For the long labor day weekend, we packed the Land Cruiser and the camp trailer and headed to the San Isabel National Forest for an attempt to climb Colorado’s highest peak: Mt Elbert; and to get a way from the masses of Denver. After driving for 2 hours, it was dark when we reached the trailhead, but we managed to find a great camp spot and set up. We immediately climbed into our sleeping bags, as we would get up at 5am and head for the trail. It was a refreshing 34 degrees when we woke up, very welcomed from the 90+ heat wave we have had in Denver. We got our packs ready, ate a quick breakfast and went to the trailhead. We were anticipating a 9+ hour day, so we wanted to get an early start to beat any weather that could show up. It was warming up quick as the sun came up over the distant mountains about an hour into the hike.
We have had some haze the last few weeks from the wildfires in Montana and the smoke has slowly made it’s way into Colorado. The views were not as clear as they normally are, but it was still beautiful. As we left tree line we could see the trail winding steeply up to what looked like the top of Elbert. This was one of two false summits on this side of the mountain. A false summit is when you look up and think you see the summit and when you get there, the actual summit is beyond where you thought. This can be a mind game and frustrating, but you have to keep going. We began noticing the clouds building when we were around 12,500 ft and kept a close watch on them. As we neared the 13,150 ft mark, we decided to call it a day and headed back down. When you are above tree line (approx. 12,000 ft) you have no cover and you are at the complete mercy of the elements. The weather can change in an instant in the mountains, so you better be prepared. A week after our summit of Mt Bierstadt, there was a snowstorm, yep, in August… Colorado also has the highest percentage of lighting strikes just after Florida, a lot of these being on the high peaks and you do not want to be at 14,000 ft when a storm comes in. Sure, we were disappointed, but the mountain will always be there and we will be back. As we headed down, we saw darker clouds rolling in and then it would clear, but we still didn’t want to risk it. When we got back to tree line, we stopped for brief lunch and then just enjoyed the rest of the hike back to camp. About a half mile from the trailhead, we found an Aspen grove near a creek, so we stopped and took some pictures. When we got back on the trail, we ran into someone heading down and he said it had gotten pretty nasty up top with hail and sleet. This made us feel better about our decision.
We shed our packs and took our boots off back in camp and it was time for some burgers and beer. After we ate, the thunder began, so we packed everything up from getting wet, unhooked the trailer and took the Cruiser to do some exploring in the rain. It was brief and didn’t last long, but we found some great trails and really liked the rest of the camping area we didn’t get to see on the way in because it was dark. We will definitely bring the 4wheeler next time we go. We also found the Mt Massive trailhead, which is CO’s second highest peak at 14,428 ft in the same area. I think we will be visiting this area again and again.