them had climbed Mount Elbert almost a dozen times already! Their résumés are quite outstanding; Ian having ascended the most 14ers, 487 with repeats to be exact and 3 continents' highest peak. Tim on the other hand, is only 3 short of having climbed all of the Colorado 14ers. How fortunate was I to be matched for a day in the mountains with these two gents!! Ian took me under his wing from the beginning, sending me links and information; he even kept an eye out for me during my travels warning me about poor weather along my route. Tim lives in Leadville; he gave me local weather updates and greeted me with open arms.


After our ascent of Quandary Peak in Breckenridge on friday, Kevin and I split up and made plans to meet later in Leadville, the highest incorporated town in North America. I drove to the mining town where I found a Subway to settle in for Wi-Fi and food. The following day, I met Tim for breakfast; he took me on a 3 hour tour of numerous trailheads and mountain passes. He told me about the town's history, how he came about to live here and bits on all the local peaks around. During that day, I relaxed, drank lots of water and dried my stuff, all in preparation for sunday's long hike. We all had planned to spend the night at the trailhead. Tim baked a cake and packed stuff to make us supper, Kevin eventually pulled into town in the afternoon and Ian was to leave from a wedding in Denver, joining us later that evening. We drove off in the afternoon and picked a nice spot to camp just past the winter trailhead, on the 4X4 road. Kevin and I went wood gathering while Tim set up to make a pasta dish. Once we had a reasonable pile to burn, we prepared our gear for the morning and broke into the wine box. As dusk fell upon us, we ate and enjoyed great conversation by the bonfire. Ian arrived just before we ran out of wood for the fire, it sure was nice to finally meet him! We continued talking and drinking wine before retiring for the night. That evening was as memorable as the climb itself!!!

THE CLIMB  -East ridge  class 1

Hike/snowshoe: RT 12.0; 7.0 up. I especially slept well that night... At 5AM, Ian knocked on the hood of the truck; I was barely asleep having just gotten up to go pee. I turned the key for some heat and some rockin' tunes while I ate dates and put on my brace and layers. Tim and Kevin were also about their morning routine. Tim made coffee and offered us an already prepared egg, bacon, bagel breakfast; the man's got the food thing down! As it got light, we started hiking up the snowbound 4X4 road to the summer trailhead; that added 6.5 kilometres and 245 meters of height gain to our trip. Once at the trailhead signs, we took some layers off and continued on the well-packed trail. Travel was pleasant and the company was great; we talked and took numerous breaks. I expressed I wasn't used to this casual trekking style; Tim joked and said: this is the American way of climbing mountains! Haha, I knew it was an advantage to climb slowly and keep hydrated to avoid hypoxia. The bluebird day was a definite bonus; the crisp cool night had tightened up the snowpack granting easy travel on the deep snowpack in the trees and meadows. Once on the ridge, we picked our way on wind-scoured terrain and hardpack snow. This ascent was a joy and the conditions were absolutely perfect. As we neared the top, Ian called out the remaining height gain every time we stopped; wow, I was elated!! I could feel the lure of the summit. I "raced up" the final jaunt on some stiff snow, I can honestly say that I felt good! ...although probably a bit slower than usual. There I was, at the summit ridge with the top in sight. I was in disbelief, the stars had really lined up perfectly to reward me with this awesome summit on such a good day with these newly found friends. After all the anticipation and hard work at home, doing physio to keep strong, I felt very fortunate and blessed. Sadly, I also had a sense that my trip was slowly winding down... We enjoyed the view of endless peaks while taking tons of pictures; Tim plastered the top with snow angels, funny man he is!!! It was a bit windy up there but I didn't even have gloves on... haha, it's easy to spot a true hardy Canadian! We stayed for a good while before turning our attention on the descent. Like all mountain tops I've reached, I knew I was only half way; I still had to make it down safely and couldn't let my guard down. I let the gang go ahead taking up the rear. My descent wasn't as slow as I thought it would be; my knee felt fine and the terrain was easily negotiable. We regrouped often and passed several people on their way up. Once at treeline, the snowpack had softened up a bit. Tim was in the lead and started postholing to his hips, that's when I put on my snowshoes to prevent a mishap. Everybody but Tim followed suit putting on the snowshoes to continue on the track through the meadows and trees. Tim insisted on going with the added quality suffering of punching through to his hips; it was bloody hilarious to watch him struggle with his boot laces undone, goodness gracious, that comedy show nearly made me pee myself!!! Soon thereafter, we reached the hardpacked track and steeper descent; I took off my snowshoes to go on. We got to the little bridge and summer trail signs in good time. For the rest of the hike on the 4X4 road, I was basically in autopilot. I listened to the guys talk about stuff I didn't really relate to; my mind was elsewhere anyway... I felt deeply content, pensive and somewhat tired. I cheered at the sight of the vehicles, I could now take my bloody boots off!!!!! I was pleased all went well for everybody. After packing our stuff, we all said our goodbyes. Ian was driving back to Denver, Kevin was driving to Colorado Springs to meet with some friends and Tim was heading home. All of a sudden I felt like I was solo again; everybody left and I hung out at the trailhead a bit before going to Subway. I posted pics after eating a good supper and retreated to my home away from home, the truck. The following morning, I awoke to unsettled weather. A sense of melancholy surrounded me, the majestic mountains of Leadville were obscured in low cloud and a storm was moving in. I slowly got ready for a short drive to Georgetown in poor conditions; I knew I'd be sitting out this storm for a day before more promising weather and a possible solo ascent of Mount Bierstadt.

