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Mount Elbert
Elevation: 14,433 feet
Climbed: Aug 21, 2005
Mountain Range: Sawatch Range
Colorado Rank: 1st
Class Rating: 1
Latitude: 39.117732
Longitude: -106.445203

Trip Report

Aug 21, 2005
Mount Elbert was a great hike with fantastic, close-up views of Mount Massive to the north and La Plata Peak to the south.

More trip information to follow...including the amazing athleticism of Elbert "Doc" Strange, the 77-year-old from Mississippi, who inspired all of us by blasting to the summit of Elbert faster than most of the "youngsters" on the mountain.

Since I've been climbing every weekend lately, this web site is developing a backlog. I'll work on it when the climbing slows down sometime soon.

Finally...better late than never
Well, it took almost one year, but I finally am back to complete this trip report. My memory is fading fast, but I still recall the main highlights of the climb.

I drove to the trailhead the night before, driving west from Colorado Springs on Highway 24 to Buena Vista, then traveling north for about 22 miles to Highway 82. This highway leads to Independence Pass, but I only went about 4 miles west before turning north onto blacktop. Within 1 1/4 miles, after passing a campground on the left, I turned west onto a four-wheel-drive dirt road. I drove up the road in the dark for another mile and a quarter, stopping where a stream crossed the road. It turns out I was about 1/4 of a mile below the trailhead, but in the dark, I had trouble judging the stream and decided to stop there. As I often do, I slept the night in the bed of my Ford Ranger, covered by its hard-shelled topper.

I got a fairly early start the next morning, leaving the truck and heading up the road about 5:55 AM. Before I left the truck, though, some vehicles drove past in the darkness on their way to the trailhead. It was still fairly dark when I took a photo of a footbridge near the trailhead, which had some bright strips of plastic material tied to the railing. This was left over from one week earlier, when the 2005 running of the Leadville 100 had used this section of the Colorado Trail for its 100-mile ultra-marathon trail race.

Soon after leaving the trailhead, I reached the point where the South Mount Elbert Trail leaves the Colorado Trail. This segment soon became very steep, and as I climbed this section, I overtook the members of a very large party of climbers. You will learn more about them later in this trip report.

The sun soon rose high enough to blanket the ridge south of Mount Elbert with soothing reddish light. Following that performance, a full moon could be seen hovering over the saddle south of Mt. Elbert.

The trail was excellent as I climbed above treeline, following the trail west as it crossed the ever-rising grassy slope. The cliffs above Box Creek Canyon appeared, still holding on to some snow from the winter before.

The marmots that I saw were not a surprise, since I see those on nearly every high mountain trail I take. It is much less often I see ptarmigans, but I did see several near the South Elbert trail. Some of the ptarmigans were walking along and crossing the trail, but it was when they sat among the rocks that they seemed to disappear. Their plumage was the perfect camouflage for blending into their high-altitude home. I have never seen a ptarmigan in the winter, when their feathers are white. This ability allows them to blend into both their winter and summer habitats, which I find quite astounding.

Upon reaching the summit of Mt Elbert, I noticed that the clear, blue sky of the morning had given way to expansive gray clouds. The weather didn't seem critical, though, so I spent a little time on top taking photos and eating. There were a few people on top, including some who had arrived via different trailheads.

It was then that I overheard someone asking a young man if he belonged to Doc's hiking party. The young man was Doc's grandson, Clay, and was part of the group I had encountered soon after leaving the Colorado Trail. It turns out that Doc was 77 years old, a retired pilot, and was the talk of the summit. Doc's reputation preceded him; he was a legend on the mountain, even though he hadn't yet arrived on top!

Just after I left the summit, I met Elbert "Doc" Strange coming up the trail as I headed down. I chatted briefly with Doc, telling him he was an inspiration and, by the way, did he know he was already a legend? Doc laughed, obliged me as I snapped his photo, and then began his last remaining steps to the summit.

As I hiked down the trail, I began passing members of Doc's climbing party on their way up. At some point, I started chatting with one of the last groups of the climbing party, which included Steve Anderson and Jimmie Dollard. Steve explained that they were all part of a family party of 15 who had chosen to climb Mount Elbert because, well, the name just seemed to fit the family patriarch, "Doc" Elbert.

