Peak(s):  Mt. Elbert  -  14,433 feet
Date Posted:  02/14/2021
Date Climbed:   08/22/2020
Author:  Chelsea
Additional Members:   torimeri
 Third time's the charm?   

Mount Elbert (14,443′) via South (East) Trail

08/22/20 | 11.6 miles | 4,133′ gain | Class 1


For my birthday last year, I climbed Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado. As both a 14er and state high point, Elbert counted towards two of my long term goals and was my 11th Colorado 14er and 4th state high point. My friend Tori came with me to help celebrate.

We started from the South Elbert Trailhead which is easy 4wd (or Subaru-able with some difficulty). There is a ton of dispersed camping all along the road and around the trailhead. The trailhead itself is super small and rutted with minimal parking and even less room to turn around. Easier parking can be found ~0.15 miles below the trailhead; this is where I’ve parked (and camped) the handful of times I’ve visited the area.


The trail starts in a beautiful aspen forest and follows the Continental Divide Trail/Colorado Trail (CDT/CT) for ~0.4 miles. We followed signs for the South Mount Elbert Trail (though really we were on the eastern side of the mountain). The trail quickly gains elevation after leaving the CDT/CT, switchbacking to treeline. Once out of the forest, we’d typically have good views but the darn wildfire smoke was getting in the way. I was afraid we’d have another day like on Crystal Peak the week before, where the smoke was so bad it aggravated Tori’s asthma and made me feel sick, but we seemed to be in a bubble of clean air. We neither smelled smoke nor felt any negative effects.

Smoky view of Twin Lakes

There is a good break spot near treeline that we took advantage of. It seems that many people stop here as the wildlife was particularly “friendly”. A gray jay was dive bombing us, we assume trying to get us to drop our popcorn. Sorry, none for you!

Gray jay aka Canada jay aka camp robber

Once above treeline, we continued our climb. Elbert was in view the whole time now and it looked really far away.

Mount Elbert looks far away from here…

Volunteer trail crews were working on re-routing a section of trail and restoring the old, eroded section. They were enlisting the help of hikers to carry logs on their way up the hillside. Of course we said yes and each carried a log a few hundred vertical feet up to where it would be installed. Each log carried was one less trip for a volunteer, so we were happy to help!

Helping carry logs to fix the eroded trail
Happy to help even though it took me a while
A section of trail that will eventually be re-routed and restored.
Look at all the little ants on the standard route…boy am I glad we took a less popular route!
Looking back down…still smoky over Twin Lakes

The trail curves around the south side of the mountain and switchbacks a handful of times before reaching the summit. Once I hit 14,000′, my body was done and I moved even slower (if that’s at all possible). Eventually we topped out and pushed through the crowd (yes a crowd) to touch the summit at last.

All those people up there are on the summit…we are close now!
We made it!

It was such a good feeling to finally summit this mountain that I had yet been unable to finish! We didn’t have much for views (due to the smoke) and the summit was insanely busy but I didn’t even care.

Smoky summit views

We still had a long way back to the truck so we didn’t stay at the summit long. We took our lunch break down lower where we could get away from all the people. Once we were finished, we made quick work of the trail back to the truck.

Still smoky on the way down

I was elated to have finally climbed this mountain that has eluded me for so long. Elbert was my first new 14er in nearly two years! I think this means I’ve finally broken my 14er drought. Now I’m just hungry for more! C’mon summer 2021!

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
3x the charm
02/15/2021 16:43
I have had a couple peaks that took 3 times to finally summit, and a lot of peaks that have taken 2 trips. There is something special about getting to a summit after a previous failed attempt! Best of luck in 2021!

02/15/2021 17:03
Thank you!! I definitely agree that the summit feels extra special when you've tried previously and come short. (Even if it's an easy peak )

02/16/2021 17:23
Congrats on getting Elbert done finally! I summited it with my son last year via the southeast route along Blackcloud Trail. It was in late September so, chilly on top with weather on the peaks around us. But it was a great experience as well. I have to try the standard route next time. Way to help out the volunteers, too! Nice job.

What T-man said
02/17/2021 07:50
I think we all have mountains that it took more than once to catch - I know I sure have. Congrats on making it happen!

02/17/2021 08:24
@Ritzn1 - Blackcloud looks like a nice route! I think if I ever do Elbert again I'll do that.

@Jay - It happens to all of us! Hopefully we can link up this year for a 13er or two.

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