Summer of Summits: Mount Massive & Mount Elbert

This summer we’re attempting to summit as many 14,000+ ft mountains in CO as possible, and we’re reaching the trailheads by bike! Join us on our Summer of Summits.

Day 16 – 12 miles by bike / +600 ft elevation gain

After a tough day summiting Mount of the Holy Cross and riding 35 miles to Leadville, we needed to catch up on rest and took a short day. The next trailhead was only 12 miles away so we took our time leaving town. Around 2, we were about to set out when the rain started. We waited around until about 3:30, and it let up. Our ride out of town was pleasant and thankfully not too difficult. The first 6 miles we coasted downhill until we came to a county road. We were glad to still be on pavement as we battled a crazy headwind. As we got closer to the mountains, the pavement ended but so did the wind. The final 4 miles were a gently graded, packed dirt road with a few obstacles but nowhere near as challenging as several other trailhead access roads we’ve encountered. All in all, we were glad to be heading back to the woods and excited to be in a familiar area as we approached the Mount Massive and Mount Elbert trailheads.

The Colorado Trail / Continental Divide Trail pass right through these trailheads and skirt the summits of these mountains. It was amusing to camp back in the same spot we had twice before during our thruhikes. We set up camp and enjoyed chatting with Worm, a CT hiker we had met last year on the Arizona Trail. We set an early alarm and prepared for our 12th summit, Mt. Massive.

Colorado Trail / Continental Divide Trail Mount Elbert
The CT / CDT passed right by our campsite!

Day 17 – 13 Miles hiking / +4500 ft elevation gain

The alarm rang at 3:00 am, and we prepared our day packs. By 3:45 we were walking the Colorado Trail up to the spur trail for Mount Massive summit. With the light of our headlamps, we wound through Aspen groves and towering pine trees. Around 5:20, we exited the forest now above treeline as the sun was starting to peak above the mountains.

Mount Massive in the first morning light
Mount Massive in the first morning light.
Mount Massive
Taking a quick snack break on the way up.

Up and up we went, though the trail was very well graded and generally pleasant. As we neared the saddle towards the home stretch, we could see wind whipping clouds on the other side of the mountain.

Mount Massive
View from the saddle heading up Mount Massive

We did a little simple rock scrambling to reach the summit at 7:30. Only a few others shared the summit with us, but with clouds looming, we didn’t linger long. As the sun shown through the translucent clouds, full circle rainbows could be spotted in the valley. We scurried off the summit and back down to the sunny side of the mountain.

Homestretch to the summit Mount Massive
Homestretch to the summit

Summit Mount Massive

Summit Mount Massive
Odd full circle rainbows seen from the summit
Mount Massive - 14,421 ft
Mount Massive – 14,421 ft

As we went down, a dozen other hikers were making their way up. We were happy the trail wasn’t too crowded as we were heading down towards the forest and our camp that was already set up.

Mount Massive Wilderness Area
Meandering through Mount Massive Wilderness Area

Mount Massive Wilderness Area

We returned at 10:30, 6 hours and 45 minutes after we started. The rest of the day was spent resting and snacking as we prepared for our next 14er, Mount Elbert, which is reached by the same trailhead.

Big Agnes Copper Spur
So sleepy

Day 18 – 9 miles hiking / +4500 ft elevation gain; 12 miles by bike / +700 ft elevation gain

In town, we saw the day’s forecast that predicted morning storms so we decided to start our climb earlier than usual. What better way to celebrate my birthday than beginning our climb of Colorado’s tallest peak, Mount Elbert, at 2:10 am! Once again, we walked the Colorado Trail / Continental Divide Trail until we reached the spur to the summit. Unlike the Mount Massive trail, the trail towards Mount Elbert started climbing right away instead of meandering through the woods. Up we climbed through the trees by the light of our headlamps. It took an hour and a half to get above treeline where we noticed the sky was still overcast. Storms above treeline are risky business, still we kept climbing hoping for the best. The trail kept going up and up the invisible mountain, though we were both grateful for the lack of stair steps that seem to exhaust us more than a graded trail. Occasional sprinkles of rain sputtered from the sky, but thankfully didn’t last. At 5:20, we reached the summit. The sun was just starting to rise above the horizon in a glow of magnificent of color.

Mount Elbert Summit
Mount Elbert Summit – Colorado’s Highest Point – 14,433 ft.
Sunrise from Mount Elbert Summit
Sunrise from Mount Elbert Summit

Considering the fickle weather, we snapped our pics quickly and began our descent. As we walked down the mountain, the sunrise continued to impress us with a dazzling display of color. Neon oranges and pinks exploded from the horizon melting into cotton candy hues in the surrounding wispy clouds. We passed a couple dozen hikers making their ascent, pleased with our decision to start extra early. To the north, Mount Massive was completely socked in with clouds creating a feeling of instability in the sky.

Sunrise from Mount Elbert
A magical sunrise from Mount Elbert
Mount Massive from Mount Elbert
Cloudy views of Massive from Elbert

We were pleased to get below treeline, and by 7:40 we returned to camp. We immediately broke everything down and packed up the bikes. We backtracked the 12 miles to Leadville where we spent the day treating ourselves to town luxuries and rest. Like you should on your birthday 🥳

Views of Mount Massive and Mount Elbert
And that’s why we started early! Happy to be heading to town.

If you’re keeping track…

461 Miles by Bike / +42,500 ft elevation gain

83 Miles Hiking / +33,600 ft elevation gain

13 – 14,000+ ft Summits

We are Bekah and Sean, out on an adventure to summit as many CO 14ers as possible this summer and reaching them via bicycle! Follow along here or on Instagram as we complete our Summer of Summits.

11 Comments on “Summer of Summits: Mount Massive & Mount Elbert

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