Short Shorts, Tallest Peaks

My adventure from Leadville to the near-top-of-the-USA, to Mt. Hope, and back down.

I started heading up Mt. Elbert at 4:15am from the Halfmoon trailhead in Leadville, CO. There was a refreshing chill in the air, a contrast that I welcomed compared to the near-one hundred degree stretch the Denver area had experienced that week. As my headlamp shone through my breath, I greeted the only two hikers I would see until I reached Twin Lakes.


I reached treeline in an hour, feeling good, and pushing the pace maybe a bit too hard for the long day again. Twilight was just starting to break, and the clouds over Leadville looked dark and slightly ominous. Nonetheless, the mountain was absent of wind, and I continued on without a second guess. As proper light entered the sky, it became evident that the clouds over Leadville were nothing of concern; in fact, I would get to experience my first 14er cloud inversion.


I had the top of Mt. Elbert to myself. This was the first time I’ve ever been alone on that peak. This was especially surprising considering it was the first weekend of summer. Standing on the top of this, the second tallest peak in the contiguous United States, is a powerful moment; one that fills you with solitude and peace. From the top, I connected with Black Cloud trail, which follows a ridge down the south side of Mt. Elbert into Twin Lakes. This trail was mostly runnable, albeit very lightly visible due to its lack of use. On either side of me were very steep slopes, making this moment feel even more like I was running through the sky.

Mt. Elbert
Black Cloud Trail on the south ridge of Elbert, looking toward Twin Lakes.

Once off the ridge, the southern slopes were steep but runnable. I passed through a heard of mountain goats near treeline, greeting them a good morning as they looked on. A section of the forest had trees that were blown over sideways, likely due to strong winds. Some bushwhacking was necessary through here. The final hundred feet or so of this section, the trail merged to a stream, which I followed through a tunnel of bushes and fallen trees to meet back with the trail again. A couple of thigh-deep spots were a quick wake-up call, and my legs were chilled white after just a couple of minutes in the water.

About a mile later I met the highway in Twin Lakes, and followed it to the Willis Gulch parking area. Here, I met with the Leadville Race Series/Runners Roost group run that was going up Hope Pass, which is the high point of the Leadville 100 Mile run. At the top, it was decided that the group would not be going down to Winfield due to some lingering deep, loose snow fields (this was the initial plan). Instead, I joined with Timmy Parr- a Leadville local, and a couple of other guys to finish the day off with a summit of Mt. Hope @ 13,950’. After climbing up another 1,400ish feet through some debatably class 3 terrain, I signed off on the stashed notepad at the top. Timmy pointed out the 20-something visible 14ers from the top of Mt. Hope. We took the ridge back down into Hope Pass, very slowly moving across sharp and loose talus until we finally reached the trail below.

On top of Mt. Hope, pointing at the day’s start point, Mt. Elbert, which is just over my finger.

I finished the day with 25 total miles, 10,300 feet of gain, and 8 hours on my feet. Thanks to Runners Roost for the food and beverages back in Twin Lakes, and for the shuttle back to Leadville.


The good stuff.

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