#26 Mount Elbert, Colorado (14,439 ft.)

The last time I had seen Rob Christie was sometime between 1988, when I graduated high school, and 1992, when I graduated from the University of Virginia, where he also graduated, albeit with a much more useful degree in engineering. He now lives west of Denver with his wife, three kids, rabbit, cat, and dog. More about the Sam the dog in a bit.

Dolley Shot: Big Pile o’ Rocks

I had contacted Rob last year about being my hiking partner on Mount Elbert, and he agreed, but then I decided New Mexico had to come first. Fortunately he was still game a year later, although I suspect that by the time we were approaching the last false summit, somewhere above 13,000 feet, he might have harbored a mild tinge of regret.

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I had done plenty of small prep hikes for Elbert, including 6,000 feet of hiking two weeks before, but in retrospect I think good old jogging and trying to maintain a baseline of cardio conditioning served me well. The hike is long, and sometimes pretty steep, but the pace is steady and the good footing mitigates the kind of fatigue brought on by lunging over big streambed stones, as in New Hampshire. The real challenge is the altitude, and that’s where that steady regime of basic jogging paid dividends, I think.

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The town Rob lives in sits at about 7,500 feet. I spent Wednesday night at his house after my very late flight into Denver, and the next day we drove to Breckenridge, at about 10,000 feet, and stayed with friends of his. We got up at 3:45 AM, hit the trail by 5:05, and made the summit in about 3:45. Not bad for a bunch of aging weekend warriors, including one East Coast lowlander. Rob’s friend Rich joined us for the first part part but then peeled off to gather mushrooms and wait for us at the trailhead.

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We hiked below treeline by headlamp, which I think made it go faster for some reason. By the time we emerged from the brush and reached the log bench (where it smelled like everyone stopped to pee), the golden hour of late dawn/early morning had broken, and the colors were spectacular.

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And so was the weather. Showers and thunderstorms had been forecast all week, so we were thrilled by the clear skies.

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I will say that all the pictures of the high trail I saw online did not capture the steepness of the trail above treeline. It’s steep. Not crushingly so, but steep nonetheless. You take your time and plod on.

We spent about 15-20 minutes at the summit, watching dogs play in the stale snow banks, making movies, taking selfies: thet things one does atop the highest peak in the Rockies.

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It was a glorious moment, and I felt great, more so because it was the hardest hike I had ever done—4,700 feet of elevation gain beginning at 10,000 feet—and I made it up and down without ever feeling bad.

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That night we toasted with the obligatory post-summit beer and then headed home to collapse. Alas, that’s when Sam the dog made an impromptu appearance in my hiking lore. While I was gone Sam had found my trail food bag and scarfed down a tin of salted almonds, my entire cache of green chile jerky, and, wait for it, my bar of 70% cocoa dark chocolate.

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Sam’s fine, don’t worry, but after a trip to the emergency vet in Denver, $350, and another post-midnight bedtime, the aging high school friends were toast. Still, we made it. Thanks, Rob. Go Monarchs. Wahoo-wa! 

      

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