A few years ago, my family and I visited Leadville, Colorado, the highest incorporated city at 10,152 feet. We were there to visit my uncle and climb Mount Elbert as well. Prominent fourteeners, Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, are situated close to Leadville, and are a nice addition to the scenery in my uncle’s backyard. (Lucky guy!)
Climbing Mount Elbert is considered more of a ‘walk up.’ No technical skills are needed to climb this mountain. Obviously, you still need to be in shape and be a competent hiker. Also, this climb was approximately a 5,000 feet climb. Other mountains, like Rainier, have a much higher elevation gain (9,000 feet) and have more technical and challenging climbs, despite being shorter than Elbert. Just to note, no permits are need to hike Mount Elbert. (For more information about Mt. Elbert hikes, click here.)
We decided to climb the southeast ridge route, an 11 mile round trip hike with a 5,300 foot elevation gain that took us around four hours to climb up (with stops to rest and take in the views) and about 2 hours to climb down. When you climb any mountain, you always want to climb as early in the day as possible because storms come often in the summer afternoons. You never want to be above the tree line when storms roll in.
Here are some photos of our trip up:
The trip up was long and arduous, but we were fortunate enough to have decent radio contact with my uncle and our kids back at his house in Leadville. Since our kids didn’t have cell phones, we opted for two-way radio contact. My uncle has a powerful field scope inside his home which faces Mt. Elbert, so he and my kids were able to watch us go up the mountain and send some motivation via radio. (That’s me on the radio, bottom photo.)
We were hiking just fine throughout the morning. The skies were clear and the trail was in good condition, even with 4×4 tire tracks up part of the trail. However, around 13,000 feet my lungs were feeling the strain. I have a history of asthma and don’t have the best set of lungs; I was definitely feeling the altitude. Of course, it didn’t help that the summit we saw was not the actual summit, but a ‘false summit,’ eliciting some groans and complaints from the two of us. The last 1,000 feet was tough for me because I’d take five steps and need to rest for air. Considering we had left Chicago (600 feet above sea level) on Saturday, flew to Denver, drove to Leadville, and were at 13,500 feet on Monday morning, I definitely had not acclimated enough. I was determined to push through, despite being oxygen deprived. We finally reached the summit about 4 hours after starting our hike up. (This hike was in late July which is why all the snow is melted.)
We only stayed on the summit for 30-40 minutes since large clouds started forming. We knew with the clouds were swirling around us that rain and storms were coming and it was time to head down.
Once we were below the tree line, we felt much better. You want to enjoy the hike as much as possible, but not so much to the point that you aren’t being wise about your own safety. Soon, I was breathing normally again and we were relishing in our accomplishment. It started to rain a little halfway down and we lost the trail for a bit. We took shelter under a tree until the rain subsided, found the trail, and made the final trek down. (Below is a photo of my husband and I at the trailhead after the hike, and my family and I outside my uncle’s house with Mount Elbert in the distance.)
We had so much fun conquering Mt. Elbert that we figured we’d be back to tackle Mt. Massive. We haven’t gotten there yet, but it’s still on our list.