Ascent of Mount Elbert on 2020-08-31

Climber: Phil Robinson

Others in Party:Just me
Date:Monday, August 31, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Elbert
    Elevation:14433 ft / 4399 m

Ascent Trip Report

I have been thinking about Mount Elbert, elevation 14,433, for the last 4 years and planned to hike this peak as a little celebration for turning 65 this year. It was special to me because it is the second highest peak in America, not counting Alaska, and the highest peak in Colorado. For my 60th I did the first highest peak, Mount Whitney in California with my son Garret. Turning 61 I hiked the highest peak in Arizona, Humphreys Peak with my daughter Christina. I really did not want to hike this peak by myself. I asked 6 people to go with me and 2 wanted to go but they were engineers and their firms would require them to quarantine for 14 days when they returned to New Mexico because of the Covid-19 epidemic we are experiencing. I reluctantly went by myself.

I planned on driving up from the Albuquerque area Sunday August 30, 2020, spending the night near the Mount Elbert 4WD trailhead in my 1992 Land Cruiser, hiking the peak Sunday August 31st, then driving back that day or spending one more night. I left my house at 7:30 AM. It was a 6 and 1/2 hour drive north through central New Mexico and central Colorado to near Colorado's midpoint. I passed the 2WD trailhead. The 4WD trailhead cuts about 5 miles off round trip. The road is very rough in places and a high clearance vehicle is required. I easily made it there about 2:00 PM, parking just a little down the road from the start. The elevation was about 10,500 feet. The temperature was cool and it rained some. I hiked a little around the area, ate, and went to my sleeping bag around 8:00 PM.

I slept well and was up at the first crack of light, 5:45 AM. It was a chilly morning but I was warm wearing my 1 pound Feathered Friends (Helios Hooded) 900 down-loft jacket. (I am mentioning this because it is one of the best lightweight jackets on the market. It packs to the size of a grapefruit. At 1 pound that includes a down hood for the ears and down lined pockets for the hands.) I was carrying about 16 pounds including 4 pounds of water. I always carry more than I need for conditioning. There was hardly a cloud in sight. The hike starts in a beautiful aspen forest, crosses a small stream then continues a short way on the Colorado Trail, #1776, before heading up the mountain on South Elbert Trail # I481. I do believe that the trail is the best maintained trail I have ever hiked on. Sometimes, peakbagging brutal New Mexico peaks the trail on the map no longer exists and it is a hard, hard, bushwhack straight up the mountain 1000s of feet. It was delightful to have such a well cared for trail! The aspen forest gave way to a blue spruce and pine forest, then about 11,900 feet in elevation, and 2.9 miles along the hike, is the timberline. From there beautiful views open up all the way to the top of the mountain. There were trail detours that probably added a little distance to the hike. About 4 miles up was a detour that led hikers straight up the mountain at close to a 35 degree incline. That was the hardest part for me and I took quite a few standing stops. The trail was nice but the hike to the top was harder than I expected. I have never had elevation sickness peakbagging before but at about 13,700 feet in elevation I felt like I was going to throw up and sat down a few minutes. The feeling passed and I didn't have any more problems. The rest of the hike was a slow steady climb up little switchbacks to the top. It was a very good workout! I made the top at 10:55 AM after hiking 4 hours and 40 minutes. My GPS said 5.8 miles with an up-down elevation gain of about 4800. I was thrilled to have made the top! Sometimes peakbagging is like going through a hard trial, being rewarded by the success of the accomplishment in the end. It was quite cold and windy on the top and black clouds were rolling in all around. It was a busy top with about 20 other hikers coming from 2 different trails. I took pictures, found a place slightly out of the wind and ate. I spent about 25 minutes on the top. I started hiking back at 11:20 AM. It felt so good to be goings downhill. Black clouds were all around and they released a little sleet. I didn't see many animals; squirrels, chipmunks and about 6 ptarmigan blending in with the rocks as I made my decent. It took 3 hours to get down. It was 2:20 PM. The total hike was 11.3 miles, with an up-down elevation gain of 5217 feet. I felt fairly rested so I decided to drive home rather than spending the night somewhere along the way. I left at 2:30, arriving home at 9:30 stopping to eat a burger along the way. I was excited to get Mt. Elbert!

Click on photo for original larger-size version.
Mount Elbert looking towards the northeast (2020-08-30). Photo by Phil Robinson.
Click here for larger-size photo.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5217 ft / 1590 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1284 ft / 391 m
    Round-Trip Distance:11.3 mi / 18.2 km
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:4800 ft / 1463 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 3933 ft / 1199 m; Extra: 867 ft / 264m
    Loss on way in:867 ft / 264 m
    Distance:5.8 mi / 9.3 km
    Route:South Elbert Trail 1481
    Start Trailhead:The South Elbert 4WD Trailhead  10500 ft / 3200 m
    Time:4 Hours 40 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:417 ft / 127 m
    Gain on way out:417 ft / 127 m
    Distance:5.5 mi / 8.9 km
    Route:South Elbert Trail 1481
    End Trailhead:The South Elbert 4WD Trailhead  
    Time:3 Hours 
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Phil Robinson
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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