Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mount Elbert 7/7/13

Nualla crushed Antero yesterday but her paws were feeling it again. She looked all too comfortable laying down shotgun in the car. She needed to stay behind so we got a really early start in order for a quick return. We were up at 4 and bumped around in the dark until hitting the trail at 5. While getting ready at the trailhead I noticed two fellow hikers doing the same. They had slept in their car at the trail head and seemed to be making it a point to get ready and set out before us. I didn't know what to make of it initially and simply thought they were adamant about being first up the mountain. Well hell cool kids, don't let us stop you. Before starting up the trail I was damn sure to have my sunglasses. I didn't want a repeat from yesterday. It's so easy to do when it's dark out and you're half asleep. The sun was just starting to make an appearance as we set off with our headlamps on.

Headlamps were only necessary for the first 20 minutes or so of hiking. I prefer natural lighting anyway so as soon as my eyes could adjust the headlamp was stowed away. The beginning of the hike was part of the Colorado Trail so it was wide and well maintained. It made for fast travel with natural light too. As we wound our way through the forest we came upon the two hikers who had set out before us. They ended up being a younger college aged couple. The girl had new shoes that had started to give her blisters. Chivalry was very much alive on Mount Elbert as the suitor made sure to wrap her sore spots in moleskin. We continued up the trail until we reached a small clearing in the trees. The timing was good for watching the sun as it crested over the mountains to the east.

During our pause the couple caught up with us and got ahead. They seemed to have a hidden agenda more than a simple pissing contest of who got to the top first. We continued upward and were soon flirting with treeline. Mount Massive appeared suddenly in the absence of trees and only looked more impressive the higher we hiked.

The sun had continued upwards along its path but clouds were occasionally obscuring it. Normally this would subtract from the view but on this occasion it created the most amazing rays of sunshine bursting through. All of my pictures are taken with my phone and are not edited, adjusted or Photoshopped in any way. I couldn't believe what was in front of me.

Nice examples of flora eagerly awaited the sun's rays.

In the Colorado high country mosquitoes are similar to the flowers in that they have a narrow window of time to live and flourish. The two growth periods seem to coincide as well. While walking up the trail I suddenly crossed an invisible line. Change was forced on me and I went from being a happy hiker to a walking buffet. The air was unnaturally still, especially for being up above treeline. I think Jesse and I chanced upon a sheltered divot on the mountain where the foul things stayed overnight. In the span of a momentary break for rest they were on us. I had never witnessed such persistent zealotry from flying insects. At first I cursed and swore but later decided to save my breath. Swatting and brushing them off was pointless as more took their place. Jesse decided to pause for bug spray but I pressed on. I couldn't see how some spray would dissuade the mosquito equivalent of a hungry zombie horde. I switched gears and thought of them more as tiny motivators to hustle my ass vertically. This was evident in my pictures from today as their frequency was notably sparser during the onslaught. I continued with a dogged determination. Eventually I got up to a point high enough where the wind deterred the levitating parasites. I paused to take a breath, put on my jacket, and observe the first false summit. Yes, first false summit. 

Nearer the first false summit
It is easy to get in the zone and primarily focus on your immediate surroundings. I had done this while heading up and a quick look behind reminded me to look around more often.

Mount Massive
I crested the top and Jesse quickly pointed out a ptarmigan that was calmly walking around where the trail had flattened out. I was interested to get a picture as this was the first one I had ever seen. They blend in remarkably well with their surroundings and are very hesitant to fly. It continued to calmly walk around only maintaining a distance of 10-15 feet. In the photo below if you pay attention you can see it on the very edge of the trail right before it kinks off on the first bend. I had to cheat and follow Jesse's gaze in the picture to locate it. The second false summit is at the top of the picture as well.

Before the valley bellow was out of view we scoured the length of the trail for other hikers. We began to see the procession of people slowly making their way up. It was hard to determine exactly how many were coming up but it was obvious we had a nice start ahead of the masses. The view from the top of the hill was a welcome sight.

When the actual summit was in sight I got a second wind and made it up in no time. Jesse was first to the top and had met up with the couple that was ahead of us. He briefly filled them in on what we were doing and our progress over the past several days. They told us about themselves as well. My suspicions were confirmed when they informed us that they had just gotten engaged. I was happy that the guy ended up with the privacy he had eagerly earned. We were sure to congratulate them and take their picture together. I think they both would have been more enthusiastic if it weren't for the wind and cold. Jesse had been there before so he wasn't as keen on taking pictures. This was my first summit of Elbert and I wanted to take advantage of being on top of the highest point in Colorado. I left Jesse in the company of the happy couple and experienced the views around me.

La Plata to the left with the large face

I'll take the cold wind over mosquitoes any day!
Mount Massive
We all ended up leaving the summit together at the same time. Jesse and I made good time back down at a brisk pace. We did take a brief moment to stop and say hey to the ptarmigan again. It was still cruising right around the trail footloose and fancy free. In hindsight it might have been accustomed to handouts from people. Can you spot it in this picture?

"Why can't you hear a ptarmigan going to the bathroom? Because the P is silent." Thanks Jesse.
As we had begun to head down Jesse and I both ventured guesses at how many hikers we would encounter on the descent. I can't remember exactly what our guesses were but we both fell short of the actual number considerably. From the peak to the parking lot I counted 103 people plus the two of us! That wasn't counting the other main trail either! We were glad to have an early exit. The most popular question people asked us was, "How much farther to the top?". It's hard to give an accurate answer to somebody when you don't know their hiking speed. One thing is certain though, don't bother asking how much farther when you aren't above treeline yet. As we wound our way back down the trail I noticed some gems tucked under a log.

Trail necessities
I can't fathom why anyone would want to hike up a large mountain with this much extra weight. Apparently they found out the hard way and decided to ditch these extra items. The discovery was immensely funny to me at the time and I had to take a picture.

Intent on getting back to the car before it started getting hot I ended up running down the trail on the bottom section. I got back to see Nualla contentedly curled up in the same spot where she was left. It took 5:45 round trip, not too shabby. The parking lot was in stark contrast to how we saw it in the morning. The handful of cars had multiplied into an overflowing lot. We were happy to get back and decompress with some munchies. Salty potato chips get elevated to a whole new level after the exertion of a 14er hike. They transcend mere sustenance to a junk food culinary experience. After readying for the road we left and freed up some much needed space in the lot. The plan was to head back to Silverthorne but I knew I couldn't make it without some coffee. I made a pit stop at one of my favorite Leadville haunts, City on a Hill coffee shop. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of underestimating the potency of their cold brewed coffee. I was feeling t.u.f.f. and decided on the medium over a small. I drank the whole thing on the way back and my coffee tolerance had dropped since my 14er voyage to boot. Read a word from the wise here. If you are already dehydrated from hiking be mindful of how much caffeine you get down on. By the time I made it back to Jesse's I was feeling lackluster. That swiftly graduated to downright poopy. I tried playing catchup by chugging water but it still took a number of hours to feel good enough to eat. Let me reiterate, you can't drink too much water during and after strenuous hiking.

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