Mount Elbert seen from Turquoise Lake
|Elevation||14,440 ft (4,401 m) NAVD 88|
|Prominence||9,073 ft (2,765 m)|
U.S. state high point
|Location||Lake County, Colorado, U.S.|
|Topo map||USGS Mount Elbert|
|First ascent||1874 by Henry W. Stuckle|
|Easiest route||Hike (class 2)|
Mount Elbert is the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains of North America. At 14,440 feet (4,401 m), it is the second-highest mountain in the contiguous United States (after Mount Whitney in California), the highest of the fourteeners of Colorado, the fourteenth-highest mountain in the United States, and the highest point of the Sawatch Range. Situated in Lake County approximately 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Leadville, it lies within the San Isabel National Forest, near Twin Lakes, in the center of the state of Colorado.
The mountain was named after Colorado statesman Samuel Hitt Elbert, who was active in the formative period of the State and was territorial governor of Colorado in 1873. Henry W. Stuckle of the Hayden Survey was the first to record an ascent of the peak in 1874. The mountainous terrain is categorized as Class 2 Level or A+ in mountaineering parlance. Mount Elbert is referred to as the "gentle giant" that tops all others in the Rocky Mountains.
Mount Elbert is the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains, the highest of the fourteeners in Colorado, and the high point of the Sawatch Range. It is located in Lake County, Colorado, approximately 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Leadville, visible as an often-snowcapped mountain to the south from the town. Neighboring peak Mount Massive is the second highest peak in the Rocky Mountains and the third highest peak in the contiguous United States. Twin Lakes is close by, Denver is about 130 miles (209 km) miles away on its east, Vail is 50 miles (80 km) to the north, and Aspen is 40 miles (64 km) west. Leadville, about 16 miles (26 km) northeast, is the nearest large town. The mountain lies within the San Isabel National Forest. In terms of Topographic isolation, the fourteeners in Colorado include Mount Massive to the north and La Plata Peak to the south. Elbert's parent peak is Mount Whitney in California.
Originally measured as 14,433 feet (4,399 m) in height, it was measured at 14,440 feet (4,400 m) following a re-evaluation of mapped elevations, which sparked protests. The actual change was made in 1988 as a result of the North American Vertical Datum of 1988; it seems the original measurement resulted from the Sea Level Datum of 1929. Mount Elbert is the fourteenth-highest mountain in the United States.[a] There was an effort by a few local partisans to make adjacent Mount Massive the highest in Colorado by placing stone cairns at the top of the peak. However, the effort was unsuccessful and Mount Elbert has remained the highest peak in the state.
Climatic conditions are changeable, and afternoon thunderstorms are common in the summertime; hailstorms and snow are possible year round. An electrical storm on the mountain's summit was considered remarkable enough to be reported in the July 1894 issue of Science.
Mount Elbert is part of the Sawatch Range. This was uplifted as part of the Laramide Orogeny, and separated from the Mosquito Range to the east around 28 million years ago (ma). The tops of this range were heavily glaciated, leaving behind characteristic summit features and other such clues. For example, the base of the mountain on the eastern side has large igneous and metamorphic rocks deposited when the glaciers receded, which lie on a lateral moraine. Further up the eastern side there is a large cirque with a small tarn. There are also lakes to both the north and south, Turquoise and Twin, which were created due to the natural dam of end moraines, although Turquoise Lake is created by the Sugar Loaf Dam.
The mountain is largely quartzite. However, the summit ridge consists of metamorphic basement rock, which is Pre-Cambrian in origin and about 1.7 billion years old. There are various igneous intrusions including pegmatite, as well as "bands" of gneiss and schist. Unlike mountains of similar altitude elsewhere, Elbert lacks both a permanent snowpack and a prominent north-facing cirque, which can be attributed to its position amongst other mountains of similar height, receiving relatively small quantities of precipitation.
Mount Elbert was named by miners in honor of Samuel Hitt Elbert, the governor of the then Territory of Colorado, because he brokered a treaty in September 1873 with the Ute tribe that opened up more than 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km2) of Indian reservation to mining and railroad activity. The peak was first climbed in 1874, by H. W. Stuckle, who was surveying the mountain as part of the Hayden Survey.
A matter of some contention after the Great Depression arose over the heights of Elbert and its neighbor, Mount Massive, which have a height difference of only 12 feet (3.7 m). This led to an ongoing dispute that came to a head with the Mount Massive supporters building large piles of stones on the summit to boost its height, only to have the Mount Elbert proponents demolish them. The first motorized ascent of Elbert occurred in 1949, when a Jeep was driven to the summit, apparently to judge suitability for skiing development.
Flora and fauna
The summit of Mount Elbert is an alpine environment, with plants such as Phacelia sericea (sky-pilot), Hymenoxys grandiflora (old-man-of-the-mountain), and Geum rossii (alpine avens). Also noted are Carex atrata var. pullata, Salix desertorum, Platanthera hyperborea, Thalictrum fendleri, Aquilegia canadensis, Chenopodium album, Gentiana detonsa var. hallii, and Bigelovia parryi. Below the treeline the mountain is heavily forested, with the lower slopes covered with a mixture of lodgepole pine, spruce, aspen and fir.
Some of the fauna reported on the climb to the summit include grizzly bears (brown bears), marmots, mule deer, pikas, pocket gophers; there are also many species of avifauna. Elk, grouse, turkey and mountain sheep are also present during the summer in the area.
There are three main routes which ascend the mountain, all of which gain over 4,100 feet (1,200 m) of elevation. The standard route ascends the peak from the east, starting from the Colorado Trail. The 4.6 miles (7.4 km) long North (Main) Elbert Trail begins close to the Elbert Creek Campground, and gains about 4,500 feet (1,400 m). The trail is used by equestrians, mountain bikers and hunters during season.  An easier, but longer route, the South Elbert Trail, is 5.5 miles (8.9 km) long, climbing 4,600 feet (1,400 m) at a less punishing gradient than the North Elbert Trail, approaching from the south and then climbing the eastern ridge. The most difficult is the Black Cloud Trail, a Class 2 climb that takes ten to fourteen hours depending on the pace, gaining 5,300 feet (1,600 m) in elevation, and also involves an ascent of the sub-peak, South Elbert, at 14,134 feet (4,308 m). There are also routes approaching from the western face, and southwestern ridge, from South Halfmoon Creek Trailhead and Echo Canyon Trailhead respectively.
Although strenuous and requiring physical fitness, none of the conventional routes require specialist skills of mountaineering or technical rock climbing. The main dangers of the mountain are those of conditions–altitude sickness. This can affect anyone, even those who are acclimatized. In serious cases, it can lead to high-altitude pulmonary edema and cerebral edema, which can lead to difficulties with breathing, paralysis, and death. Climbers are recommended to set off at or before 6 a.m. Although the most conventional form of ascent is by hiking, Anna Elizabeth Dickinson, the orator, ascended the mountain on a mule borrowed from the U.S. government.
- One source erroneously reports Mount Elbert as the third-highest in the United States.
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- Porter & Coulter 1874, pp. 2, 4, 64, 83, 111, 116, 128, 132–.
- Holmes 1990.
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- Dziezynski 2012, p. 151.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mount Elbert.|
- "Mount Elbert". Bivouac.com. http://www.bivouac.com/MtnPg.asp?MtnId=9145.
- "Trip report from Mount Elbert". HikinginTheRockies.com.
- "Mount Elbert (Photo Essay)". hikingincolorado.org.
- "Mount Elbert". Peakery.com.