Mt. Elbert – Hiking North Mt Elbert Trail to Highest Point in Colorado

This was the worst hike I’d ever done. Easiest Coloado 14’er, they say? No way. Mt. Princeton was easier and I nearly died on that mountain. Trust me, do not trust anything you read about this mountain-unless it is truthfully hard hitting. As we live in Colorado, we are pretty well versed on hiking Colorado, and I’m telling you, Mt Elbert was tough! To learn everything you ever wanted to know about hiking Mt Elbert, check out our Comprehensive Guide. It includes all the stats, what you need, gear, etc.

Now my Mom wants to do another Colorado 14er. She wants us to become hikers, who  hike 14ers. She loved the feeling of accomplishment. I mean, yeah, after that long hike, sitting at the peak, thinking I just did that? Is amazing, but to be honest when we were at the top I just wanted to get down and get home. 

The views at the top were incredible, I’ll give it that. Just to be at the highest point in all of Colorado is thrilling, looking over all these other huge mountains, looking down at Twin lakes which look small from up there, like a little pond, Mount Massive is so gorgeous, it kinda makes you want to hike it, too. To get a different perspective, a different viewpoint. So the question is, was it worth it? 

Colorado 14er Mt Elbert

Is it worth it? Yes. I think so. From the views and the feeling you get, yes, it was. Yet, that doesn’t change the fact that it is hard.  And if you step onto that trailhead, planning on getting to the peak, you better have a plan to get to the peak, or you’ll turn around faster than you decided to hike it in the first place. 

After hearing all this talk about how Mt. Elbert was the tallest, yet easiest Colorado 14er, I was so stoked and ready to get to the top. An easy hike AND a pretty view?  Sign me up. At first, my dad wanted to hike Sopris with the whole family, but quickly switched gears and planned our first trip to hike a Colorado 14er! 

Mom was dreading it since day one.  Kady was excited because, you know, hiking is her thing, it’s what she does. I think all of my brothers didn’t really know what to think. Kenny and Dally have hiked Mt Sopris which is a lot shorter, but impeccably harder, so I don’t think they were really thinking much. I was planning on comparing it to Princeton the whole way, big mistake. 

Okay, now let’s get to the story. 

On August 9th, 2020 my family and I got into our cars, loaded with camp gear, and  hiking gear, bags all loaded. We drove all the way to Leadville through mostly heavy traffic, heading out of our mtn town back to the city. Mt Elbert is an easy 3.5 hr drive from Denver …

Table of Contents

Camping Mt Elbert

When we got to Leadville, that’s when my Dad pointed out the peak of Mt. Elbert. Oh man, the tree line was so far down the mountain. What was I expecting the mountain to look like, a hill, an ant hill? I don’t know, but that’s when I started dreading it. Then we went out to Elbert Creek campsite, which was a beautiful place to camp the night before a big hike. We drove along the road which turned to dirt real quick. It was so nice being in the woods again, especially these kinda woods. Trees for miles, enormous campsites. These huge pine trees only had branches starting maybe five feet up the trunk, the first five feet were bare, naked. So you could see forever. 

Anyways, we drove all the way to the end just past the trailhead.  Kady had gone ahead of us to secure a campsite, so we were looking for her and all the boys. When we spotted her we pulled up, and jumped out. I love the feeling of the woods and camping, the smell, everything. That’s when I realized I couldn’t wait to go camping in the RV again. Exploring. 

We charged our phones and our cameras and our GoPros using our handy dandy Goal Zero Sherpas. Super Cheap portable solar charger that literally never quits.

Eating, Resting and Chillin at Mt Elbert Creek

Anyways, about one hour later, our good friend, “Uncle” Father Daniel (as Kady calls him) showed up. Fr Daniel is like family to us. He’s the coolest Priest you’ll ever meet, he is so devout. He is a fantastic teacher and explains faith in ways everyone can understand. He asked us about hiking Mt Elbert with a dog. Kady was concerned too, but we know Eddy. Anything we can do, he can do, and he did awesome!

For the rest of the night, we just relaxed, ate hotdogs, chips and chilled while Coby and Elly and Emmy and Rowdy and Dad chased each other around our campsite, dad pretending to be a zombie. The rest of us weren’t gonna move, resting, preparing for tomorrow, which I then knew I had to do. 

Then at two AM – in the morning – Eddy-more like Ediot-escaped the tent and went on a little field trip through the woods, for like thirty minutes while my mom and dad wandered around searching for him, with nothing more than their inexpensive headlamps. When they found him, he was bouncing around, all happy, surprised to see you here-in the woods, was probably what was going on in that little head of his.