I took a couple of photos of the group and let Steve know how to contact me, so I could email the photos to him. In the course of follow-up communication later than week, I received information from both Steve and Jimmie.

From Steve Anderson:

What an experience. We got caught in the snow and the lightening. I felt like I was in the movie K2. By the way, Jimmie Dollard was in a hunting accident and was not expected to walk again. It's a great and inspirational story.
COLORADO IS INCREDIBLE!


And from Jimmie Dollard:

The 15 trekkers are all related and all made it to the top and down safely.

Their names and home town are:

Elbert "Doc" Strange-Collinsville, MS
Joe Strange-Virginia Beach, VA
Charlie Strange-Springfield Center, NY
Clay Strange-Springfield Center, NY
Steve Anderson-Gatlinburg, TN
Bob Anderson-Mobile, AL
Jeff Butler-Trent Woods, NC
Jimmie Dollard-Evergreen, CO
Clark Dollard-Greeley, CO
Len Joeris-Fort Collins, CO
Ben Joeris-Fort Collins, CO
Peter Joeris-Fort Collins, CO
Paul Patterson, Fort Collins, CO
Greg Mitchell-Lonetree, CO
Harry Bates-Bellevue, CO

The trip was discussed for three years at family gatherings as a great way to honor the 77-year-old patriarch of the family, Elbert Strange. It finally came together for real last April. Most of the "flatlanders" of the group acclimated by staying two or three nights at the Dollard's Evergreen home (7,800 feet) , a short hike on Mt. Evans (14,264 feet), one night at the cabins in Granite (10,000 feet), a short hike on Independence Pass (12,085 feet), and by taking Ginkgo Biloba 3 to 4 days before the hike. None of this group had any symptoms of [altitude sickness]. One who did not acclimate had a minor case of [altitude sickness] but recovered and reached the summit. It was a great team effort, with some of the stronger ones escorting and encouraging the slower ones to reach the summit. Your comments about Elbert Strange were on target. He was among the first ones to summit. The slow ones make it to the summit just as the lightening storm moved in and they hustled down immediately. All had a safe descent and all will have lasting memories of this great adventure.


And...

The first to reach the summit was Clay Strange, who is Charlie's son and Charlie is Elbert's son--three generations made it to the top on the same day. Yes, I was the organizer and it was a lot of fun. Your readers may be interested in knowing that I am 71, have an artificial hip and a bum right leg, and I made it to the top, albeit a bit slowly.

Thanks to all members of Elbert "Doc" Strange's party for their inspiration, but especially to Jimmie Dollard and Steve Anderson for the "story behind the climb."

As I continued down the well-defined trail, I had excellent views of Twin Lakes and the Mount Elbert Forebay. The Forebay is interesting in that water is pumped UP into the Forebay from Twin Lakes when power costs are low and released into Twin Lakes to generate power when costs are higher. The Bureau of Reclamation website has information about the Mt. Elbert Pumped-Storage Powerplant.

Still slightly above treeline, I was pelted by ice pellets and serenaded by thunder. I wondered about the many hikers above me on the mountain and whether they were encountering problems with the weather. I expected that some of them may have been stopped short of the summit. It was not until later in the week that I learned all of Doc's party had made the summit.

Descending through purple alpine wildflowers, then the sparse trees at timberline, I again followed the steep dirt trail as it descended into the forest. Reaching the Colorado Trail and turning south, I left the South Mount Elbert Trail and entered a thick aspen grove. Soon, I crossed the footbridge, arrived at the trailhead, and then followed the four-wheel-drive road as it headed southeast. After crossing the stream still flowing over the road, I was at my truck and the end of a very enjoyable hike.

Just after leaving the dirt road and finding blacktop again, the trailhead parking area for cars offered vistas too good to pass up. I always enjoy stepping back after a climb and trying to identify the mountains that my feet had recently touched. After soaking in the sights and snapping a few photos, I turned my truck toward Colorado Springs.


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