drying my gear

Drying my gear and relaxing in the shade in Leadville before the big climb.


Camping near the winter trailhead; Tim preparing supper.

eating next to the bonfire

Eating around the bonfire.

ian joins us

Ian arrives from Denver after a wedding and joins us around the bonfire.
Picture courtesy of Kevin Slechta.

on the 4x4 road

Walking among Poplars on the 4X4.
Picture courtesy of Kevin Slechta.

summer trailhead

At the summer trailhead.

great company

Kevin, Tim and Ian (L to R); great company on this stellar day!

looking towards leadville

Looking towards Leadville with Kevin taking pictures.

firm uptrack

Hiking on a firm uptrack.

reaching treeline

Reaching treeline, the east ridge is very straightforward.

kevin dabbing

Kevin plans on dabbing his way to the summit!

kungfu moves

...and pulling a couple of Kung Fu moves along the way!

elbert south basin

The lovely basin between Mount Elbert and Elbert South Summit.

shallow wind-packed snow

Shallow wind-packed snow.

several fine breaks

Taking one of several fine breaks along the way.

making good progress

Making good progress on this beautiful day.

discernible summer trail

The summer trail is discernible in places.

staying on rock

I'm picking my way trying to stay on rock where I can.

looking back

Looking back again from the final snow slope before the summit ridge.

summit ridge

Ian on the summit ridge by a trail sign.


Regrouping before hiking to the top.

mount massive

Mount Massive, north of us, is the 2nd highest of the Rocky Mountains of North America.

summit picture

Summit picture.
Picture courtesy of Kevin Slechta.

waving the canadian flag

Canadian flag gets waved again!!!
Picture courtesy of Ian MacDonald.

snow angels

Tim plastering the summit with snow angels.

summit flags

Ian with the Nova Scotian provincial flag and Tim helps displaying my Canadian flag!

ian's sidekick

Ian's summit sidekick Snowball.

view south-south east

View south-south east.
Picture courtesy of Ian MacDonald.

la plata peak

La Plata Peak, a fine looking 14er (left of center), south-south west of us.

second 14er

Hey Kevin, we did it!! ...second 14er and highest one!!

guys all pumped

The guys all pumped!!

heading down

Heading down with Leadville straight below.

more descent

More descent.
Picture courtesy of Ian MacDonald.

twin lakes

Twin Lakes and Pikes Peak in the distance (left of center).

last glimpse

Last glimpse.

good conversation

Good conversations along the way.

quality suffering

Tim enjoys good quality suffering.

summer trailhead

Back at the summer trailhead.

on autopilot

Autopilot on the 4X4 road.

back at camp

Triumphantly arriving at our camp!!
Picture courtesy of Ian MacDonald.
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