This trip took myself, Meg, and two friends on an adventure around Colorado on the week of America's birthday, July 4th. We (mostly) summitted the highest peak in Colorad, paddleboarded, camped quite a lot, and summitted another peak (or set of two peaks) that was honestly more interesting and more impressive than the highest peak.
As part of this adventure, we climbed Mount Elbert via the South Elbert trailhead. This trailhead has two parking lots -- one right on a paved road, and one at the very end of a 2ish mile ORV road. Fortunately we camped right on that ORV road, so we trimmed a half mile or so off of each end of the hike.
On the positive side, I can say that the south trailhead seems to be less busy than the north trailhead, so that was a blessing. But either way, everyone hiking the tallest mountain in Colorado is trying to get to the same point: the marker at the very peak of the mountain. So it's pretty much as you'd expect up there. Lots of people. Most of them tourists. Taking selfies. Struggling with the altitude. Even on a thursday. But the views were nice.
On the plus side, the views of Twin Lakes, Leadville, and Turquoise Lake were on full display for the vast, vast majority of this hike. So it wasn't just a pretty hike at the peak; this was a pretty hike for something like 80% of the climb, just a mile or two in once the trees start to thin out. No technical terrain at all, though I have to hand it to the trail maintainers: that's one of the nicest trails I've hiked on in Colorado. But the trail was actually so nice that it took away from some of the challenge of the ascent.
Paddleboarding on Twin Lakes is actually an activity that I've done before -- almost a year ago, and with the same rental company, and the same visiting friends. It was really fun back then. But it was even more fun this time, because we decided to be a bit silly and rent the "FIESTA PARTY BARGE" instead of getting individual paddleboards. Turns out, it's just as silly as it sounds, but it's also very easy to move around with four paddlers, easier to strap on top of your vehicle than four separate paddleboards, and a lot of fun to be able to hop into the water and trust that other people will remain on the paddleboard so it won't blow away into the distance.
My only nitpick: I wish we'd been able to bring a beer each to enjoy with lunch on the paddleboards, but that's apparently against the rules. It was still an absolute blast though.
This was my favorite hike of the trip. Mount Sopris is only 12,965 feet high, but since it rises over 6,000 feet above the surrounding landscape and Carbondale, it looks damn impressive from a distance and when you reach (either) peak.
We enjoyed a pretty gradual hike from the trailhead until we reached Thomas Lakes, a pair of fairly large alpine lakes a good way up the mountain. After the lakes, the trail got pretty steep and we found ourselves scrambling up scree for most of the rest of the hike, but the solid views of Carbondale, the red cliff faces near Carbondale, and the nearby Maroon Bells kept us in good spirits. I'm sure you could also see Elbert from the top, but honestly I just didn't care to look for it and it probably wouldn't have stood out much compared to all of the other similar peaks nearby anyway.
While my companions enjoyed lunch and a beer at the East summit, I took the opportunity to quickly hike the half-mile over to the West summit, which I would say was very much more impressive, a delightful experience, and totally worth the extra 600+ feet up and 600+ feet down. The surveys claim that both peaks are exactly the same height, but the West peak is so narrow it doesn't really feel that way. Still, it felt good to summit the entire mountain after such a long hike.
On our way down, we took the opportunity for a quick swim in Thomas Lakes. It was definitely a bit chilly, but after miles of hiking and scrambling and some pretty intense sunlight, I enjoyed every bit of it.
Camping for several days straight and exploring some of Colorado on weekdays (instead of the busy weekends) was an awesome experience. It's also a delight to show some East coast friends around the state who are such troopers we're not afraid to take on, say, the highest peak in Colorado. I had a great time, and the only thing I'd change is that I'd probably just bring instant coffee next time instead of hand grinding and Aeropressing for four people on the go.