My First 14er, Mt. Elbert

Greetings from a very sore Weekend Warrior!  It’s been two days since our hike, and my little calves are still killing me.  As background, David was in Golden, CO for a class, so I joined him for the weekend to hike a 14er.

Our weekend started pretty smoothly; I was able to get in a very early 2,000m swim at the Y on Friday morning, then clean the house and finish packing.  I love late morning flights!  I met David around 2 PM in Denver, and after getting the rental car we headed to Parsley, a hipster juice bar/sandwich shop I found on yelp.  I had a fresh pressed green juice and we shared a sandwich (side note: coconut water, green juices, and just plain water are essential for traveling in my book!).  We headed to the Denver Flagship REI where, as always, we spent too much money.  We picked up some maps, a hat and extra base layer for me, lots of granola bars, etc.  Then we stopped by a nearby grocery store and grabbed to-go sandwiches for the hike before heading to Leadville.  Did we get enough granola bars?

The drive to Leadville was a couple hours, so we stopped after 1.5 hours at the Dillon Dam Brewery.  It was decent, but nothing too special.  We arrived at the luxurious Leadville Super 8 Motel and promptly re-packed our hiking gear, set all our clothes/gear out for the morning, and checked the weather.  David getting the camelbacks ready:

After speaking to a nice young guy at REI we took his recommendation to hike Mt. Elbert instead of Mt. Massive.  We couldn’t find too many people that knew of Mt. Massive, so we figured we’d go with the more well-known Mt. Elbert for our first 14er.  It also happened to be the highest mountain in CO, but was only a Class 1 difficulty.  I guess the “only a Class 1 difficulty” tricked me into thinking the hike would be smooth sailing – I was proven wrong!  I didn’t realize that 9 miles and 4,700′ of elevation change would be a formidable challenge.

Leadville is at 10,000’+ elevation, so we thought this might help with adjusting to the altitude.  It might have helped a little, but it also caused David some pretty severe sinus issues, so he got hardly any sleep, and therefore I also got very little sleep.  Our 4:45 AM alarm went off very early; we put on our gear, ate some oatmeal packets, and then were off to the trailhead.  The dirt road to the  trailhead had some potholes/washboard, but our little rental 2WD Chevy rental made it just fine.  It was extremely dark when we got to the trailhead, so we used some handy headlights and set out on the trail around 6:15 AM.  It was dark, you get the idea:

There were quite a few other cars, hikers and dogs there too, which made me feel better about hiking in the dark!  We set out on the trail and immediately missed the first right turn, but retraced our steps fairly soon and didn’t lose much time.  We had an awesome hiking buddy for a little while, until he passed us.

I was huffing, puffing and being a Negative Nancy the first part of the hike – the altitude was making me short of breath and I was tired and cranky.  Plus I wanted a dog to carry my stuff.  Luckily David let me walk in front to pace the hike and kept me going.   At least I felt cute in my new digs.

The first part of the trail was a gradual upward slope to the tree line.  I ate way too much on this hike – I think a Cliff Bar at a break withing the treeline, then a dreaded ProBar at the treeline – ProBars have ~400 calories!  Not pre-wedding food per say, but I’m sure these would be ideal for meal replacements or century rides.

For the first time I used one of David’s Garmin watches while hiking.  At the treeline, I told myself we were half way, but then quickly realized that while we were half way in mileage, we weren’t halfway in elevation change.  It was great to see what elevation/distance we’d accomplished, but also not great to know how much was remaining!  Kind of a love/hate relationship.

We continued on up to some increasingly steep areas.  There were a couple gnarly parts where we had to take many rests.  This doesn’t begin to describe the steepness:

After getting through the difficult parts, we saw a summit, but it was a false summit.

Then we saw another summit, also a false summit, then finally we saw the real summit!  What a deceiving mountain it is!  The last few hundred feet I was still feeling good, but David’s pack was hurting him (he was probably carrying over double the weight of mine), so we switched and made it to the top.  Dueling Garmins! (David thought he lost one of them, so ordered another one on eBay – the eBay one is falling apart, but David glued it back together and it’s still useable!)

After a couple pictures at the top, it became windy and cold, so we headed back down to find a lunch spot.

We ate some yummy apple/brie sandwiches while overlooking the fall colors and lakes below.

David was still having headaches, but we were determined to make it down.  The treeline took longer to get to than we thought it should.  At the treeline, we took another short break (more energy bars) before continuing down.  At about 1.5 miles to go, David was getting really bad headaches and we just had to work as a team to get down.  We were very happy when we saw the parking lot!  As soon as we got to the car I gave David some Excedrin, and within half and hour he was feeling so much better.

We agreed that while this was a great and challenging hike, we felt like it was more of a workout challenge than a scenic hike.  I’m sure it is similar for many 14ers.  On a side note, one of David’s goals is to summit Mt. Rainier, so we signed up to climb Mt. Rainier in July 2012.  That means there will need to be a few more of these 14er training hikes next year.

Instead of staying another motel night in Leadville, we drove over to Breckenridge where we got a lodge at an off-season rate.  We went in to town for burgers and beer – I was craving a buffalo burger.  I like eating buffalo (vs. beef) because it is lean and from what I can tell, bison aren’t factory farmed like cows are.  We ate at Empire Burger in Breck, which I’d definitely recommend if you are craving a burger and great fries.  The server recommended O’dell’s 90 Shilling Ale which we both really enjoyed.

Then we headed back to the hotel for an early night, we were exhausted!  Sunday was mainly filled with traveling and dabbling around Denver for a bit.  The highlight was Watercourse Foods in Denver, an amazing vegetarian cafe.  We both ordered the macro plate; David never thought he’d be craving greens, but he was after a whole week of Microbrewery/bar food!  It was really delicious.

And now we’re back in Houston – happy to be at sea level and with humidity once again (I never thought I’d say that).  It’s good to be home.

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