September 10, 2016

Mount Elbert – 14,433′

14er rank:

# of climbs:
First climbed:
Last climbed:
Routes climbed:


9,093' (Mt Whitney, CA - 669 mi WSW)
Lake County
11.4 mi SW of Leadville
19.3 mi ESE of Aspen

Southeast Ridge (Class 2)

Google Maps


*This is NOT the standard route up Mount Elbert!

This is the 18th 14er I've climbed, back in late October 2014 with my friend Mike. This peak the tallest in all of Colorado and the 2nd tallest in the contiguous United States, behind only Mount Whitney in California. Along with Mount Massive, its slightly lower companion to the north, Mount Elbert dominates the western skyline of the upper Arkansas River valley to the east. It is unmistakable from the town of Leadville only 11 miles away and is one of the most popular 14er hikes in the state.

Instead of taking the standard route to the summit, which approaches Elbert from the northeast, we hiked the longer but less popular Southeast Ridge route. This route requires 11 miles of roundtrip hiking on a continuous trail with over a mile of elevation gain. It begins at the Black Cloud Trailhead just off of Colorado Rt. 82, about 13 miles east of Independence Pass. The initial portion of the route is quite steep, ascending ~1,300' along Black Cloud Creek for about 1.25 miles or so. It then enters the elevated Black Cloud Gulch situated between 14,134' sub-summit "South Elbert" and 13,761' Bull Hill.

About halfway up the gulch, near 11,600', the trail turns right and begins switching back up the south slope of Elbert's southeast ridge. There are some incredibly scenic views along this portion of the hike of 14er La Plata Peak to the south. The route reaches the top of the ridge at 13,580', about 2.5 miles into the hike. From here, it is still about 2 miles to the summit. The route heads left (northeast) along the ridge and crosses the summit of "South Elbert" before reaching the saddle between the two peaks at 13,900'. From here, it is only 0.75 miles and ~500' to the top of Elbert. 

This route was very enjoyable and scenic. On top of that, I do not recall crossing paths with any other hikers until we reached the summit. Granted, it was late October and some snow had already accumulated on the mountain. Nonetheless, it's a route I'd definitely hike again!


Trip Reports

Mount Elbert (Oct 2014)