Christy and I went to Twin Lakes to run Mount Elbert last weekend, a favorite outing of ours and a pretty novel running experience.
At 14,433 feet, Mount Elbert is the tallest mountain in the state, yet it has very little technical or steep terrain. Easily accessed trailheads start at around 10,000 feet and good trails and easy routes lead to its summit, which are often of a grade that is considered, at least by trailrunners, to be mostly runnable.
But it’s still the tallest mountain in a state with a lot of tall mountains, which is what makes it so novel. Other state high points like Washington’s Mount Rainier (22 feet lower), or Oregon’s Mount Hood (3,200 feet lower) require technical gear and cold weather clothing, extended approaches, and lots of driving. Elbert’s simple topography and ease of access from Aspen allows a casual morning start from home and a straightforward cruise up to its summit. Required gear is typically shorts, a shirt (actually optional), and a bottle of water, and the risks involved are usually limited to a slight chance of getting caught in a T-storm if you don’t start early enough.
Some people like to use Elbert as an example as why Colorado mountains aren’t challenging, a generalization that isn’t really true. There are plenty of technical summits and challenging climbs in the state. We think it’s actually cool that the tallest mountain in Colorado can be visited in this fashion.
From the 4wd parking at the South Elbert TH, the vertical gain is about 4,000 feet, the one-way mileage was just under 4 miles. We’ve found in our outings here that a reasonable pace will allow you to run up and down in under three hours. And when originating in Aspen, it’s really easy to bring your rock climbing gear and get in a few pitches somewhere on the drive back home that afternoon. It’s the perfect two-sport day this time of year.