Mt Elbert – 14,433′


RT Length:  9.5 Miles

Elevation Gain:  4700’

I still have a handful of class 1 14ers I’ve ‘saved’to hike in May/early June, and after the past couple of 14ers I’ve experienced I figured it was time for a break.  Also, I had a board meeting to attend at 4pm today, so I needed something that wouldn’t take me all day to accomplish/leave me stranded on a mountain.

I woke up at 1am and made it to the trailhead around 4:30am.  There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot, and despite the signs stating “no overnight camping” it appeared someone was sleeping in their vehicle.  High-Five sir.

The road in was a 2WD dirt road.  This was the most ‘challenging’ part, so if your vehicle can make it past this obstacle, you’re good to go.


The parking lot is completely clear of snow and (today at least) mostly empty.

3 Parking Lot no overnight

I started at about 4:45am.  The snow cover started after the first junction (about a mile in) and was annoying but manageable without using traction.  OK, in reality, I’m just stubborn.  I should have put on my snowshoes, but I wanted to see how far I could make it without them.  The path was well defined in most areas, but in the dark and with the snow there were a few times I had to backtrack.  Nothing major though.

I was able to make it all the way to treeline without traction, although honestly snowshoes would have been helpful.  Don’t get me wrong, I HAD snowshoes, I just didn’t want to take the time to put them on because they “didn’t seem worth it”.  Every 100 feet or so I’d posthole up to my waist, which was always unexpected and a great workout, but very time consuming to extract myself.  You see, you can’t just get out of a posthole that deep like you get out of a pool by doing a push-up because your hands immediately sink in the snow (duh!).  I had to get creative.  Side note:  this would be a great idea for an exercise machine at the gym:  you’re walking and then all the sudden the machine holds you by your waist and won’t let you go until you figure your way out.  OK, probably not such a great idea.  But it was a good workout.  I digress…

Did I mention it was 5am?  (Yes, I looked at the weather, and it wasn’t supposed to get below freezing all night, but I could hope, right?).  And I should also mention it was obvious those hiking yesterday or earlier this week had it worse than I did.  Either that or they were really tall because their postholes went much deeper than mine.  This picture really doesn’t do them justice, but it’s all I have….


I made it to treeline just before sunrise and got my first view of Mt Elbert


I was excited with this view, because it meant I could most likely summit without traction (and I did).  As I started hiking above treeline the sun started to rise.  I love sunrises, and spent about 20 minutes just watching….


Above treeline the trail was pretty obvious


Well, at least for most of the way.  Once I got here I had the option of hiking on snow or trail.  I alternated between both.

My alarm rang. It was now 6:50 am and time for me to call my High Schooler to wake her up for school (I’m her 3rd alarm).  I was a little out of breath, but it looked like I was about half a mile from the summit, so I told her I was “almost there” and wished her well at school today.  I wasn’t.  In reality I was probably over a mile away from the true summit. But it looked so close!!!

The frustrating part were the false summits.  I made it around one turn, thinking I was close to the summit, but I actually had 2 more ‘summits’ and a few cairns to go….


I love signs.  Love, Love, Love them.  Here’s a great one…


You see, it told me which way to take to go when I was headed back down.  That’s not always an issue, but this peak has several routes, so knowing the correct one to take back down can save you a lot of time if you accidentally get so excited about your summit views you forget which route you took because you weren’t paying attention on your hike up.  It also indicated I was close to the summit.  Here’s the summit view


And picture proof I summited (8am)

13 Mt Elbert 14433

I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I get summit photos when I summit solo.  I usually get creative with my DSLR on automatic, my gorillapod and trekking pole, but today there was a post in the perfect spot, so I improvised…

14 how I take pictures

Did I mention the views were AMAZING?!?!?!?  I stopped for a minute just to enjoy (beef jerky was also involved).


It was COLD at the summit!  It was supposed to be 46 degrees today, and it might’ve been, but that 45+ mph wind was a killer! I couldn’t feel my fingers (OK, I actually kind of could, but it was more of a pain/throbbing/burning thing than an actual movement thing and I knew it wasn’t a positive thing…).  I took a selfie, checked in at Mt Elbert and wrote the obligatory “I’m the highest person in Colorado right now” post on facebook, and headed down so I could start thawing out my fingers.

The snow was definitely softer on the way down, but manageable without traction.


I made it back to treeline at 9am.  This is where the hike got fun.  I knew I was going to put on my snowshoes (I’d anticipated warmer temps + softer snow = put on those snowshoes), but they weren’t ALWAYS necessary, so I alternated for a bit between quickly trekking on lots of snow and slowly slogging through mud.

17 Start and Stop

I was now postholing with every step.  The good news?  Because of my snowshoes I was only postholing up to my knees, instead of up to my waist.  This was an improvement!  Once again, I could see others had it MUCH worse than me (or were VERY tall).

18 Postholing

This intense workout lasted for about half a mile, and then conditions alternated between snow on the trail (and pretty much only on the trail)

20 No Snow perfect

to no snow at all…

20 No Snow perfect

Did I mention I love signs?  This trail has great/amazing/wonderful/actually informative signs.  Check them out

21 signs

I made it back to my truck at 10:45am, making the 9.5 mile hike in about 6 hours, with generous time allotted for sunrises and summit exploring.

On the way out I couldn’t help but stare at Mt Massive…. Maybe next week?


Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

One thought on “Mt Elbert – 14,433′”

  1. Now I know how you get a lot of your selfies.I use to think you set your camera on a rock or whatever and set the timer. I’m still not sure how you make such good time traveling through such deep snows.I have learned a lot from your writings about the lingo used to describe what it takes to reach the many summits you have achieved and are achieving to this very day .I can’t imagine the excitement you feel every time you have another victory that wasn’t given to you but rather earned by the many sacrifices you have given to get there. Continue doing what you do best. Is there anything that you’re not good at ?


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