My First 14er – Mt. Elbert
I’m tired today and having a hard time focusing on work. Maybe I need a nap. I start looking for dispersed camping near Leadville again. Here’s a spot near twin lakes that is supposed to have a beautiful view. Perfect. I plug in the GPS coordinates.
On the way to my newly found camping spot I see Mt. Elbert. Why not? That’s quite the opposite of nap. I pull over and search for the Mt. Elbert trail head. There are plenty of dispersed camping spots around Mt. Elbert so I will just save the other for another day.
It’s 3:30 when I pull into the parking lot. As I start hiking up the trail I meet people who are just finishing. “Are you going to the top?” They ask in a tone that also says “Why?”. Sometimes we talk more, sometimes we smile. No one is condescending, but rather encouraging. The trail is almost all uphill but relatively easy for me. I’m cruising and feeling good.
I meet a couple hiking down about half a mile below the tree line. He has his straps on wrong. Having you’re straps on wrong can be a hazard so I ask “Can I give you a tip on your trekking poles? or are you just being lazy?” He laughs and says “I’m just being lazy.” We start talking. He’s hiked 20 14ers no repeats. “Got any tips? Any that you would highly recommend?” He gives me some great pointers. “Are those Carbon or Aluminum?” he says pointing at my poles. They are aluminum. He tells me about how lightning is a serious hazard here. I’ve heard this before but his story confirms it. He tells me about the false peaks coming up. That’s nice to know.
I’m still cruising and feeling good. I just crossed the tree line and can see the first false peak. It doesn’t look too far away. I walk a few hundred yards and my legs start feeling funny. I’ve got to sit down. I rest for a minute. Ok I’m good. I walk another few hundred yards. Dang, I need to sit again. My cruising speed is at a stand still. The closer I get to the top the more breaks I take. I start setting goals. That rock looks like a nice seat, I can’t stop till I get there, and it’s only 20-30 steps. Made it. This is the process I take all the way to the top. I’m thinking about the people who have done Nolan’s 14. I respected them before but now, I have a whole new level of respect.
Eventually I make it to the top. It’s incredible and the hardest day hike I’ve ever done.
What’s this? An over sized hamster comes out of the rocks. It’s a pika but I don’t know this. It’s very friendly and it nibbles on my trekking poles. I pull out my camera.
I can’t help but laugh and think of the rabbit in Monty Python. I have no holy hand grenades.
I intend to watch the sunset. I’ve been up here about 45 minutes and I’m really starting to feel sick. Clouds are rolling in and I start thinking about lightning. I imagine myself as a 6’4″ lightning rod. Ok, I’ll start down. The sun is setting and I know I’ll have to walk in the dark for a ways but I don’t mind that.
Hiking in the dark is a different experience. Your imagination will instill crazy fears in you. *Crack* What’s that. I don’t look. I just know it’s a mountain lion. I imagine what it would feel like, what I’d do. Stop. Just keep walking.
The walk down is so much easier. O2 gets more and more plentiful. My body is thankful. I make it to the trail head around 9:30pm and only had about 30 minutes of hiking with a head lamp.