If there are a couple things that Colorado certainly doesn’t lack, it’s mountains, beautiful weather, and an abundance of fun-loving people to enjoy these things with! Thanks to Kyle, Micah, Patty, Kara, Mariah, Michaela, Cyrus, and Kelly for their Mountainbeering adventure…miss you guys! Enjoy!
Given the Centennial State’s fondness for all things green, there may be many people who claim to be the “highest” in Colorado at any moment in time. But however subjective the measure of highness may seem, there is only one way to settle the matter – stand on the summit of Mt. Elbert. At 14,440 feet, Mt. Elbert is the tallest (highest) of Colorado’s famed 14ers.
So to stake our claim as the highest bunch in Colorado we left the comfortable confines of the Patty Murphy Lodge in Vail at 5am on a beautiful July morning. After a bit of grumbling about the too-early hour of departure, our crew of eight loaded water, snacks, and our weary bodies into our two vehicles. We arrived at Mt. Elbert shortly after sunrise, and the trail appeared mostly empty, save for two other cars. Our arrival at the trailhead gave everyone new energy as we bounced around the parking lot, excited for the adventure. We took the standard Northeast Ridge Route, a clear, well-marked trail all the way to the summit. Mt. Elbert is not as difficult a hike as many of Colorado’s other 14ers, but this trail still lasts nine miles and climbs 4,700 feet.
Mt. Elbert lies in the San Isabel National Forest and the first few miles of the hike zig-zagged through groves of evergreen trees. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we all peeled off layers as we cleared the tree line and left the protection of their cool shade. As we continued to climb and reached higher elevation, those layers quickly returned. The next few hours followed a distinct pattern. We hiked up the trail, periodically taking short breaks to catch our breath. We were absolutely certain we could see the summit and absolutely certain we would reach it within the next twenty minutes. We would hike a bit more and then realize what we thought was the summit was really not the summit. Soon, our periodic breaks became more frequent and slightly longer as the altitude, the seemingly endless trail, and the previous night’s booze started to catch up with us. It turns out the summit of Mt. Elbert isn’t visible until 14,300 feet, only 140 feet from the top. Oh well, you learn something new every day.
Eventually we reached the true summit. There were hugs and high fives for all.
We spent a few minutes of surveying the view and debating exactly how far we could see (the general consensus was China was clearly visible).
Then Micah pulled out a surprise for all of us – a 16 oz. Natural Light can that had been rolling around in his truck for the better part of the summer. Despite the rough storage conditions, the Natty was refreshing as always. Given the effort to reach the summit, the Natty might have been even a little more satisfying than usual.Not the ideal beer choice, but a great surprise nonetheless!!
We marinated on the summit for an hour or so, enjoying our loaf of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Our only other companion at the summit was a marmot, prompting us all to reminisce about our friends and their up-and-coming band What About the Marmots?.
Playtime at the summit concluded with a mini-snowball fight (Christmas in July!) and then Micah began the descent with a penguin slide down a snowy, icy ridge.
The descent was quicker than expected and spirits were exceptionally high as we relaxed in the parking lot, tossing a frisbee. We drove to Leadville in search of a burger and more beers, reliving the various parts of our adventure along the way. We had done it. For an hour, we were the highest people in Colorado. Looking back, the most difficult aspect of Mountainbeering is choosing your favorite part of the trip – was it the view, the crew, or the brew?
Thanks for the memories, Elbert. Sorry about your slightly nerdy-sounding name.