The highest peak in Colorado, and second highest in the lower 48 (only 60 ft. behind California's Mt. Whitney), Mt. Elbert's summit sits at 14.439 ft. It's not one of the harder +14,000 ft. climbs in the state, but the scenery along the way makes it one of my favorites. We arrived at the trailhead under a clear night sky with the Milky Way stretched out overhead. The temperature gauge in the car said -12 C, not bad but still cold enough to make me wish I had my warmer layers on when I stepped out. I pride myself on wearing the perfect layers for any hike, but somehow I never seem to. And my bag is usually filled with way more than I need. I guess thats what happens when you've been through enough misadventures that you start planning for things not going as planned. I would have loved to stand around and stargaze longer but we had a long way to go and we were both cold and ready to get moving. Layered up and headlamps on, we headed out.
We had just cleared tree line when the sun made it over the peaks to the east. I could see our whole route laid out in front of us up the north ridge, with a single pair of tiny hikers making their way just below the summit. I picked out the spot I'd stop to eat my PBJ later, and kept going. The sun was fully up now and it was a beautiful and clear morning, and the snow wasn't too bad thankfully, since I opted not to pack my axe. I could tell I wasn't going to need my heavier jacket that was stuffed in my bag, but I wished I had worn warmer socks because my feet were cold. Stupid layers. By the time we made the summit there was no one else around, the other hikers having taken the southern route out. We could see two or three other small groups slowly making their way up behind us. They had been back there all morning, gaining on us when we were in harder sections and falling back when they were. We offered them brief encouragement as we passed on our way down although my legs prefer going up to down. Back at tree line we shed the layers that had became unnecessary, ate the last of our snacks, and made friends with a Grey Jay who was clearly no stranger to hikers taking breaks. There won't be many more days of this now, its mid October and the weather is already changing. My legs are reluctant as we start heading down the trail again, but even so the conversation turns to which summit we might be able to squeeze in before the snow really hits.