Leadville, Colorado, is a historic mining town nestled in the valley between the Mosquito and Sawatch mountain ranges. This bowl of mountains is home to three peaks over 14,000 feet including Colorado’s tallest peak and the second tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Elbert.
During the third weekend in September, John and I set out to summit this behemoth. We arrived in town Friday night after leaving Denver around 6 p.m. Luckily, we managed to snag the last spot at the Elbert Creek Campground which happened to be the campground closest to the trailhead too. By 10 p.m., we were in our sleeping bags and ready to get a good night’s sleep.
We woke the next morning around 6 a.m. freezing cold and quite hungry. John cooked breakfast while I struggled to leave my warm cocoon. Eventually, we ate our delicious Mary Jane’s Farm Hot & Creamy Cereal and packed up our gear for the day. (We love our MJ meals, and if you want to read about how we chose this dehydrated brand, you can see our comparisons here!)
We were at the trailhead right after 8:30 and ready to head deep into the woods to start our hike. Thick, tall pine trees surrounded us over the course of the first few miles of our hike. We crossed over a small, rushing creek at the beginning of the hike before the trail became a red dirt path surrounded by trees and a steady climb up.
It took us roughly two hours to breach the tree line which was nearly three miles into the trail and almost 2,000 feet higher than the trailhead. From here, we were finally able to see the peak we were trying to reach.
Going up the mountain was a tad bit daunting, but when we turned around, the views were worth all of it. We were able to see not only the wilderness we had just emerged from but also the surrounding mountain ranges just emerging over the tops of the trees. For the next mile or so, we walked with this incredible view at our backs as we followed the steep trail up the mountain.
The trail had changed drastically since we left the pines. We went from a red clay trail and warm but shady, wooded area to a wide open, windy, and scree-filled climb. This was one of the most difficult parts of the trail. There were no switchbacks or even places to stop and catch our breath. Instead, for almost 1,000 feet of elevation gain, we had to push through and keep our heads up.
When we arrived at the top of the hill we’d been hiking toward, which sadly turned out not to be the summit, we were greeted with unbelievable views. We were able to look back on all of the ground we had covered and now could see a new mountain range that had been hidden from sight.
We were finally surrounded by mountains -- beautiful mountains, I might add. This is one of my favorite feelings in the world. There is nothing like being able to spin all the way around and see nothing but rolling mountains for miles and miles on the horizon.
The trail, from here, winds through a large boulder field and climbs the northern face of the mountain. It led us to one more false summit with a nice, open spot and directional cairn before the final ascent.
From this cairn, there were only about 15 minutes left in our journey. We could finally see the real summit, and we couldn’t wait to get there.
It was around 1:30 p.m. when we arrived at the summit. After the over-four-hour long trip up, we were starving and a bit tired. There were a group of bikers hanging out, but they left within a few minutes of our arrival.
We found a rocky spot that shielded some of the wind and sat down to enjoy the views and some pizza for a long while. For almost the entire 30-minutes we were snuggled up in the rocks with the peak to ourselves.
When others started to show up and we got chilly, we took our summit photos and headed back down.
The upper trail’s lack of switchbacks made the trip down very rough on our knees. Eventually, we entered back into the wooded area for the last two or three miles. This part felt much longer than our trip through it earlier that morning, but it eventually led us to the end of the trail.
The hike back down wasn’t as difficult as the hike up, but somehow, without any stops, it took us the same amount of time to get back to the trailhead. We arrived back at the trailhead, and our campsite, around 5:45 p.m. After over 9 hours of hiking, we were exhausted yet proud of what we had accomplished. We had just climbed Colorado’s tallest peak and marked 14’er #7 off our 2019 list!
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Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read!