Rocky Mountain High!!!
Randall Chapman | June 3rd, 2018 | Travel
I lived in Colorado for 11 years before I went back to LA to work at my friends shop for a while. I wanted my first CO article to really represent Colorado. I thought about hiking the CO Trail or having lived in Grand Junction I thought about writing about the Colorado National Monument. I was struggling to decide when it dawned on me, I was in Buena Vista and only 30min away from the trailhead to the tallest point in Colorado and there is nothing more Colorado than hiking a 14er.
When I first moved to CO I was really into mountaineering and was excited about the prospect of having so many 14,000 ft peaks to climb, about 54 in the state. Life does what it does and I didn’t have the time to train for the mountains for many years. I did climb a few including an attempt on Elbert over 10 years ago where we got turned away by thunder storms as we just achieved the ridge. I had attempted Mount Snuffles when I was in really good shape about 5 years ago but other than that I hadn’t been on a 14er in over 10 years. My attempt on Snuffles was thwarted by a long line at the bottle neck on the class 3 up high and was when I decided to never try a 14er on a weekend ever again, there was sooooo many people.
Mount Elbert is the tallest peak in Co and the second tallest in the contiguous US after Mount Whitney in Ca. It was named after Samuel Hitt Elbert, governor of the Territory of Colorado after he brokered a deal with the Ute Tribe to open up mining in the territory. There was some dispute over the height of Elbert and it was thought that Mount Massive, first mountain to the north of Elbert, might be taller, it’s only shorter by 12ft. For a few years there were supporters of Massive being taller that would go up and pile rocks on top to take the title just to have supporters of Elbert go up and knock them down every time. Ultimately Elbert won and is the tallest in CO.
On a beautiful May morning I set out to hike Elbert Via the Black Cloud Trail. This isn’t the most popular trail, it’s steep and daunting but it is the trail that I had attempted with my friend Phil over 10 years ago. On our attempt we had hiked to within a mile of the summit having achieved the ridge after all the switchbacks just to see the thunderstorm that had been building on the other side of the mountain. Disappointed but not wanting to risk it we descended and watched 15-20 min later as lightning hit the ridge we had just been on. We climbed a few other things together before losing touch when he moved, but we never came up to finish this route.
This trail is not the trail to reintroduce yourself to altitude. I haven’t really started training but I have been working on getting my base level of fitness back up so I can start. I have been hiking with Aukie a bit and doing other things to get back into shape but this trail is about 5.5 miles to the summit with 5,300ft of elevation gained, it’s steep! I kept it slow, resorting to rest step tactics and managed to hike the round trip in just over 12 hrs, slow by my old standards but not to bad considering the shape I was in. Even Aukie seemed to feel the effects of the altitude towards the top as he played in the snow a little less and didn’t even chase the marmots. As we descended he returned to his normal self and chased all the squirrels and played in all the snow. This was a light year for snow so there wasn’t much on the trail.
It feels good to be returning to the mountains, not just to be among them but to climb them. I miss the challenge of working my way up to the highest point of something hard and look forward to climbing more mountains as I get back in shape, and/or to get back into shape!