Sunday, September 14, 2008
Mt Elbert - 14,433 feet - Highpoint #3
W reached the highest point in Colorado and second highest in the contiguous US, taking a 9 mile solo hike while M rested in the car with altitude sickness. W had wanted to climb Mt Elbert while doing a college visit to Colorado College with M, but had decided with some disappointment that the climb probably wouldn't happen because 1) it looked like a lot of snow, and 2) M was not enthusiastic with very sore calves from a recent cross country race. Despite this, W decided to at least check out the trailhead before heading down to Colorado Springs. The trailhead could be accessed by driving up a 4WD road that was full of huge rocks. At this point, in addition to M's sore calves, M appeared to be showing some minor altitude sickness, with headache and some fatigue, making it certain that he did not want to hike. W left M to sleep in the car and headed up the trail with a cell phone so that he could keep in contact with M. It was very late for a peak attempt, as it was already about 9:30, so nobody was on the trail. W did not take his trekking poles, as he didn't actually intend to climb the mountain at this point. The trail started at 10400 feet and wound up through an amber grove of aspen, just beginning to turn yellow in anticipation of autumn. Intending to turn around, W hiked about 45 minutes up the trail, but always the next ridge beckoned and he couldn't seem to stop himself. W decided, ok, he would just hike to get above treeline so that he could see the mountains. Of course, when he reached treeline, he saw that there was a small promontory just a little further. So on it went to the promontory, which was apparently at 12600 feet. At this point, W checked his map and noted that it was only 1.5 miles to the summit. This didn't seem very far, and W could see many hikers ahead of him, slowly trudging to the summit, so he checked in with M, who was feeling tired but otherwise ok, and told him he was going to go a little further. Feeling very energetic, W overtook several groups of hikers, including a couple with whom he had conversed with at the motel earlier the same day at 6:00 a.m. At 13700 feet W felt a little dizzy and briefly considered turning around, but after a minute rest felt better again and continued upwards. The trail had surprisingly little snow, and soon the summit was attained. The peak was crowded with perhaps 15 people and one dog. At 14,433 feet, W was quite certain that he had the honor of meeting the highest dog in the contiguous United States, as there was little chance that any dog was presently atop Mt Whitney. W texted M that he was at the top, and feeling guilty, decided to really hurry his way down. Half running and half walking W raced down, noting at around 11000 feet that his legs were turning to rubber. Two days later, the effects of the rapid descent can still be felt, as W has great difficulty going up/down stairs.