LEADVILLE — Though it may lack in true climbing excitement compared with many of the state’s 14,000-foot mountains, hiking Colorado’s highest point, Mount Elbert, provides a textbook Rocky Mountain challenge for most any hiker.
At 4,700 feet of total elevation gain in just under five miles of hiking, Elbert’s northeast ridge trail hits hikers with the task of climbing about 1,000 feet every mile. For most hikers, the 1,000-feet-per-mile standard is kind of a rule-of-thumb suggesting when hikes start to get steep. The good news about hiking the 14,440-foot mountain — the second highest point in the Lower 48 — is that with an early start and a consistent, mindful rhythm in your hiking, conquering Elbert is doable for most any hiker in solid shape.
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More good news for hikers is that the North Mount Elbert Trailhead parking lot is accessible for most any vehicle: A two-wheel drive sedan can make it up the 5-mile dirt road. On a weekday, plan to get to the parking lot at 6:30 a.m. or earlier to secure a spot. On busy weekends, that arrival time should be closer to 5:30 a.m. or earlier. That might seem like an early start, especially if you’re driving the hour or so through darkness from Summit County. But the earlier the start the better, as Elbert is notorious for sudden afternoon thunderstorms.
From the trailhead, it’s a short walk to reach the Colorado Trail, which you’ll stick with for just more than a mile. The sign directing hikers to the trail up Elbert’s northeast ridge is hard to miss. Once on the northeast ridge trail, which begins just above 10,500 feet, be ready for a plodding, gradual climb for the next 4 miles all the way up to the summit.
Two to three liters of water is a good amount to have, as hiking above tree line means 14,000-foot sunshine can zap you of hydration fast.
Read more on Summit Daily.
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