The highest point in Colorado just happens to also be my very first 14er that I’ve ever hiked. Rising up to 14,433 feet in the Sawatch Range, Mount Elbert is not only the highest point in Colorado, but is also the second highest point in elevation in the contiguous United States. This hike was truly an experience unlike any other. I completed this hike alongside my girlfriend back in July of 2018 while I was still working two jobs and not really sleeping a whole lot every night. With that being said, I fully recommend that you get a legitimate amount of sleep before you attempt a rigorous hike such as a 14er and properly hydrate yourself.
After driving for several hours from Denver to just outside of Leadville and Twin Lakes, we finally reached the parking lot for Mount Elbert which was already completely full around 7am. Something else worth mentioning is that the trailhead for nearby Mount Massive is in close proximity to the Mount Elbert trailhead as well. Furthermore, the starting elevation is located just above 10,000 feet and also has a bathroom area too. The trail to the summit is very well worn out and is easy to follow. Because their is no route finding involved, this is an easy class 1 hike that is family friendly as well. Before too long, we were on our way up the mountain via the North Mount Elbert Trail.
For the first several miles and up to the area around 12,000 feet, the hike is through heavily wooded areas and switchbacks that get relatively steep in certain spots. We took numerous breaks to not only take pictures but to also drink water and eat some foods with high amounts of protein. Once we reached the tree line, some excellent views of a false summit come straight into view. Looking back towards the east, we also noticed that the valley below was pretty hazy even around nine or ten in the morning. During the time that we did this hike, the 416 fire was burning out of control further to the southwest outside of Durango which we believe played a significant role in the hazy conditions in the area. As the morning continued on, the haze started to wear off leading to some incredible views of the surrounding mountain peaks and valleys.
The further up we went, the views of the surrounding mountains became absolutely remarkable. The trail itself gets steep in certain areas and I would recommend taking trekking poles due to the fact that they really help you keep your balance. Another reason I strongly recommend them also involves the change in elevation. Specifically, for each mile the elevation goes up over 1000 feet for every mile you hike with the total elevation gain for this entire hike being around 4700 feet.
Another hour of both taking pictures and several short rest breaks passed quickly by, and before long we had completed our goal and reached the summit of Mount Elbert. Although the views were incredible, it did not take long for us to realize that a thunderstorm was quickly building directly to the west of us. With that in mind, we briefly took some more photos at the summit and found the USGS marker that marks the summit. After about 10 to 15 minutes at the summit, we soon found ourselves descending as fast as we could but inevitably were not fast enough.
Our way down the mountain proved to be a true test. Shortly after descending, Danielle suffered a knee injury to the point that she could not extend it hardly at all. Although it slowed us on, I was still confident that we would be alright and make it back without further incident. However, that was simply not the case. Within five minutes after we reached the tree line, the thunderstorm that we witnessed at the summit finally caught up to us and it proved to be quite scary. In fact, the lightning strikes were so close to us that we only saw flashes of light directly in front of us and then heard the thunder a few short seconds later. With the rain pouring down endlessly coupled with the relentless lightning strikes nearby, we had both accepted the fact that we might indeed die that day. Slowly but surely, we made it back to the trail head and were so thankful to have made it in one peace!
Overall, our hike up the North Mount Elbert Trail was both memorable and surely one that we will never forget. Despite being a strenuous workout, the views of the surrounding mountains and the lakes down below were worth all of the hard work. I would definitely recommend this hike and wouldn’t mind doing it again simply for the views of the endless mountain ranges at the summit.