View toward the mountain from Halfmoon Road in the San Isabel National Forest
Tidbits: Highest point in Colorado, Highest point in the Rockies and on the continental divide, 2nd highest mountain in the continental US
Summitted, September 24, 2004
Time Zone: GMT -7 hours
When to go:
Best to go between May and October.
The three primary trails are the Black Cloud Trail, South Mt. Elbert Trail, and North Mt. Elbert Trail. I chose the North Mt. Elbert trail since it was closest to the town that I was visiting (Breckenridge). All climbs are class-1 with about 5,000' of vertical elevation gain. The North Mt. Elbert trail has 5,000' of elevation gain over the course of 4.5 miles...so it is a relentless hike.
Hotel and Climb Reservation:
No guide, permit, or trail reservations are required. The mountain is located in the San Isabel National Forest. There is a trail register at the trailhead.
Standard equipment for a long day hike. Bring emergency supplies. Hiking poles are nice to have since there is usually snow on the trail and it could get slippery in places.
From Leadville (the highest altitude incorporate city in the USA), go South on US Highway #24 to State Highway #300 (on your right). Go just under a mile to Rt. 11 on the left and then make a right turn onto Halfmoon Road about 1 1/4 mile down the road. Halfmoon road is a well maintained dirt/gravel road. Proceed several miles to the large and clearly marked North Mt. Elbert Trail paring area on the left. The trailhead is at the far end of the parking lot by a latrine.
Follow the trail for a few hundred yards and you will come to the Colorado Trail. The first part of the trail follows a creek within a pine forest.. Turn left (south) on the Colorado Trail and hike about 1 1/4 miles to the North Mt. Elbert trail on the right (marked with a broken sign). Turn right and follow the trail which proceeds steeply to the summit. There are no blazes, cairns, or markers on the trail and in fresh snow conditions it is fairly easy to stray off the trail once you are above treeeline. Also, the trail teases you with three (3) very well placed false summits. Each one took me about 45 minutes to reach when it came in view (then another 15 minutes or so to the true summit). The trail wends its way through fields of rock and stone. When I was there in late September, there was an average of 6 inches of snow on the ground and the summit was about 20 degrees. Also, be aware of the danger of thunderstorms. Get an early start and get off the summit by noon. Also, head back quickly if thunderstorms come into the area. During my hike, it snowed lightly, then a brief, but huge weather vortex (see picture below) came with higher winds and snows. There is supposed to be a USGS marker and register at the summit, however, they were covered with snow and not easily located when I arrived. The roundtrip hike took me about 8 1/2 hours.
A weather vortex forming below the summit.
A view of the Rocky Mountains from the summit area (looking south)
The true summit (you pass through three false summits prior to getting here).