Day 58: “Are You Celebrities?”
Tuesday, June 28, 2022 8:47 pm
Location: S Mount Elbert Trail 1.9 (773.4 miles)

Today, we returned to the trail and hiked partway up Mount Elbert, the second tallest mountain in the continental US.

As planned, Michael and Sue drove Pale Ale, Stumblebee, Sprouts, and I back to Twin Lakes at 9 am, which was convenient for them as it was on the way to Denver, where they were going to a concert. With mostly clear skies, the ride back to the trail was largely uneventful, except for a traffic jam going through Aspen, and a crazy person speeding through a red light gating a one-lane section of the road going up to Independence Pass.

We returned to the Twin Lakes General Store around 11:15, dropping off some excess food to their hiker box, and using the restrooms.

I thought we were going to take a trail from town back to the CDT, which would have cut off a few more miles, but Pale Ale said it wasn’t actually a good trail, and that we were going to start a mile and a half up the road, where the CDT crosses under the road.

Not being willing to break my continuous footpath (such that it is with the 250 mile hole in northern New Mexico), I asked them to wait for me at the Trail crossing as I walked down the road.

Carrying literally nothing, I made the half-walk half-run in 18 minutes, getting hit by a few raindrops as a dark cloud blew over Mount Elbert’s ridge.

Rain Cloud Over Mount Elbert
Rain Cloud Over Mount Elbert

The four of us said our goodbyes to Michael and Sue, and we were off to the trail, as the rain cloud blew away. We could see some fresh snow on the side of one of the mountains in front of Mount Elbert.

Being the fastest in the group, I sped up the trail as it headed towards Mount Elbert. After about half an hour, I passed a mother and daughter, who were heading back down, after being hailed on. We chatted briefly, and I mentioned I was hiking the CDT, from Mexico to Canada. Stumblebee arrived during the conversation, and the mother, quite impressed with our undertaking, asked if we were celebrities, or of we’d written any books! (I’d once been asked if I was a pirate, but I’ve never been asked if I was a celebrity before.) Later, I told Stumblebee that while I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a celebrity, I was quite happy to be an inspiration.

The forest changed from pine to aspen, and a few very loud birds chirped for several minutes.

I noticed that the trail seemed extremely well maintained. This did not seem surprising; the trail to Mount Elbert must be very popular, and, in my experience, the most popular trails tend to have the best maintenance.

We stopped for a snack and water break at the last creek crossing before leaving the CDT; several day hikers and southbound Colorado Trail hikers passed us, including an older woman who was hiking the CT as a series of out-and-back hikes since she didn’t want to camp, or pay for shuttles.

Forest Trail on Mount Elbert
Forest Trail on Mount Elbert

Shortly after the creek, we turned off the CDT and onto the South Mount Elbert Trail, which began, slightly steeply, actually approaching the mountain’s summit. (The CDT itself just goes around the mountain’s eastern side.) This wasn’t any steeper than most of the trail In Colorado, but since we were fresh out of town (I had for days of food), and were carrying extra water (I now had five liters of water plus a bottle of soda for camping tonight and for several hours tomorrow morning until we return to the CDT), our packs were very heavy, and we were quite slow on the climb up the mountain.

The South Mount Elbert Trail as it currently exists was built between 2017-2019, and is also exceptionally well maintained. A large wooden blockade fence stretched between two switchbacks for several hundred feet; I wondered if it had a purpose beyond preventing switchback cutting.

As we (slowly) climbed to the tree line, we were able to get a great view to the east, towards the twin lakes.

The Twin Lakes
The Twin Lakes

As we climbed, the summit of Mount Elbert finally came into view. It seems slightly unimpressive but it’s still the tallest mountain in Colorado, and in the Rocky Mountains, and the second highest in the lower 48 states to California’s Mount Whitney (which is 65 feet higher). After failing twice to summit Whitney while on the Pacific Crest Trail, Elbert has been on my must-summit list for the CDT.

Mount Elbert
Mount ElbertMount Elbert hides behind some trees.

Shortly after 4 pm, we stopped at a campsite more than big enough for the four of us 1.9 miles up the South Mount Elbert Trail, just below the tree line.

We plan to start hiking at 5 am tomorrow, possibly my earliest start on the CDT so far, hoping to summit and descend the mountain before it has a chance to rain on us tomorrow. We won’t make it to the top in time for sunrise (5:42 am tomorrow), but we should still see the sun rise, and get some spectacular views along the way.