Destination Leadville Part 3 (Mt. Elbert 14,433’)

Sunday had finally come; we woke at 7:30 a.m. our bag’s had been packed the night before as not to waste time bagging our first fourteen. The consensus was that we would get the biggest one out of the way and the rest would be easy, ha. When we arrived at the trailhead there were several vehicles indicating that it would be a busy day. The sun was shining; not a cloud in sight and the smell of spruce and freshly melted snow lingered through the crisp mountain air. What a perfect way to start the morning. We could see that there was a significant amount of snow on the peak, but we didn’t account for the snow that was just below the tree line, so the snowshoes were left in the truck.

top of the worldThe first mile was a relatively mellow walk to the trail head. Than we climbed straight up 1,000 feet before the first switch back. That switchback also gained close to 1,000 before it leveled off and hit another switchback. I figure the people who built the trail didn’t want the first section to be easy. This may have been a way to control the amount of people who actually make it to the top. I had climbed this peak 6 years previous and it seemed fairly simple. I must be getting old cause this moderate hike felt more intense.

A couple hundred yards before tree line we began spotting snow drifts which varied between 2 ½ to 3 feet high. Then the trail ended in a snow bank so the post-holing began. We did not think we would make the summit as the snow drifts where weighing heavily on us. We saw salvation through the trees; just 50 more grueling feet and we were above tree line. We stopped and ate some lunch and had some tea; slowly regaining energy for the last 2,433 feet. We began to wonder why we had left our snow shoes behind.

The only thing that kept us going was the false peaks, roughly 3 of them. 1,500 feet from the top we stopped to watch skiers braving the bowl. Slow and steady descents, the snow was getting warm and slushy and obstacles where abundant. It was nearing 1:00 and we knew we had to be off the peak by 2; it’s common for snow or thunderstorms to blow in late afternoon. The wind began blowing and it seemed to increase with strength every step. I stopped for a few moments to pull out my melanzana sweater. Yes, I name dropped, for those of you who have never heard of this company I advise you to look into their wears. Their website is:, they are a local secret here in Leadville and are producers of some of the warmest clothing I have ever owned. I was happy to find that they had expanded since my last visit and am still shocked that they are not a big name outside Colorado.

We reached the summit with 4 minutes to spare, there were a few clouds but nothing worth worrying about. We took a few pictures for proof and tried to sign the roster, this is quite hard with shaky swollen hands, and it wasn’t until the descent that I remembered I had gloves.

The view from this height is completely amazing you can see for miles in all directions, nothing but Rocky Mountains, snow and spruce. You can really get a sense of solitude on a mountain of this size. This is a once in a life time opportunity for most people and I am fortunate enough to have experienced this giant twice.