Wake Up Call for our Colorado 14er

At five thirty, we all kinda just woke up together, it was kind of weird. But we packed up pretty fast, I just threw my sleeping mat into my bag and threw it in the car without properly packing it into it’s bag, because I didn’t want to start the hike frustrated. But, I guess God wanted me to start the hike frustrated. 

After we packed up our tents and whatnot, we packed our camelbacks, stuffing in as many snacks as possible around our clothes since Kady suggested we all pack warm clothes for the summit because it is always cold, she said. At the top of Mt. Princeton, it was freezing.

Then we drove over to the trailhead. Mom, Emmy, Elly, and Coby disappeared so fast. Because they claimed to be much slower hikers. I wanted to go with them but my Camelback cap wasn’t correctly attached, so it spilled open and soaked my whole bag and clothes and snacks…yeah, great foreshadowing.

Starting Hiking Colorado Mt Elbert

Then we began hiking Colorado 14er, Mt Elbert. I walked with Kady for most of the way before tree line. We were all so split up.  At the beginning we passed over a bridge, which was cool with the trees, so I took a picture and Kady was gone when I finished. Then, Father Daniel passed me, so I ended up with my dad. After the bridge it switch-backed and dad and I talked about how nice this is and how it’s a metaphor for life. Hard things like this can prepare you, dad was saying. Like it is a different kind of pain and it takes a different kind of mental maturity.  It can prepare you for later experiences in life that take mere will and determination, not only more hikes. My parents are philosophers. They find meaning and lessons in everything we/they do. If you know what I mean. Then dad and I caught up to the boys, who were taking a quick break. Dally had raced up the trail after pooping in the trees, and he was out of breath for running up the trail. LOL

We were honestly moving pretty quickly, we were logging miles quickly through the trees, and we passed people one by one and by entire groups.

Tree Line at Mt Elbert

Then we made it to tree line, maybe 1 hr in to the hike.  This was where we were planning on taking our first real break. The trees were only the first two miles of the trip. We stashed extra water bottles at the tree line for the way down, in case we needed more water. Fr Daniel and dad’s idea.

At the edge of the tree line we caught back up to our group. Mom was there on a log with everyone else. Elly and Coby were going to the bathroom, while everyone ate some snacks. Mom wanted so badly to get to the top, she was on a roll, she had a nice quick pace so she hardly rested and began hiking again with Kady, Emmy and me. We were feeling optimistic. 

Hiking Mt Elbert to First False Summit

From here you could see this next hill, which looked pretty steep, but Kady told us we only had a little over two and a half more miles, so I figured two and half more miles was nothing. And we had heard that it’s not too hard from here, steep, then some switchbacks that flatten out then more steepness and so on it goes.

Already, I was tired as we hiked up this first steep part. I waited for Dad and Elly who were enjoying the hike, instead of blazing up like everyone else. We made it over this hill pretty painlessly. When you reach the top of this, for lack of a better word, hill, if you look back you could see a little over the trees and it was beautiful. And ahead you could see the pointy peak far away, it was rock. Don’t kid yourself, that is not the peak, only the first false peak. 

Then the trail ahead leads up another hill, to the right you can see the rocky ‘peak’. After you make it up this trail, which I barely did, the trail will kind of, and I mean kind of flatten out, for like twenty feet. Then it hits the worst part. We seemed so close to the peak because, to keep hope alive we convinced ourselves that the pointed rocky peak was THE peak. The trek up to that point was steep, but nothing compared to what was next. 

Summoning our Resolve on Mt Elbert

The people ahead, halfway up the steepness to that pointed peak, looked as small as ants. At this point, Kady was so far ahead we could only spot her by her bright blue pants. This is where my Mom kind of lost her pace, but not her determination. She had loaded her phone with podcasts, so it is here that she donned her go everywhere headphones, and forged ahead. Although I did hear her question the validity of a false summit … welcome to the club, Mom. 

The boys had a pattern, Cardy would walk up until he couldn’t, then break as long as he needed, I think the rest of my brothers did the same. Most of us would walk ten feet, break for a second or two, ten feet, break for a second or two. Both tactics worked. 

There are rewards intermingled with all the suffering. The view got prettier and prettier. Eventually we caught back up to the boys and Kenny broke the truth we all were avoiding. Kenny told me he overheard someone saying that what we saw, which was so close now, just up and around, was not the peak, just the first of two false peaks. Everyone was full of ugh when they heard. But we were so close we could taste it. Can’t turn back now, not that anyone even thought to, much less considered it. 

So we continued. Up the next hill, tired, but purposeful.

