Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Climbing Mt. Elbert (14,433 ft.)

As I mentioned in a few previous posts, I spent quite a bit of time in Colorado this summer. One of the things I learned was that high altitude is a lot of fun and works for me. I hit lots of high altitude trails, learned to bring lots of layers and even traversed down a giant glacier without any special gear. Not the smartest thing I ever did, but one of the most fun!

But the achievement I am most proud of is summitting Mt. Elbert, at 14,433 ft. the highest mountain in Colorado. It's not a very tough mountain in terms of technical skills required, you just need big lungs, strong legs and be ready to face lots of false summits.

Old school

Elbert is near Leadville, CO, a pretty special place for us ultrarunners. I camped right at the bottom of the mountain at about 10,000 ft. (Prior to this summer, I had never been above 7,000 feet, btw.) and headed out at 5 a.m. one morning.

The climb starts out on a dirt road that my little civic would have succumbed to about a 1/4 mile in. If you have a big 4wd vehicle, you can drive the first two miles, but I didn't that luxury. It lead me through a beautiful birch tree forest and then some of the steepest trails I have ever seen. I honestly could not believe how steep that trail was at the bottom. It must have taken me about 30 or 40 mins or so to just cover a mile.

Just above tree line

But I was making quick progress anyhow. Soon, I was above the treeline and saw a large group ahead of me. I reached them as they were taking a break and decided to rest with them a little. To our left was Mt. Massive (the second highest in Colorado) and to our right the Ivy League Mountains (Mt. Harvard, etc.)....INCREDIBLE!

It was time to move on though, since it was supposed to storm early today. My strategy was just to put one foot in front of the other. And that worked better than expected. After only 3:10 I had finished the 7.5 mile treck to the summit.
Signed in

What a view it was! It felt like being in an airplane flying over the mountains. There were mountains everywhere and, boy, was it beautiful. I can't describe it. Pictures will have to speak for me here.

It was the middle of July...and in the 30s at the summit

Go Bears!


David Ray said...


That looks really high. Any breathing issues?

Love the hat.

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

It was very high. Elbert is the second highest mountain in the lower 48. I had been acclimating for about 10 days leading up to my climb. At first, I was camping at about 8,000 feet, the night before at about 10,000. Breathing only became an issue for me right below the summer. I tend to do well at altitude (the same way I do badly in the heat).

Which hat?

David Ray said...

pig-tail hat.

right below the summer? would that be the summit?

2nd highest in the lower 48 for your first 14. No reason to start small and work up, is there? :)

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

yes, summit.

I did do a couple 13ers and 12ers in the week leading up to it.

Mt. Elbert is only a class 1 (out of 5) climb, so in terms of technicality of the climb, it's an easy 14er (but a lung buster nonetheless).

bigRahn said...

Looks real nice up there. How was coming down? I imagine a little hard on the knees.

Addy said...

wow...what an amazing place! I would love to got here sometime, but my body doesn't fare nearly as well in altitude :P

The pictures are gorgeous!

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

BigRahn, you are correct coming down was hard. Not so much on the knees for me, but on my quads.

It took me about 3:10 to go up and about 2:30 to come back down...wasn't that much of a different. I was completely spent by the end. It was not dissimilar to running a 50k in terms of the effect it had on my body.

Jean Pommier said...

Hey, Dave, thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. Wow, hard to track you down in the Wild Wide West, isn't it? You are right to take the opportunity, this is an amazing region.

Looking forward to finally meeting you on some of our Bay Area trails...


Jon said...

Badass climb and stunning pictures Dave!!!

I am racing Hinson Lake 24 hour this weeked, happy trails

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