CT mile 176, Twin Lakes

at 39.0820, -106.3815
5030 feet from Mile 175.9

Got up early yesterday and started the climb of Mt Elbert at 4AM, hoping to avoid afternoon thunderstorms at the top. The trail led straight up from my timberline camp and it quickly became apparent that it would not be a blue sky morning. Thick layers of high dark clouds were streaming from the northwest, obscuring the top of neighboring Mt Massive. The gloom could not conceal the outsize views of the Arkansas Valley nor the emergence of distant high peaks of the Collegiate Range as I moved up open slopes of Elbert. The early morning also showed me wild flights of ptarmigans shrieking and swooping down the mountain at a speed that belied their status as ground birds.

Mt Elbert climb – First light over the Ark Valley

The Collegiates reveal themselves from the slopes of Mt. Elbert

I stopped to take pictures and catch my breath as the sun occasionally filtered through cloud banks. But by the time I got to the 14,000 foot level I was enveloped in clouds. I found three bodies laid out in a rock shelter, not responding to my first hail, but easing my alarm by groggily responding to my second. They were a group of teenage camp counselors from Texas who were sleeping off a midnight climb, hoping to see the dawn from the highest point in Colorado.

But there was no sun, only cold damp winds and clouds. I stuck it out for another half hour and then headed down to grab my pack and head to Twin Lakes.

I found Reed filling his water bottle at a stream and learned that he had been turned back from summiting by a report of challenging snow conditions (untrue). We continued on to the village where we found a number of CT and CDT hikers resupplying and hanging out. Among them were Mark and Veronica whom I’d last seen on the Swan River some 90 miles ago. We shared a dinner of epic proportions (pork ribs all around) at the Twin Lakes Inn, which Veronica, a sweet generous soul, insisted on paying for.

A trip like this exposes one to the essential nature of others. Trail society is fundamentally anarchic and libertarian, driven by character rather than compulsion. A few rotten souls are exposed, like the crazy woman on Guller Creek (turns out she is well-known among hikers for her misdeeds), but sharing and generosity are much more the norm. Hikers are indeed mostly misfits, but they are the good kind.