Getting an early start is the key to Peak Bagging in Colorado. Packed, psyched, dog-been-walked, oat-meal-been-eaten and ready for a 6 a.m. pick-up. Today's goal, Mount Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado at 14,433 feet. My bro Mike Jahn rolled up---a little late--but we were on the road soon enough. Mike had summited Mt. Elbert in 1992...so he was an expert in my eyes.
Click 4 pix: Peak Bagging & Tree Hugging
We drove over Independence Pass just as the Sun began to rise above the peaks creating a kaleidoscope of colors within the Aspen trees. It was R.O.Y.G.B.I.V. right before our eyes. We wanted to stop for photos but A) we were anxious to hit the trail and B) my nature pix never live up to the real thing, in person. We found the trail head, near Half Moon Creek without any problems and started walking uphill through the forest. The sun shone through the trees and the morning chill (it was about 35 degrees) began to burn off. I had too many layers on and my pack was too heavy but I made two great decisions, I brought my ski poles with me...and I left my beloved dog at home.
It would be 10 miles on a clearly worn trail with a 4,400 foot vertical rise. Nowhere to go but up. We kept a decent pace for about 2 1/2 miles, hit the tree line and took a short break. This would be the last shade we would see. It was a spectacular Colorado morning. If you've ever been out here in Colorado, at altitude, when it's brilliantly clear and crisp, you know what I mean. Not too warm, not too cold...just perfect... a textbook bluebird day. The only flaw was the smoke & haze out on the horizon created by wildfires in Idaho. The real work was still ahead of us.
Up, Up, Up we hiked. Nothing too technical but pretty steep. Like doing the stair- master for 3 miles. Switchback after switchback ... and it was all self-service. The peak that we could look up and see before us was a false summit. Luckily I read the guide book ahead of time and knew that. It's all about expectations. Mike scampered ahead (impressive) as I maintained my steady pace, sometimes counting out the steps to keep pushing on. As we circled around to the right, around the first false summit, it reminded me a little bit of the Aspen Highlands Bowl hike. We crested a second false summit and the real summit was not far. Mike had already made the top and was chatting with Tall Ted and Long Lean Courtney who we had met along the way. I pushed to the top and still felt strong. Yeeeeeah. I felt a great sense of accomplishment and shared a quick hug with MJ. We feasted on PB & J and Gorp washed down by water that we lugged all the way up the hill ourselves. We spent some quiet time up top, enjoying the 360 degree views. There were only a few people at the summit, and only one guy who felt the need to make calls on his celly. "Guess where I am?" he shouted into his phone. "Yeah, let's do Italian, Mexican whatever you want" he screamed above the wind. I tried to stay calm...and not toss his device into atmosphere.
I've bagged a few peaks in my day...and I knew that the joy and relief of making the top was akin to a false summit. The key to mountain climbing... is making it "up & down" according to Jim Whittakar, the first American to summit Everest.
Mike gave me a head start and we headed down. We were walking at a faster pace, but the wear and tear on the joints was adding up. My feet hurt, my knees were aching, my stout calves were spent and even my world class quads were tiring. We got to the tree line...and I regained a burst of energy...."let's finish this bitch" I yelled to Mike, he nodded, we bumped fists and we pushed forward. The trail through the woods seemed much longer and a lot less fun than it was early that morning. We were making progress...all downhill, but it was rocky and slippery and hot and I was running out of water, and I could feel the blisters building on my big toes. "Are we there yet?" I kept thinking to myself. Luckily, the natural beauty surrounding us was phenomenal...and I realized that I had no choice but to keep going, moving forward. So onward we trudged.
Finally, finally we got back to the car. YeeeeeeeeeeeeAH. Mission accomplished. We were thinking about dunking our feet in the cold water of Half Moon Creek..but I knew if I took my shoes off...I was done. We decided to hit the thriving metropolis of Leadville for a snack before driving back to Aspen. Mike clicked up a "local food" app. which suggested a "chrome taco truck" next to the Connoco. It looked authentic, down and dirty. There were a few other customers milling about (all who appeared to be ex-cons). So we ordered up. Maybe we were just hungry from the hike...but Mike and I agreed. BEST TACOS EVER!!
We bagged the highest peak in Colorado, we saw some incredible colors in the trees and we pounded tacos at 10,200 ft. Not a bad way to celebrate the last day of Summer. It was a perfect day to find the highest spot in Colorado.