Hiking Mt Elbert to the Summit

Now from here, rounding the corner around this peak, you can see the trail lead ahead around another big hill, literally straight up. This kid in front of me turned back, “is that the peak?” he asked. I shrugged. “I have no idea, I hope so,” I said, “I thought this was the peak.” He laughed and then he let me ahead and I continued around the corner. At this point everyone was complimenting me on my hat. Which was hot pink and had Make America Great Again printed on the front. #Trump2020. 

It’s nice on top of the 2nd false peak, it easily could pass as the peak. It is flat, rocky, and has a very pretty view. I met up with the boys and Father Daniel again and we waited for everyone else. Then Kenny informed us all that the hill in front of us was also not the peak. Really? Another false peak. Okay, I thought, it doesn’t seem that hard, not as steep. And we’re so close.

We made our way up this hill which was harder than it looked, it was incredibly steep and long. Then there was another hill. Not the peak. Then there was another hill, I am not kidding, not the peak, but at the top of this hill, there was a rock pile, and the most gorgeous view ever. On this rock pile there was a sign that read, “Spread The Love”. Easy to do up here amongst like-minded trekkers. There was also a little painted rock. At this point we could see the trail lead up this tiny hill, then the trail narrowed into a fin of sorts  and then there was THE peak.

The Summit of Mt Elbert

Colorado 14er Mt Elbert

There were huts made out of rock, to spare summiteers from any wind, and the view was amazing. The most amazing views I’ve ever had the privilege of viewing. Mt. Massive just across from us,  was a clear view. Twin lakes, crystal. And the mountain tops just spanned for what seemed like ever. We had the best weather. It wasn’t cold, the sky was blue as can be, few clouds. It was amazing. We took it all in. Everyone up there was shocked that such little kids as Coby and Elly had made it to the top! We took a family photo with Mt Massive in the background.

This, this view, this feeling, this moment made all the struggle worth it. In those moments of soaking it all in, I forgot what it took to get here. The only thing that mattered was that I was here. We had done this together, as a family. I was joyful.

Celebrating Mass on Mt Elbert

Then, I followed Fr. Daniel down the right side of the mountain to help him set up mass. But it was hard because it was really windy. But, we got it done and celebrated mass at 14,443’.It was incredible since we were so high. The highest point for mass that day, across the world, for sure. There was something in Father Daniel’s homily that caught my attention more than anything. He widened his arms, gesturing towards the mountain, the lakes, the beauty that surrounded us.

“If God gave us all of this just for our pleasure,

 just imagine what’s waiting in Heaven.”

Then I just took a look around me, and wondered what else God’s given me just for my pleasure. I could name a million things. This thought is an eye opener, a reminder. I’ll try to remember this everywhere I go, remind myself of this. 

After mass, Father Daniel then packed up the mass and we all sat around talking, eating snacks, changing. After we were all ready to begin the descent, we hustled back up to the pea. As we took one last look, we saw these three dogs with their owner. The dogs had goggles on, haha. It made us all laugh. They were well-trained dogs too. Kenny asked to take a photo and the owner said, “Sure.” And then directed the dogs to “Pose!” And to my surprise they all lined up and … posed. If I ever get a dog, he better be well trained and have goggles. 

The Descent of Mt Elbert

Then, I walked ahead with my brothers. We started out walking, but soon sprinted down the hills as fast as we could. We left my Mom and dad and Emmy, Elly and Coby in the dust. Walking up was way easier for Emmy and my dad because walking down was killing their feet, so they took it a little slower.

We waited at the first false peak, then when they all caught up, I started ahead with Kady. Then I just started running alone down the big steep hill until the boys caught up and we all ran down together. We ran down super fast. People would hear us coming, and step aside kindly to let us by. We then waited for everyone at the tree line. 

It took us, maybe 30 minutes to get to the tree line, going down is where we shine. Once everyone came to the tree line, we all walked down together, got our water that we stashed,, and made our way down to the bridge. Where we waited for Dad and Elly to show up. They took forever, but then learned they stopped to feed the birds that were landing on them.  

The Finale of Summiting Mt Elbert

Then we took a video,  and walked the last 100 feet to the car. When we stepped out into the parking lot, the sun seemed so bright. We ran to the car, tired but full of energy. We ate sandwiches and were so stoked to have summited, our first Colorado 14er, Mt Elbert. And lived to tell about it. 

The whole way up I was just looking forward to getting back and being able to rest. After a hike like that, chilling and breathing is a dream. 

I hope this blog helped you to be prepared for the hike, as I was honest. It was so worth it, just know it might be dubbed the “easiest” by some, it is anything but easy. 

If you are planning to hike Mt Elbert, good luck, you’ll need it.