Day 21: Mount Elbert

Today was full of highs and lows. Literally and figuratively. I’ll start with the literally. The Mount Elbert trailhead started not far from our campsite at about 10,000 feet in elevation. The summit of Mount Elbert is 14,440 feet, its actually the tallest mountain in the continental US, second only to Mount Whitney in California. The trail was 4.5 miles from trailhead to summit. That is a heck of a lot of elevation gain in a fairly short period. If I wasn’t so exhausted, I figure out the average angle incline and decline, but can’t do math now. We didn’t make it to the summit, but to 13,800 with a half mile to hike. So there are the high and low numbers of the day.

Now the the figurative highs and lows. It was a draining day. I didn’t sleep well in the tent and we woke up at 5. It was absolutely freezing. We packed up camp and made our way to the trailhead. We each had on about 5 layers, including hats and mittens. The trail seemed fairly steep from the get go. (That’s laughable now.) About two tenths of a mile into the hike, Ellie was panting and ready to turn around. In a way, I totally get it. It was steep, rocky, and the air was so thin. On the other hand, we had only been hiking 7 minutes.

Honestly, most of the hike up is a blur to me. I don’t remember a lot except Ellie needing breaks every minute, Zak, Zoe and I frustrated. It was about six hours of Ellie mumbling negative thoughts. Six hours of me trying so hard to build her up and push away the negativity. Six hours of her taking the tiniest steps possible, perhaps because she was tired, but I think because she didn’t think she could take bigger steps. Six hours of Zak saying he really was fine with it if we turned around. Six hours of Zoe eyeing me the words: another break?! It was definitely the most physically strenuous thing my body has ever been through, but I think it was even more mentally exhausting. I couldn’t get into my pace, my rhythm, my groove. 90% of my energy was focused on Ellie and that 10% left for me didn’t seem like enough.

We made it through the lodge pole pines, above the tree line, and up the steep granite. We made it to two of the four false summits and let me tell you when you have your eye on the summit for so long and then the path turns and you see it wasn’t actually the summit, it hurts. We were so close to the end, but it was after 12:30 and we knew it is best to be off the summit by noon to get back below treeline by the afternoon thunderstorms. Ellie had absolutely had it. So we made the decision to turn around. I was heartbroken. I know I could of done it and I really wanted to be on the top of the highest mountain in Colorado. Zoe felt the same way I did and we both broke down in tears. In that moment I felt like I had failed. It had been so much work for nothing.

We turned around right as a group of 5 were coming back down and raving about the top. It stung. The last half mile that we had completed was the toughest. It was by far the steepest and slippery rock made up the undefined path. I had thought getting up was hard, but that was a walk in the park compared to getting down. We had to crab walk, while holding our hiking sticks. Each foot placement slid about six inches before finding solid enough ground. Once we thought we were out of the steepest part we tried to stand up. One after one we fell, sliding all over. My hands have embedded rock in the palms from this portion of the hike. Zoe and Zak were more secure and got to a flatish part fairly quickly. I was leading Ellie, who was relieved we turned around, but not yet chipper. It was so hard with her. We did it, but I took four decent falls and Ellie took three.

The rest of the hike down to treeline continued to be hard. But then Ellie blurted out: I forgot I wanted to lose my tooth on the mountain! Her tooth has been super loose since Day 2, and hanging on by a thread for days now. But she was saving it for the mountain. I will never figure this girl out. She looked at me, opened her mouth wide, and instructed me to pull. It fell out with no force. From that moment on, Ellie was in a fabulous mood! Yay for us!

We wrapped up the last three miles. Downhill is also extremely tough and it was a challenge for us all. My knees started hurting. I got a wicked headache and ran out of water. My body was so tired, but the path still required precise foot placement. I could feel blisters forming on my toes from going downhill. I never thought it would end, but it did. We were back in the parking lot we left 10 hours before.

A few hours have passed as we drive to Grand Lake and I’ve have a bit of time to reflect. I am proud of us. We climbed Mount Elbert today. Not all the was to the tippy top, but a lot higher than most people could ever get.

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We have more pics, but the blog isn’t cooperating with this weak wifi. I’ll try to add them tomorrow.

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