Location: Mt. Elbert, 14,440ft, Colorado (Highest Point in the Rockies and Colorado)
|The insanely rugged summit of Mt Elbert!|
Mt Elbert, at 14,440ft, is the highest point in the Rocky Mountains and is only 16ft shorter than Mt. Whitney. Despite its elevation, its actually considered one of the more moderate climbs in Colorado Mountaineering. In the continental United States, we refer to 14ers as mountains that are above 14,000ft of elevation (4,200m). 14ers only exist in the Sierras, the Rockies and the Cascades. In the grand scheme of mountaineering, 14,000ft is respectable, but certainly not world-class in climbing. However, the oxygen pressure at 14,000ft is half of what it is at sea level. Thus, climbing a 14er is a true alpine adventure.
|The lower mountains of the Elbert region, morning of climb.|
So, I woke up at the awfully late time of 5:30AM. This is unforgivable in the mountaineer's world, but it played to my advantage because the tail end of a storm was clearing out by then. I prepared my breakfast and pack the night before, so I was on the trail 20 minutes later. The South Elbert Route is a Class I trail in summer, but it was still winter up there. After hiking a couple of mile, I finally hit the south-eastern spur that leads to the summit. It was rather calm and a little snowy below the tree-line. Man, once I climbed above the trees at 12,000ft all hell broke loose with the wind. I don't believe I've ever experienced anything quite like the wind that was hitting that ridgeline. It was blowing at around 40mph constantly with 60mph gusts.
I'm at the point in my mountaineering career where I'm well beyond "summit fever" a.k.a. push to the summit if it kills you. So throughout the climb, I had my finger on the trigger, ready to turn around if needed. The wind was terrible, but the climb itself wasn't too difficult and I was holding up well under the conditions. I was moving at a snail's pace, but I set a good course and schedule for breaks. At around 13,500ft I was beginning to see the signs of the last slope to the summit. It was only a Class III climb, but this felt like the crux of the climb. False summits were mentally tormenting, but I was still warm and moving at an acceptable rate.
|Slowly getting there|
|QUICK, SUMMIT PICTURE!|
|From 13,000ft looking southwards|