Day 71: Mt. Elbert Summit

Waking up to the comfort of a bed is extremely nice even though we get great sleep on our Thermarest. Having a pillow that is not made up of clean socks and a down jacket stuffed into a stuff sack is heaven for our heads. These comforts make it quite difficult to get out of bed to pack up our packs to get back on trail. Today we were setting out to climb Mt. Elbert as a nearly 9 mile side trip that would climb 4,700 ft and lead us to the top of the tallest peak in Colorado. So I guess you could say this gave us the excitement to get out of bed.

After packing, we headed downstairs for a cup of coffee with Dave and Jess. Dave told us that he could take us to trail if we needed a ride, which we quickly agreed to. Once Charlie and Hannah came down, we all got in the car and were on our way. We stopped by a local coffee shop, La Resistance, to grab coffee and burritos, which were delicious!

Dave dropped us off at the highway and we all said our goodbyes. He, being a thru hiker himself, understood what we were going through. We knew if the opportunity presented itself, he and Jess would drop everything and hike again, which of course we cannot help but to encourage.  As he drove away, we headed up the mountain. The hardest part of hiking is the first few miles right out of town. The packs are heavy and you get soft from staying in town for too long. But after those few miles, you get right back into the thru hiker rhythm again.


Our climb begain at 9,300 ft and we knew it would end at 14,439 feet. It was daunting, but we were getting excited. Six miles later we arrived at the Northern Elbert Trail. Smoke from a wildfire in the surrounding areas had moved in and we were unable to see the mountains across the valley. We hesitated. Would today be a good day to summit with the limited views? At 3:00 PM we decided it would definitely be worth the climb. As we started up the mountain, high winds started to pick up helping out our view. While the smoke departed from the summit of Elbert, something else moved in its place and lingered there for awhile. Storms.


As we climbed, we passed nearly twenty hikers coming down the mountain. Many warned us that we needed headlamps. It was now 3:30 PM and we had made it above the tree line. We could see the top of one of the false summits. Even though it was still 2,500 feet above us, it seemed so close. We continued to march up that mountain. Around 13,000 feet, Critter began coughing hard again. It sounded similar to our first days in the San Juans. Garbelly told her to drink more water and to slow down a little bit. As the clouds moved in closer and closer, we made it to 13,500 feet. Here Critter started having a full blown asthma attack. Garbelly told her it was just a mountain that we could climb on a better day, but she was determined. A few puffs of her inhaler and the next thousand feet were fairly smooth sailing. Wheezy, breezy, beautiful. We scrambled up to the top where we found Charlie and Hannah.


After snapping a few photos and eating a couple snacks, the winds that had been around twenty-five miles per hour tripled and started throwing small pellets of hail at us, sideways! We broke into run down the mountain. Garbelly laughing the entire way. The seventy mile per hour winds challenged us to stay on our feet and a few times almost caused us to topple over. We quickly made it down to the timberline and back out of the wind.


We decided to hike a few more miles to the trailhead parking area where we would have access to water from a nearby creek. After passing a long line of young Boy Scouts headed up the mountain with their dad's old external frame packs, we arrived at the perfect spot. As Garbelly ran down to filter water, he met a couple from Texas. While talking to them he found out that their daughters both were musicians in Nashville. Before leaving, they gave him a couple Payday candy bars and chicken salad sandwiches for the road! Unexpected trail magic seems to follow us and we could not be more grateful for everyone's kindness.

That night Thor and Scrapbook, who caught up to us when we left trail to summit Elbert, camped with us. Throughout the night, we excitedly reminisced on our climb up Elbert. Two fourteeners down and two more to go! 

Cheers to the climbs and to staying stubborn! 

Garbelly & Critter  

PS. It usually smarter to summit and get down before the afternoon. Don't be like us. Play it safe.