Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Day 12: Mount Elbert to Twin Lakes

Crunch! I recognized the sound of footfalls crushing a rotting log. Then more steps. Peering out of the tent flap I caught sight of a large doe staring into the tent at me. We remained frozen for a moment, watching each other. Then she ambled away.

As we packed up, a steady stream of hikers passed by on the Mount Elbert Trail. At 14,433 feet, Mount Elbert is the highest mountain in Colorado and the second highest in the lower 48 states, just behind Mount Whitney. Like Mount Whitney, it suffers from overuse by people who are more interested in bragging rights than in the mountain and wilderness that surround it. Toilet paper and other trash littered the woods next to the trail. Many of the aspens closest to the trail are scarred by former visitors who carved their names or initials in them. And even the trail itself has become damaged due to overuse, with as many as six parallel trails braided together in some areas as hikers trample the fragile alpine meadow to avoid walking on the rocky, eroded trail.

But as we climbed higher, the trail began to switchback and narrowed into a single track. Looking back, we could see other climbers working their way up the steep, grassy hillside and beyond that, Twin Lakes. Ahead we could see the alpine vegetation disappear into the rocks piled on top of the mountain.

We soon reached the top. Mount Elbert, 14,433 feet. Even with Mount Massive just a few miles away, it still seemed to tower above everything else.

Two groups were already on the top when we arrived. One of them had carried a watermelon up to the top, and graciously offered us a generous slice. Sweet, juicy, delicious!

Sierra discovered a fuzzy, black and white caterpillar on top of the mountain. Although it was hard to imagine the caterpillar or butterfly that would thrive at such a high elevation, we left it in its natural habitat when it was time to descend.

Returning to the Colorado Trail, we continued on to Twin Lakes. My father is in Colorado now, so he picked us up there and took us away to get cleaned up and resupplied. We'll be back on the trail tomorrow.

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