Snow Mountain Climb Part 1: Elbert

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A while back Jon and I decided we wanted to try climbing a 14er in the snow. We had climbed a few in the summer but the winter was a whole new challenge. We did some research and got some new gear and picked our dates and mountains and made a plan.

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We left on a rainy Thursday evening around 7:30pm in my truck. I took the first driving shift and it was kinda nasty out. The rain was turning to ice and the windshield was constantly dirty from road gunk. After my shift we stopped and Jon took over while I prepared to try to get some sleep. The ice got worse and after going over a frozen bridge we did a bit of fishtailing and then ended up spinning around in a ditch off the shoulder. Luckily we didn’t hit anything and were able to drive up to the highway entrance ramp pretty easy.

The only problem seemed to be the rear driver side wheel. It had lost it’s connection to the rim. So we put on the spare and got back on the road.

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The rest of the drive went okay but between ice, fog, rain and snow it was a bit of a slow pain. We eventually stopped for a McDonald’s breakfast in Idaho Springs, CO then drove the rest of the way to Berthoud Pass. It was cold and windy out and still very dark so we took a nap until daylight and other hikers showed up. Then we geared up and started climbing.

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We started out pretty cautious and slowly made our ways through the trees and up the mountain.

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We got to the top of Colorado Mines Peak around 12,400′. We sat down for a bit and had some breakfast and water and made our plan for Mt Flora (just over my shoulder).

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We had to go down about 200′ and then up to 13,146. We had been mosly in snowshoes to this point but the snow got thin and we were able to take them off and stick to areas that were not deep.

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It was pretty cold and windy but not terrible.

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Once on the summit we took a pic then rushed back down enough to get out of the wind.

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We took a more direct route back but parts were a bit rough going (possibly just from lack of sleep and energy).

We got in the truck and headed toward Leadville, CO. Right away we knew something was not right with the truck. It sounded funny and we discovered the engine was misfiring a lot. I mean a lot, constantly misfiring. Besides sounding bad we had no power. The top speed on the mountain highways we reached was 45 MPH. We nursed it down to Dillon and took it to a shop.

Jon called all the shops in town and only one thought he could take a look at it that afternoon. Luckily that shop had a deal with a nearby Enterprise and we were able to rent a 4WD truck for $50. So we moved all our gear to the rental truck and then headed to Leadville with hopes of a call from the shop with a quick fix. We got a room in a hostel that was pretty great. We unpacked then drove down to the Mt Elbert South Trail head.

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We have had trouble finding trails before in the summer so went to make sure the road was plowed and the trail was easy to find. We got to this trailhead easy enough but we were hoping to drive up a 4WD road another 2 miles to another trailhead. We took the rental truck up a ways but the road quickly got more adventurous then we wanted and we turned back. So instead of the planned 10 mile round trip hike we were going to need to do 14 miles. It was daunting but we were still really excited for the climb. We were more excited about food and sleep. Once back in Leadville we stopped at High Mountain Pies for a Large Deluxe and a couple of IPAs. We sleepily ate the whole pizza. It had great crust and we sat at the front counter watching the staff make the pizzas.

Then we went back to the room and got showers and everything ready for the morning. We set our alarms for 4am and went to bed at 6pm.

It was a great night of sleep and I felt really good at 4am. We had not heard back from the shop yet but we packed up and got started on the trail at 5am. There was one other group of hikers that left just before us but moments into the hike we passed them and never saw them again. We didn’t even need our snowshoes to climb up the 2 mile gravel road. It was covered in snow but enough people had hiked the same path to pack it down into a little tough that was easy to follow.

We got just past the point we turned around and found a jeep. It looked to have come in early that morning or late the night before attempting to drive up the road but had gotten stuck and they had spent some time digging it out. The hike was pretty nice so far so we were really glad we had turned the truck around when we did. We hiked on through the dark with our headlamps and left the road and followed the real trail. It was just as nice if not better then the road.

The sun slowly rose and got a better view at our surroundings.

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The trough was great and it took us a long way up the mountain with just our boots.

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The hike was great, alternating between pines and aspens.

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Then the tough went away. We put on snowshoes and followed a bit of tracks but soon even those were gone. We would occasionally see an imperfection in the snow that hinted at a trail covered by fresh and blown snow and head toward it. If we stuck to hidden trail it was not bad and we stayed on the surface of the snow but if we mistook we sunk through the powder to our knees or waist. We had read this was called post-holing. It is not very fun and very hard work.

We didn’t mind the hard work but we also didn’t know where we were going. We would climb and post hole our way then see a hint of trail away from the direction we were headed and have to back track and start again. We took turns leading through the thick powder and eventually got to here.

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That is the peak in the distance. The wind looked to be blowing snow like crazy across the peak. We figured we were 5 miles in to the 7 mile assent assuming we took the correct/direct route. I think it was around 9am that we decided to give up. We had hiked for 4 hours and were worn out. Making the trench took the fun out of the hike and we didn’t really want to fight the winds on the ridge exhausted.

The hike down was not a bummer at all, we soon got out of the wind and into the sun. We were able to eat and drink a bit without freezing our fingers.

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We were back on the nice trail and this time we could see how pretty it all was.

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We did come across some other hikers headed up who knew the way. We could have turned around and followed them but we wanted to get back in time to check on my truck.

We saw a few other folks at the bottom who decided not to try with the look of the winds on the summit but they did like our ice beards.

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Once back on the road we got a good look at where we were (red dot) and where the summit was (green dot).

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I don’t know, maybe we should have gone for it. It was a fun first attempt regardless. We got back on the road and headed to Dillon. I called the shop on the way and they had no update for me but said they would call me back right away with an update.

 

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