CDT Day 99: Mt. Elbert to Sheep Gulch – Crab Conspiracy Camp to Aspen Are Cool Camp
Miles hiked: 10.2 + 10.5ish Mt. Elbert summit hike
Total miles: 1701.2
Fantastic heights, fantastic cold. This morning we started well before dawn to catch sunrise from the summit of Mount Elbert. This evening we rest under the protection of a pine, surrounded by golden aspen. And in the middle we had a great town stop in Twin Lakes. All in all, a pretty darn good day.
People started rustling around 3:30am. Too damn early if you ask me. SpiceRack left camp around 4am, me 40 minutes later in front of Rooster and Crunchberry. I cruised up the good trail by the red light of my headlamp. Out of the wind, I was sweating in my fleece, but once I got above the treeline everything changed. I threw on my puffy and gloves as well and made sure to keep moving. Cold and dark. Moving to stay warm.
I caught up with Spice a little over halfway up, around 13,200ft. She was moving slow, cold and dizzy. The dudes were soon there too and we rallied around her, but in the end she waved us on, choosing to nestle under her quilt and wait for sunrise. This was high enough for her. I wanted to stay, but she told me forcefully to summit for both of us.
The sky lightened, but the trail kept going up. Until there was no more up to go. We reached the rocky summit just before 7am, the highest point in Colorado, and at that moment, the coldest place in the entire world. My snot froze and my fingers turned numb. The air was cold to begin with, but the 30mph winds knocked me off balance and stole every shred of warmth from my being. My phone said, “forget this” and shut down completely. We made it about 40 minutes up there, ogling the sweeping views of many more peaks, some not too much shorter than Elbert.
I ran down as much of the trail as I could. A blast of wind actually gave me a brain freeze if you can believe it. I was relieved to reach the treeline again and happily joined Spice in the tent to thaw out a little. The others made it down, and we all got moving to finally make it to Twin Lakes at 9:30am. The day already felt long, but there was much left to do.
Spice and I got our boxes at the general store and all four of us hung out at the benches outside, pretending to do work, but really just enjoying the warm sun and company. A bag of chips disappeared along with burritos and tea. Crunchberry sampled some of our excess food curiously, cautiously.
Hope Pass loomed ahead, 3,000ft up in 4 miles. No one seemed particularly interested in tackling this climb, but eventually I got up to get going. Across the road out of town, through a meadow, across the lake inlet, then up up up. I felt strong and motivated so I didn’t stop the whole way up except for a few sips of water and to eat a brick of a protein bar that stuck in my stomach for the rest of the day. I thought about the runners who do this pass as part of the Leadville 100 ultramarathon. It made me feel better about the effort I had to exert.
The end of the climb was brutal, but the view was worth it from 12,550ft, back to the lakes and forward into an arena of mountains glowing with evening light. The wind was back at it though, so I hunkered in the north side cheering on the others as they finished the climb and joined me. Crunch had some choice words for the trail, but Rooster and Spice made it up with big smiles. I warmed my heart so much to see Spice feeling strong at the top of a section so tough. I knew she was disappointed about not summiting Elbert, but she wasn’t letting it keep her down now.
My knees were numb and crunchy on the steep descent, but I was glad to be going down instead of up. A couple miles later, we made it to camp, halfway down to the valley, but all the way full of beauty. The trees will protect us from the wind, but give us a view of the mountains. Yellow aspen all around add a warmth to the atmosphere that was severely lacking for most of the day. Cowboy camping with confidence and beans for dinner. Beans? Uh oh.