Mt Elbert – 14,433 in winter


RT Length: 13.25 miles

Elevation Gain: 4934’

Partner: Steffen

We pulled up to the South Mt Elbert trailhead at 5am and were ready to go soon after. There were about 5 vehicles already in the lot, and we were now worried we’d started too late and eager to get started


On our last (failed) attempt of Mt Elbert in winter we took the trail, but this time we hiked in microspikes along the 4WD road/Colorado Trail for 1.75 miles to the upper trailhead. I would recommend hiking the road instead of the trail.


The road was passable for about a mile in 4WD vehicle, and then it became solely a hiking trail. I was glad I’d parked at the lower trailhead.



At the upper trailhead we turned right, crossed the bridge, and continued along the Colorado Trail for another quarter mile


This trail is really well marked, and the trench was nice and solid


After a quarter mile we came to the Colorado Trail/South Mt Elbert Trail junction and continued on the South Mt Elbert Trail


This well maintained trail took us to treeline



Here there was a lot more snow so we decided it was time to put on our snowshoes. The sun was also rising and we could put away the flashlight.  Here’s looking back at Mt Elbert Forebay and Twin lakes


From treeline here’s the route up Mt Elbert.


Not long after making it to treeline we passed a hiker and wondered where everyone else was who’d been parked at the trailhead? There were at least 5 other vehicles there, and we only saw this one hiker along the ridge.  Seemed curious.


The wind picked up as we hiked up the ridge. The forecast said 15-20mph winds, but we felt they were much higher here


Snowshoes were useful until about halfway up the ridge, and then they weren’t really needed. I kept mine on because the wind had picked up and I didn’t want to take off my gloves to take off my snowshoes.  Steffen offered to help, but I was worried I’d need to put them back on again and honestly didn’t mind hiking wearing them, so I kept them on.


This was a simple ridge hike. I don’t do well with breaks (my feet lose function so I can’t stop) and since there weren’t any obstacles I hiked ahead of Steffen at a slow and steady pace while he took breaks as needed.  I kept looking behind me to make sure he was still on track.  I was excited to see the sign on top, indicating the summit was near.


At the saddle I decided to slow down and wait for Steffen so we could summit together. The only problem?  It was super windy.  So windy the wind kept knocking me down.  So I decided to crouch down behind this rock and take in the Massive view while I waited for Steffen to catch up. Luckily he wasn’t too far behind



When he made it to the small saddle we turned and headed towards the summit together


It was a blue skies kind of day, but extremely windy on top. I’m proud of Steffen:  this is his second 14er, and second in winter.   It was weird having someone else there to take my picture:  I had to crouch down because I kept getting blown over.



We didn’t stay long on the summit due to the wind. Steffen teaches skydiving, and was pretty sure the winds were closer to 50+mph than 20mph.  It was nice having someone else there to verify the wind speed and let me know I wasn’t crazy for thinking it was higher than forecasted.  The winds lessened as we hiked down the ridge.  Here’s the way we took back




Along with the wind came some pretty cool clouds. I took off my snowshoes for most of the ridge descent.


About halfway down the ridge we began seeing other hikers. Tons of other hikers.  They were like ants, marching their way up the mountain, and must have been sleeping in their vehicles when we made it to the trailhead.


Once we made it back to the snow we both put our snowshoes back on: we were postholing and it soon became evident the return route would be miserable without them.  We were glad we’d started when we did:  in a couple of hours this would be posthole city.




The route back was just as easy to follow as the route in, but with the added bonus of sunlight we had some pretty amazing views of the aspens




We made it back to the trailhead at 1:50pm, making this a 13.25 mile hike with 4934’ of elevation gain in 9 hours 40 minutes.


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.

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