Mount Elbert is the highest peak in Colorado at 14,433 feet and the second highest in the lower 48, only 63 feet lower than Mount Whitney. With a trail to the peak, it’s climbed by over 20-25,000 people annually. It was named for a politician, Samuel H Elbert, appointed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 as secretary of the new Colorado Territory.
I’m calling this a kinder gentler section. Segments 12 and 13 were HARD (blog link); this segment was far from comfortable for me, yet still plenty challenging. Maybe it was because you stay below 11,000 feet. I enjoyed the calm of walking in the woods. The birds, bees, butterflies and critters kept me company and much of the trail was lined with wildflowers. Creeks were abundant. There were so many good smells with sage and fresh cut trees my favorite.
Segment 11 is 21.5 miles with 2,910′ elevation gain and 4,042′ loss. I hiked this segment as four out-and-back sections.
Clear Creek Road Trailhead
I hiked north to a ridge about halfway to the Interlaken Trailhead. This was a 8.5 mile 1700′ elevation gain/loss round trip.
I took this photo as I exited Segment 12. It shows the first ridge climb.
No cool signage to mark the end of Segment 12 or beginning of Segment 11 at Clear Creek Road.
Although it was only 8:30 am, I was prepared for rain with these threatening clouds.
This was my first time seeing CDT (Continental Divide Trail) signage. The trails overlap for several segments.
Surprisingly I found aspen on the other side of the ridge.
And meadows filled with a floral display.
As anticipated I got rained on and was thankful I’d hiked into those mountains the previous day when I had exceptional views.
This sage hillside will soon be ablaze in yellow cactus blooms.
Looking down at Clear Creek Reservoir.
I hiked south to a ridge about halfway to the Clear Creek Trailhead. This was a 10.25 mile 900′ elevation gain/loss round trip.
I was surprised by the lack of a trailhead sign.
On my return I found the sign by missing the CDT/CT trail junction.
The night before it snowed above about 12,000 feet and Mount Elbert wore a new white coat.
The trail initially parallels the west shore of Twin Lakes Reservoir.
This is the big decision point for southbound hikers. I was currently on the eastern route but hope to complete the western also. The west side holds snow later so delaying is a good strategy.
All the plants were dripping from the previous night’s storm, including this columbine.
When I got to my turnaround ridge I could see the mountains I’d been on a couple days previous were now covered in fresh snow. My timing had indeed been perfect!
I’m so in love with these Colorado columbine, no wonder it’s the state flower.
By the time I returned the snow had all melted.
Highway 82 Twin Lakes
I parked where the trail goes under the highway and hiked north to the junction with the North Elbert trail. This was a 13 mile 1900′ elevation gain/loss round trip.
The hike begins with a new view of Mount Elbert.
As you climb up to the ridge you have many opportunities to look back at Twin Lakes.
You pass several ponds where the beavers have been busy.
I enjoyed the flowered lined trails that seemed to be healthy understory in the aspen forests.
This was the third place along recent segments were I’d seen shooting stars but this was the first time I didn’t blur the photos.
There are southern and northern trails to summit Mount Elbert. I turned around at the north junction.
As I descended on my return I was once again greeted by views of Twin Lakes Reservoir.
I’m always glad to see my car waiting for me, and even happier when it hasn’t been vandalized.
Mount Massive Trailhead
I hiked south to the North Elbert trail junction. This was another section I was dreading given the steep short distance. It wasn’t near as bad as I feared at 2.8 miles and 600 feet elevation gain/loss round trip.
The Colorado Trail intersects with the Mount Elbert Trail after a short distance and can be very busy. I only encountered three people on my way up to the North Elbert Trail junction, but passed at least 20 on my way down.
There are 54 peaks in Colorado that are over 14,000 feet tall. All of these are within a radius of 120 miles, centered in the Sawatch Range, and nearly two thirds are within 20 miles of The Colorado Trail.
I didn’t take any exciting photos on this short section so I’ll leave you with these views from near the trailhead.
- This was a fuel efficient way to section hike these segments as I took advantage of nearby dispersed camping.
- The Guthook/Far Out App and Colorado Trail Association Guidebook and Databook are helpful. I also used Gaia with the Colorado Trail Nat Geo layer.
- Just say yes to a stop in Twin Lakes Village.