Tallest peak in Colorado at 14,433′, second tallest in continental US after California’s Mount Whitney. Northeast Ridge (9 miles according to 14ers.com, 10 according to our Garmin with 4700′ of gain), North Elbert parking lot (2 hrs 15 min / 111 miles from Denver). Our Civic handled the gravel road fine, just watch for some of the potholes.
We stayed the night before at Elbert Creek Campground across the street from the trailhead. Campground information can be found here. It’s $17 per night and fairly primitive with vault toilets and a hand pump for water (we brought our filter and got water from the river 50′ behind our site instead). We showed up around noon on the Friday before the 4th of July and got one of two remaining sites. However, Half Moon East/West Campgrounds down the road had open sites and we spotted some unoccupied dispersed sites along the road. In short, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a spot most weekends.
We set out from the trailhead around 3:30 AM and it took us a bit longer than I’d like to admit to get back down. Turns out that we both need a bit more than 4 hours of sleep before attempting to summit a 14er.
In any case, this was our third 14er after Mt. Bierstadt (a class 2 via the West Slopes route) and Quandary Peak (a class 1 via the East Ridge route). The 14ers.com page claims this route is a class 1 with minimal exposure and honestly, we might disagree on both counts. There’s a good bit of talus and scree between 13,400′ and 13,900′. Trekking poles or actual scrambling are almost necessary. There’s also a fairly steep slope to the right just before the first false summit. Mt. Bierstadt, in comparison, was much easier. The only class 2 section was a short scramble for the summit after gaining the saddle.
In case you didn’t know (and we didn’t), there’s two false summits. It’s incredibly demoralizing finding that out on the trail. You actually can’t see the real summit until you’re on the second false one.
Overall, this hike was a very scenic checkbox for us. In case you need to relax after (or if you don’t care to join your hiking partner on this one), Emerald Lake just before the campground is stocked regularly and offers great fishing.