By Jeanine Behr Getz
You may be asking yourself, what’s a 14er? Where would I find one? Or why a 14er?
A 14er is an “in the know” term used to describe a class of mountains that are between 14,000 -14,999 feet high. There are sixty-seven 14ers in the lower 48 states, all West of the Mississippi, 53 in Colorado, 12 in California and 2 in Washington.
To put the elevations in perspective, the highest mountain East of the Mississippi is Mount Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684 feet. The highest mountain in the USA is Denali (aka Mt. McKinley) in Alaska at 20,320 feet and the highest mountain in the world is Mt. Everest at 29,032.
For some sportsmen and women reaching 30’ in a kite surfing jump is euphoria, for others hitting a hole-in-one proves pure jubilation, yet for most hikers it’s just the sight of a tall mountain coupled with the accessibility to climb it that brings elation.
Now that your curiosity is “peaked,” your pen is out ready to plan your next hike and you are super excited about how many 14ers there are to conquer let me share our latest adventure.
Conquering the highest 14er in Colorado at 14,433 feet, Mt. Elbert.
Mount Elbert is located in the San Isabel National Forest, threaded in the Sawatch Range and its 4 various trailheads sit approximately 30 minutes from the center of the Town of Leadville.
Leadville, CO is an outdoorsy, hip, Victorian-era mining town that looks like a town from an old movie set. A couple of its claims to fame; highest incorporated city in North America at 10,200 feet and it has twenty-one 14ers within an hour driving distance. Definitely a central location hub if you have 14ers on your mind.
We chose the East Ridge Trail. Although the longest of the 4 trail choices, this 14.7 mile out and back trail with 5,000 feet elevation gain, did not include any technical climbing or hands and knees scrambling to the top. We chose this route coming from the East Coast because the longer route allowed our bodies to adjust to the altitude change more gradually.
Like on most hikes, the fellow hikers we met along this trail kept us humble. All shapes, sizes, ages, experience levels, paces, some with four legs and a tail, yet others running, or dragging trail bikes or carrying small children on their backs to the top. There is a saying in hiking, “hike your own hike,” meaning revel in your hike, it’s not a race.Here are some details from our hike.
Mt. Elbert East Ridge Trail:
Trail location: San Isabel National Forest, in the Sawatch Range this trailhead is approximately 12 miles from the center of the Town of Leadville.
Driving time to trailhead: Leave 30-40 minutes from Leadville, CO. The last mile driving to this trailhead is a bit of an adventure all unto itself. Think Land Rover commercial.
Trail length/difficulty: Approximately 14.7 miles out and back, 7 hours, rated Hard on AllTrails yet rated Class 1 (easy) on 14ers.com. Either way – be in shape and prepared.
Trail commentary: Before we started out, we each took a couple of aspirin; studies show that they can help prevent high-altitude symptoms (which can happen starting at 8,000 feet). We left our cabin at 4:00am and were at the trailhead starting out by 4:45am. After watching the weather carefully, we chose this departure time because of a predicted afternoon thunder/lightening storm. We were the 2nd car in the parking lot. In pure darkness, by headlamp alone we started up a steep ascent through an aspen forest (which we could fully appreciate in daylight on our decent). Hiking poles in hand, donned in hat, gloves and multiple layers for 37 degrees. (For some who came ill prepared…they had to hike in a “Batman hat & gloves” purchased at the Dollar General the night before!). We were carrying extra layers of clothes, charged phones, 32 oz. of hydration fluids, enough snacks for hourly stops to the top and a sandwich, pickles and candies for our victory summit feast. After several miles out of the forest, we came ascending a new landscape of small shrubs and bushes lit by the moon and what seemed like streetlamps for another few miles. The “street lamps” actually were cleverly made wood poles with reflectors. We finally saw daybreak through the huffing and puffing, not a more glorious sight was to be seen and feeling to be had than basking in the sun’s first rays of the day a few miles short of the tallest 14er in CO. The views of the Twin Lakes and various surrounding mountains were awing. The higher we went, the less vegetation there was, the air got thinner and the slower we went. The last mile was a grind, not technical, just rocks & scree to the top. Shortly after we summited we were joined by several hikers coming up from the other routes and within a half hour there were more than 15 of us taking victory pictures and celebrating our morning ascent. But what goes up…must go down! The hike back down was filled with the views we couldn’t see on the way up. A highlight was watching the 7 mountain bikers who dragged their bikes up to the summit – pass us on the way down! Yikes! My heart raced for them. All in all, Mt. Elbert was another glorious hike, which one isn’t though? We highly recommend it for first time and seasoned 14ers.
Flew into Denver, CO, drove the 120 minutes to Leadville, CO. Highly highly recommend you rent a Jeep to get you to where this trailhead is!
Stayed at The S.L.Umber Yard – (www.freightleadville.com) – great fun place, close to town.
Favorite eating/coffee spots: City on a Hill Coffee and High Mountain Pie
Download AllTrails app and the trails before you start your hike. Cell service was pretty good throughout the hike, but always be prepared.
To find more CO 14ers and their important details visit: 14ers.com ( https://www.14ers.com ) .
Remember when planning any hike, but especially longer ones at higher altitudes, there are basics to assess and ensure before you start: your fitness level, the weather, your trailhead location, route and timing, your gear, hydration system and food supply.
Hope you enjoy some pictures from our Mt. Elbert hike!
Send us any suggestions for our next hikes.
See you outside!
Jeanine & Audrey