Mt Elbert (winter attempt)


RT Length: 10 miles

Elevation Gain: 2685’

Time: 7 hours

Partner: Steffen

Note:  Our successful winter summit can be found here.

This was an attempt of the East Ridge of Mt Elbert. We ended up turning back around 12,500’ and did not summit today.  We still had a great time though, with great views and fun animal prints to be found in the snow!

We arrived at the South Mt Elbert trailhead and were on the trail around 5:30am. There was one other vehicle in the lot from out of state.  From the booklets and maps in the front seat I figured they were highpointing.  We ever did see this person…

In the dark we were unable to see the 4WD road and took the trail instead to the 4WD parking area, adding on 2.4 (unnecessary) miles to this hike



Even though there had been recent snowfall the trail was well trenched and we didn’t need snowshoes for the first few miles. Ours were the first tracks on the trail, leading me to believe the other hiker(s) had taken the 4WD road up.  After about a mile of hiking we came across mountain lion prints!  They looked to be only a few hours old.  They were headed in the opposite direction and followed the trail for about 20 yards before disappearing.


I spent the next hour or so stopping frequently to scan the night for glowing eyes but didn’t see any. After about 3 miles we made it to the junction.  Here I decided to put on my snowshoes, and kind of wished I’d done so earlier.  The bridge had a couple feet of well packed snow to cross.


There were some interesting 14er signs and here’s where we caught up with the other hikers tracks.


The sun was beginning to rise and the forest suddenly became more beautiful. The aspen trees and snow made for a unique landscape



This hike was trenched and relatively straightforward but felt like it was taking forever to complete. We made numerous stops just to enjoy the view.  The trench continued up and over the mountainside, and here Steffen stopped to put on his snowshoes.  This made a ton of difference for him!


The tracks stopped at treeline but the route seemed obvious: just head to the ridge.



Now that we were above treeline we had a good view of the summit. Unfortunately, it looked windier than we’d anticipated.


The mountains all around us seemed to be making their own snow. We weren’t going at a very fast pace (lots of stopping) and Steffen had already taken a few pain killers.  We still were only about half way in both elevation and distance.  I didn’t think our chances of summiting today were very high so we decided to turn around here.  It was a shame because it seemed like such a nice day but on a positive note the fun stuff happened on the way back.

This slope would be perfect to ski/snowboard down!


When we made it back below treeline I saw prints that hadn’t been there before: it looked like a bird had caught breakfast while we’d been gone!


Steffen made another snow angel and debated doing this on every hike until the realization hit there wouldn’t be snow in the summer… Ha! The shadows from the trees made it difficult to get great pictures.


We had fun identifying animal tracks and I enjoyed the aspen trees again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many aspen with snow below treeline:  usually I see only pine trees so this was a fun treat!



We re-crossed the bridge


And headed back to the trailhead.


We came across the mountain lion tracks again and I got better pictures in the daylight. Just as we left the prints behind we came across a group of 5 snowshoers with their dogs.  The dogs were off leash and the owners seemed upset we were there.  Lucky for us we’d turned back when we did or the mountain lion tracks wouldn’t have been there upon our return.  We made it back to my truck and checked our stats.  I was surprised we hadn’t gained more elevation than we had.  This hike seemed to have taken all day and I was sure we’d gained close to 4000’.  Oh well:  This was a well trenched hike, so I’ll be back to complete it in winter (soon).

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 (winter attempt)”

  1. Iwas elated when I seen Your postings and felt blessed to see 4 more chapters of Your mountaineering days.It’s good to know You have a hiking cohart that will assist You in a protective sense hopefully. Thank You Miss Lady Laura for sharing Your mountain exploits.


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