We were far from the first people in the parking lot the night before, nor were we the last. The late arrivals made sleep slightly more challenging than it already was expected to be. I always wonder in these scenarios how much sleep I actually get. I don’t always sleep that well when camping, which is slightly ironic given my predisposition for camping on these trips. In the end I try not to worry about it and just figure if I don’t sleep well on some night then I’ll sleep better the next. The lot was full by the time we were waking up, meaning that several dozen people had already started the hike.
Having planned ahead and prepared (aka poured into a thermos) coffee the night before, we had a minimal prep breakfast and were headed up the trail at 6:45 and did NOT make the mistake of going straight at the junction. Cleared the treeline at about 9:00 and made it to the summit at 10:45 for a total climbing time of 4 hours. There was, intentionally, very little stopping on the way up except to put on sunscreen before leaving the tree cover and the occasional change of clothes. I think between the two of us, there was only one set of pictures between the trailhead and the summit. We had failed to reach the top the previous attempt, so we didn’t want to take any chances dallying on the way up.
We did cross paths with a few groups coming down – no surprise there, as presumably most of the cars in the parking lot were empty and meant groups had headed up before us. One group that we talked to though said that they had started something like midnight the night before to be at the top for sunrise. This sounded reminiscent of the unsuccessful attempt that I had with a few coworkers to climb Mt. Fuji a few years ago. But, in this case, I think they did make it to the summit in time for sunrise, which had to be awfully cold.
There were a number of makeshift rock bunkers at the top that past hikers had built to provide some shelter from the wind. We sat around, resting, hiding from the wind and eating lunch at the top for half an hour or so. I didn’t count, but I would estimate that there were about 2 dozen people at the summit while we were there with a few heading down and a few more trickling in as we sat around.
While were were up there, it was pointed out that there were a group of five cyclists coming up the south trail. They were mostly walking by the time we saw them, but it made me think that the south trail must have been longer but more gradual, because biking up the north trail would have been a complete no-go.
The return trip started at 11:30 and we were back at the trailhead by 3:20. So about the same 4 hours down as it took to ascend. We must have been slow coming down, though I don’t recall being passed much on the descent, because the parking lot was mostly empty by the time we got there. Maybe the majority of the people we saw at the top had come up and were returning down the south trail and we were just one of the later departures and returns to the north trailhead.
With the empty parking lot, we were free to setup the grill and make dinner. I’m not quite sure if packing the venison and a grill was a good plan – it’s nice to have to grill, but requires a place to break out the grill and there is kind of a timeline for using up the meat. The hotels we had been at didn’t seem conducive to grilling on the porch as we had done previously in Maine. Regardless, the choice had been made and the venison needed to be eaten, so we set up the grill and made some parking lot kabobs (and beer) for dinner.
After dinner we waved goodbye to Elbert, and braved the horrible 7-9 mile dirt road just outside Elbert’s trailhead a second time (though this time in the daylight). We headed back past Rocky Mountain National Park towards the Snowy Range on our way to Grand Tetons National Park until we found the Laramie Valley Inn in Laramie, WY for the night.