Mt. Elbert - 14,433 feet
|Mt. Elbert - East Ridge|
Left the truck from 90% or so up the 4WD trailhead at 4:20 AM. Almost all of the trail is a well defined, well packed path from the trailhead up to treeline. Had few problems at all on the way up to treeline. Snowshoes were definitely not needed, but the microspikes helped a bunch.
As the trees began to thin, there were a couple spots where the path wasn't completely obvious. It never deviated much and they usually met back up with the main trail. However, I'd recommend taking the route with the least snow. Every time I followed boot prints off into the snow it usually got really deep really quick. There was quite a bit of frozen snow and ice above treeline, but most of it was easily avoidable on the first stretch. Sun rose shortly after I reached treeline, and it was magnificent. Clear blue skies and incredible color in every direction.
Sunrise on the way up Elbert, looking southeast
Looking up the path to the East Ridge
Looking south shortly after sunrise
Once you reach the East ridge and the trail gets more difficult, the conditions become a little more sketchy and variable. There were a few nice stretches where you could walk on a dry, well defined trail. I stashed the microspikes when I got to the ridge because it didn't look too bad up ahead. I made it all the way to the summit without them, but there were quite a few stretches in which using spikes would have been extremely helpful.
A look at the summit (or close to it) from the East ridge
Looking down the trail, and northeast out to Leadville and the Tenmile and Mosquito Ranges.
Some portions of the ridge were covered in 1-2' of snow. Route finding was much more difficult here. I eventually lost the trail and later found out I cut off north of the main route and took a direct path straight up a steeper part of the ridge. A lot of difficult hiking and some minor scrambling and postholing can be avoided if you can manage to stay on the trail. The wind wasn't really a factor until treeline. After that point, there were some sections of the hike that were seemingly calm and others that may have had 20-30 mph winds. I just wore a base layer and a snowboarding jacket and some nice gloves and was plenty warm on the way up the mountain.
I arrived at the summit at 9:40. The wind was definitely blowing up here, but probably no more than 30-40 mph. With the sun out now and the relatively warm temperatures, it wasn't too cold out. I took quite a few pictures, laid down for a bit, and was on the way back down a couple minutes before 10:00.
A look at the Northeast ridge and Mt. Massive
I managed to follow the trail all the way down from the summit to treeline this time. That made this section of the descent much easier and quicker. I did not wear microspikes on this stretch, but there were a lot of sections that would have been much easier and a lot faster if they were on. Once you got a few hundred feet below the summit on the way down the mountain, it became downright warm. The sun was beating down pretty hard and temperatures were probably at or nearing 40s. I was sweating with my jacket completely unzipped and wind blowing at me.
On the East Ridge, the snow you had to cross wasn't too deep and wasn't too soft on the way down. By the time I reached treeline, the snow was deeper here and had already softened up a LOT. As long as I stayed on the main trail and looked for the most solid, packed looking snow, I was usually fine. But there were quite a few times I deviated just a couple feet and found myself postholing in up to thigh-deep snow. There were also a few icy and slick spots. Snowshoes probably would have been helpful, but I just put on microspikes and was just fine.
This is what much of the trail looked like below treeline. Nice snow cover, and a nice, well defined, well packed trail.
Got back to the car at 12:15 and left shortly thereafter. 5 hour 20 minute ascent, 2 hour 15 minute descent. Had a blast, and you could not have possibly asked for a more perfect day for March. 12 down, 46 to go!
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