Because I had taken so long to get to sleep the previous night, I could sleep in until 6:30, put on my shoes, grab my already packed day bag, and start climbing. Of course, I forgot to pack my microspikes, so I had to go back for those. But One Day and I were climbing Elbert by a little after 7.
It was a four-mile trail or so, 2500 foot climb. We reached treeline around 9 and stopped to put on the microspikes. There were at least six people breaking trail ahead of us, but we caught up to them. One guy (who you’ll see in the video) was walking up in shorts with his girlfriend, but she got fed up with the snow very early and turned around and he forged ahead, leaving the trail and climbing straight up onto the ridge.
One Day and I were wondering if he was crazy at first. Not only was he climbing in shorts (and even I had learned my lesson on that front, opting to wear my snow pants this time), but he was choosing his own path while the group in front of him steadfastly plowed footprints into the ankle- or even sometimes knee-deep snow.
He wasn’t just crazy or stubborn though. He was determined and knew exactly what he was doing, and soon was rushing well ahead of the crowd. One Day and I followed suit, abandoning the trail and shortcutting its switchbacks on the rocks. It wasn’t long before we caught up to the group sticking to the trail. They said they wanted us to go ahead and break trail for them. We went ahead, but we had already decided the official route was a sucker’s game in the snow. We immediately started right up the spine of the ridge, staying in the rocks and visible grasses wherever possible.
Shorts Guy stopped to put on leggings under his shorts, further proving he was actually well prepared for this climb. He lost some of his massive lead in doing so, and even more by actually following the switchbacks. One Day and I cut straight across all of them using our microspikes to full advantage.
I soon caught up to the man and led him way off trail, which had ran all the way around the side of the southern slope in one very long switchback. I just kept going straight up the side of the hill, staying in the visible rocks and out of the blank white snowfields. It was no easy exercise to climb straight up the side of the mountain, and I had to take frequent breaks to huff and puff in the oxygen-poor high atmosphere. I gained a significant lead by emptying the fuel tank. I found a nice sitting boulder at around 13800 feet up and downed most of the rest of my breakfast protein shake. Shorts Guy caught up and we started out again together, still climbing straight up the slope in the rocks.
I pulled way ahead of Shorts Guy again, leveraging my microspike advantage. It actually got somewhat easier to climb closer to the top. Elbert is a fairly gently sloped mountain compared to some others, and the upper reaches had more shallow snow among rocks and fewer deep snowdrifts.
Of the people I had seen, I was the first to arrive at the summit. Shorts Guy came up just a couple of minutes later, and One Day came up a while after that. We took photos for each other all around, and Shorts Guy celebrated by cracking open and sharing a bag of peanut M&Ms, which, no joke, said “Congrats on that thing you did” on the bag.
After all that, I sat down on a rock inside the wind shelter and went thrive quite a few snacks myself and made an orange immunity drink. One Day and I stayed there long enough to see some of the clouds pass away and some views open up. We stayed as long as my increasingly frozen toes would permit. Then we set off finding our own ways back down the mountain.
I wanted to stick to the trail on the way back. Deeper snow is actually much easier to walk in when descending quickly because you can take giant steps without worrying about the impact on knees: the snow cushions each foot fall. A thousand feet down, I crossed paths with the same guys who had wanted us to go ahead and break trail for them, still steadfastly post-holing up the official route. They weren’t that far from the top, but stomping uphill in deep snow is so slow, I thought they might still be 30 minutes away.
Just beyond them, the trail leveled out significantly, even climbing slightly. So, I abandoned it and went straight down the middle of some deep and steep snowfields. I rejoined the trail around where One Day and I had first left it. She caught me a few minutes later, having cut off even one more section of trail by coming straight down the ridge where the trail used to run before the reroute.
The rest of the way back to our campsite looked a lot like the reverse of our climb. We took off our microspikes at treeline. We stopped for several pictures along the way now that the sun had moved to not being right in the middle of the shot. We finally found our campsite just like we had left it and went inside our tents to get ready for the continuation of our day. It was a lot 1:30, and I wanted to be packed and fed by 3 at the latest.
I started by removing my extra layers of clothes and packing up the stuff inside my tent. By the time I was packing up my tent, items scattered everywhere around my pack, One Day had eaten lunch and completely packed, ready to head out. So she went on without me.
I left maybe 30 or 40 minutes later, after finishing an packing and finding a nice spot in the sun to eat my lunch at my usual pace. Then I headed down the trail and turned south at a much speedier pace.
Along the way, I called Bob at the Twin Lakes General Store to find out when they closed. After 4:30 that day, he’d be closed until the next weekend, but he’d get my box out and ready for when I arrived. I figured 4:30 was an absolutely doable deadline.
Even after a wrong turn or two, resulting in a fifteen minute off-trail diversion (which scored me some nice photos of beaver ponds) it still seemed like I would make it with time to spare.
Thirty minutes later, I came to the Twin Lakes Village turnoff, which carried me a mile around the side of the hill to a road leading a mile straight down to town. Near the bottom, I met someone trying to drive a car up that rough, steep, rocky dirt road. A car full of dogs with a half-flat front tire, Minnesota plates, and no backup camera. The driver rolled down the window to ask about a place to turn around. There were none just ahead, so I assisted in directing the effort to reverse down the hill to the wide lot at the bottom. I could spare the five extra minutes that took.
I made it to the general store with fifteen minutes to spare. One Day was outside, saying she was headed to the restaurant across the street to reserve a table for us. My box was there behind the counter, guarded by a sleeping golden retriever named Motu. I grabbed some treats from the store. Bob rung me up and gave me a bag. My plan at that point was to walk to the other end of the lake to Win Mar Cabins for the night, where laundry and showers were available. I woke Motu pulling my box from behind the counter. I carried everything outside and dropped it next to my pack, then joined One Day in the restaurant.
It was a very expensive meal, but it was very good. Smoked Buffalo wings with celery, carrots, and blue cheese. A chicken caesar salad with actual anchovy on. A nice local beer to go with the root beer I had brought in from the store. I learned over dinner that One Day was not interested in going around the lake. But she did say she would be willing to sleep at the Win Mar bunkhouse if she got a ride there.
Back in front of the store, I started packing up my resupply, and it turned out to be way more than I could carry. Of the things I had extra, I gave One Day as much as she wanted, then tossed the rest back in the box to go in the store’s hiker box. Bob came around while the packing process was underway, and after arranging for him to take the surplus resupply and trash into the store (though it was closed), he offered us a ride out to Win Mar since we had been unable to get them on the phone.
So we scrambled to get our packs together and in the back of his truck when he pulled around. We hopped into the cab with him and Motu. He drove us out to Win Mar to find it completely closed up. So he turned around and drove us back to town and offered to let us camp in the backyard of the store. Since laundry and showers and warm beds were completely off the table, we accepted.
The backyard was a mess and full of stuff, including plenty of dog bombs. But one area seemed less beloved of the dogs, and we set up tents there in such a way that we could chat across our open vestibules from the comfort of our sleeping bags. We had a little party with the chips and cider I bought and the candy from my resupply I couldn’t fit in my pack.
When the chips and cider ran out, I zipped myself in and called Mom. Then, I worked on the blog as well as the weak cell service would allow and watched videos and such until my phone battery was nearly dead. I got up one last time to plug it into the outlet on the side of the building, then finally turned in. It was after eleven.
Trail miles: 3.5 or so