CDT Day 98: Galena Mountain to Mt. Elbert – Eggplant Camp to Crab Conspiracy Camp
Miles hiked: 23.5
Total miles: 1691
Instead of hiking fast all day to make it to town in time to collect our resupply boxes, the trail slowed us down, forcing us to appreciate arguably the most beautiful few miles yet. We all got more than we expected today, and now we’re perched high on Mt. Elbert, poised to get a little bit more tomorrow.
SpiceRack and I woke up super early, hoping to make it 26 miles to Twin Lakes by 6pm. We were hiking at 5:30am by headlamp, wearing more layers than usual. There was the distinct smell of smoke in the air, but when sunrise came views were clear. From a lumpy saddle I thought I could see Mount Massive ahead, though I wasn’t sure. It was big though. Dropping to the bottom of the valley, I waited for Spice to catch up. It was below 20°F so when she decided to stop down there for water, I said nuts to that and climbed up the other side to find the sun.
I caught up with some unknown hikers that I didn’t have any desire to meet, so I took my break about 100 yards short of where they were getting water. That’s where Crunchberry, then Rooster, then Spice found me. We all moved on from there, through the trees, on the warm lower slopes of a big mountain.
The bigger the group, the slower it moves. I got a bit frustrated by this, knowing our window for making it to Twin Lakes was narrow to begin with and shrinking further with every social break. In the end, I gave into the experience of hiking with friends, choosing to enjoy the day instead of stressing. And anyway, at lunch by a creek, we decided to try for the summit of Mt. Elbert, the highest point in Colorado and only about five miles from the CDT. Maybe this evening for sunset, or tomorrow for sunrise. No more town today, just good hiking.
There was a guy carrying a ukulele, then a runner that freaked us out. At the Elbert trailhead, I lost a bet, meaning I needed to go for a swim in a freezing creek. I wrangled Spice in, and she wrangled Rooster. Crunchberry escaped and ate an entire large chocolate bar in the few minutes it took us to freeze our nips off. Impressive.
At the north Elbert trail junction, we decided that going up there for sunset was a bad choice with as little time and water that we had. So we continued on a few miles to the south trail junction, and boy, I sure am glad we did. Low around the base of the mountain, the fall aspen went ballistic. Violently yellow, and vast. I thought I knew what fall colors were about, but this was next level. Big aspen, small aspen, corridors of yellow, trail paved with bright yellow leaves. It was impossible to move quickly through this. We leapfrogged one another as we gaped in wonder and tried in vain to capture the beauty with our cameras. Crossing a short meadow, we looked to our right and were stunned by what looked like an entire mountain of yellow with touches of green and orange. Totally nuts.
At the south trail junction, we turned right to climb as high as we could up Elbert and still find sheltered camping below treeline. We somehow made it through more incredible aspen then past amazing views of the color show from above when the pine trees became scattered.
Rooster and Crunchberry found good camping around 11,600ft, so we have a little less than 3,000ft more to gain in the morning. It’s going to be cold and windy tomorrow, if the forecast is to be trusted, but we’ll give the summit our best shot. It will be hard for a mountain to top what we saw today though. I’m glad we didn’t make it to Twin Lakes.