On July 4th, 2007 Matt and I climbed the tallest mountain in Colorado: Mount Elbert. While Mount Elbert is the tallest at 14,333 feet, it isn't the hardest mountain to climb. The normal route is only a Class 1 trail. We left Denver at 6 AM and arrived at the trail head at 9 AM. We got a bit of a late start, since normally you want to be off the top of peak in Colorado by noon to avoid thunderstorms and lightning.
Matt and I decided to make the trip a bit more interesting by following a variation of this route up the gully on some Class 3 rock. My focus is not to climb all the 14ers, rather I am interested in climbing all of the scrambles in Dave Cooper's Colorado Scrambles book. On the other hand it is surprising that it took me over forty years to bag this peak!
I must say this scramble was as much fun as some of the scrambles in Cooper's book (photo at left). The climbing isn't sustained, but is long enough to be as good as the Kelso Ridge on Torreys. Dave explains in his book that there are thousands of Class 3 climbs in Colorado's mountains and he couldn't include them all. He also purposely left some classic climbs out. While not quite a classic climb, I suspect he left this route out to protect it from the throngs of people who might want to bag the biggest and get in some scrambling. My advice is to always look for adventure and not to rely on documented trails all of the time (all while respecting nature).
The route to tree line is sustained elevation gain, with some steeper sections. At the start you follow the Colorado Trail, so I completed a small bit of that goal. About a half mile above tree line we left the main trail and headed for the small lake. I believe you could make the climbing above the lake as difficult as you want: easily 5+.
Above the cliffs is the false summit where we rejoined the trail. Matt was getting pretty tired at this point and he vowed to take a nap on the summit. Arriving at the summit we encountered a light crowd. The views of all the mountains surrounding Elbert is amazing.
The descent seemed very long. Matt smoked me on the way down, so I guess that nap was a good idea!