CDT CO Section 4

Day 154: S. Mt. Elbert Trail

It was a cold morning and I had no interest in going out into it. I started moving around at 7, shaking the snow off the tent, but One Day and I didn’t leave camp until 9:30. We went 2.5 miles down the trail to the Mt. Massive junction, passing a group of guys on the way. The last guy didn’t seem to even know where they were headed. Then we turned and started climbing. Just a little ways up, we went off trail, picked out the gear we’d need for the day, and hung our packs from trees to wait for us at the bottom.

It was kind of a nice morning at first. Some sun, mostly clouds. Once we got above treeline, the snow started getting deeper and more slippery, so we stopped to put on our spikes. We met a couple coming down who said they had no summitted. They had turned around because of the snow.

We met another crowd of guys on the slope once the snow got deep. They were the same guys from before. They had just missed the junction, turned around, and passed us while we were stashing our packs. We took the lead, but we soon left the trail, choosing to climb up the side of the ridge because the snow has drifted so deeply in the trail.

It was cold enough already, but then the sun started to go away and the wind picked up. Blinding, chilling gusts of 30 mph or more. I had elected to climb with bare knees based on the weather predictions and the temperatures at lower elevations, and soon my legs were coated with ice.

We pushed through the wind and up the slope, and when we reached the saddle between Massive’s two peaks, the wind was torrential and constant. It was only a half mile and 500 feet of climb to the peak, but the rest of the way was a rocky, icy ridge traverse, and we did not feel safe trying to climb that whole being battered by wind occasionally gusting hard enough to knock us down if we were off balance and not leaning into it.

We took some photos and came back down, sticking to the snowy trail this time, moving much faster. Even so, we hadn’t even come down a half mile when it started snowing. It snowed all the way down the trail to where we left our stuff, so at my suggestion, we set up our tents and ate our lunches inside. And because we bothered to set up tents, it stopped snowing pretty quickly.

It was well after three when we came down down from our aborted attempt to summit Massive, and it was about 5 when we set out down the trail again at high speed. After a mile or so, we reached the river and had to stop to de-layer because the hiking had warmed us up. There were a bunch of heavy machines in the parking lot, so I sat in the cozy seat of one of those to change.

We chose to take the road a half mile down to the North Elbert Trailhead, and received the bounteous fortune of a dumpster in the nearby campground, so we paused again to dump our trash. Then, I set out up the hill from the trailhead at the highest speed I could manage. I put on some music to propel me. The sun was setting but I had my headlamp on. An hour into the section, I had to turn it on. Although my socks had been slowly drying from the snowmelt moisture, I had the misfortune of slipping off a log while crossing a creek, but I didn’t let it slow me down. These socks are perpetually moist anyway.

Sooner than I expected, I reached the junction for the South Mt. Elbert Trail. I started climbing. Shortly into this climb, I saw some yellow dots close to the ground reflecting my headlamp. Putting on the high beam, I learned it was a red fox (see video).

When the trail started leveling out, I started looking for campsites. One Day caught up and helped me look. There was nothing truly flat around, but we managed to make do. In fact, my spot behind a tree was actually quite flat if not quite wide enough to erect my tent properly.

I had a lot to do before I could climb into my sleeping bag abs start cooking supper, including filtering water. It was after 10 by the time I could lie down and eleven before I slept.

Trail miles: 10.1

Distance to Twin Lakes: 3 miles

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