The highest peak in Colorado – and the second-highest mountain in the Lower 48 – is an unassuming collection of ridges and false summits looming over Twin Lakes, often overshadowed by its neighbor to the north, Mount Massive. There are four ways to climb it, all involving more than 4,000 feet of slogging. Elbert itself isn’t the most memorable mountain, but to stand at 14,433 feet, one can truly claim to be on top of Colorado and on the highest point on the spine of the continent. If only that pesky Mt. Whitney in California didn’t have to be 72 feet higher….
“I moved to Colorado in 2004 and immediately set my sights on climbing Elbert. After all, why not start with the highest peak? After training on numerous 12,000 and then 13,000-foot peaks, the next summer I drove to Twin Lakes, set up camp and went to bed early, confident I was ready. But I was a cigarette smoker in those days, and my compromise between this awful habit and my desire to be a mountaineer was that I wouldn’t have my first smoke until I came down from the mountain. Well, I huffed and puffed all morning, as fitter hikers sailed past me. I finally summited, breathless, hours later, and then spent the long descent craving the day’s first smoke. When I returned to camp and lit up, it tasted like a dirty ashtray. A coughing fit followed. I vowed to quit, and while it took a few months to finally break the habit, it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve had a cigarette. Smoking and climbing mountains definitely do not go hand-in-hand.”
- Take some time to check out Twin Lakes on your visit to this stunning area. You’ll find nice campsites in the campground there as well as along many dirt roads in the area.
- If you have the ability to leave a shuttle car you can make a nice loop by ascending either the north or south side and coming down the other. The trail is good and well-marked in both directions, though the southeast ridge route is two miles longer.
- Whichever route you choose, this is a long day exposed to the weather above timberline, so start earlier than you think you need to.
Recommended season(s): Summer to early fall
—R. Scott Rappold