Mt. Elbert Attempt

I was returning to Illinois from California. I arrived in Leadville, Colorado on August 24, 2005. I stopped at the Forest Service office in Leadville, and got directions to Half Moon campground (south from Leadville on U.S. 24, right turn onto Colorado 300, left onto County Road 11). I camped at Half Moon that evening, then woke up early to begin my hike up Mt. Elbert. Mt. Elbert, at 14,433', is the second highest peak in the continental U.S. However, it would not be mine today, as I turned around at 13,200 due to threatening weather.

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Mt. Elbert as seen from Colorado 300. The trailhead is across the road from Half-Moon campground and is at about 10,000' elevation.

First view of Mt. Elbert after emerging from a steep and densely forested trail. (Actually, this is a false summit. I am told this ascent has several heartbreaking false summits.)

Another view of the (false) summit. Notice there are no clouds.

Looking back towards the town of Leadville (elevation 10,000').


Mt. Massive, the second highest peak in Colorado.

Another view towards the town of Leadville.

Much closer to the (false) summit.

First hint of many clouds am I not seeing?

Even more clouds...I'm getting concerned. For those who aren't aware, the weather can turn nasty very quickly in these high mountains. Thunderstorms are particularly dangerous as you are fully exposed. Will I be able to continue?



I'm at about 13,200 feet here. (Another hiker had an altimeter.)

Like I said, you're fully exposed up here. It's a long way to cover in the event of a storm.

The clouds are building around Mt. Massive. Is the same thing happening on the backside of Mt. Elbert? I'm not willing to risk it; at about 13,500 I have decided to turn around and go down.

On my way down I look back up and it doesn't look so threatening and I begin to second guess myself. Did I give up too soon?

Me on the way down. Disappointed.

Some other hikers are still on their way up despite the threatening weather. Maybe they are locals; maybe they know more than I do. More self doubt.

And then, just minutes later, it looks as though the clouds are building again.

Mt. Massive doesn't look so bad...

...and then minutes later it does...

And more...

And more... Shortly after I reach the forest, the skies open up and the rain and hail starts falling, and there is thunder all around. I'll never know if I made the right decision, but I think I did. At least I'm here to write this!

I look back as I drive back to Leadville. I'm sure it's worse up there than it appears from here!

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