Mt. Princeton

South Elbert - Elevation 14,134 Feet

Photos of My Hike to Mount Elbert's "Sister Peak" Via The Black Cloud Trail - June 22, 2009

South Elbert, CO The Black Cloud Trail is a lesser known trail in the Lake Creek / Twin Lakes / Highway 82 canyon that leads to Independence Pass. I desired to access a trailhead from a paved road (Highway 82) that would cause no problems for my 2WD passenger vehicle. Plus, the fact that I could ascend South Elbert, a 14er, was an enticing factor.

Now technically, in more sophisticated mountain climbing circles, South Elbert is not considered an official "fourteener." This mountain is considered a "sister peak" of Mt. Elbert, because the saddle between the two mountains is less than 300 vertical feet. While I generally respect that standard, I didn't care about it for this adventure. I had already climbed Mt. Elbert via the standard route last year and had no desire to reach it again. My ascent of South Elbert was on a trail I'd never climbed before, not to mention the total vertical gain of 4,300+ feet and 9-10 round trip miles... So yes! I'm counting this! South Elbert was my 15th 14er in my humble mountaineering career. :)

Note: My directory of all my 14er hikes is here:

Directions: From the junction of State Highway 24 and Highway 82 (south of Leadville; north of Buena Vista), travel west on Highway 82 as if you are traveling to Independence Pass. The trailhead parking area (which can hold about ten vehicles) is 10.5 miles on the right. Slow down when you reach the 10 mile mark, because the entrance is easy to miss. If you pass the Mt. Elbert Lodge, you have gone too far.

Enjoy the photos and hike report. -Steve G. in Buena Vista, CO. Twitter - Facebook - YouTube - Pinterest

Black Cloud Trailhead
Photos During The Ascent

The Black Cloud Trailhead. I scraped frost off my car windshield at about 5:30 a.m. (on June 22, mind you) and arrived at 6:15 a.m.

Creek Crossing Black Cloud Trail LEFT: A creek crossing.

RIGHT: The trail comes out of the forest.

La Plata Peak This trail is across the canyon from La Plata Peak. I found myself continually gazing at this beautiful mountain.
Much higher up, another photo of La Plata Peak (right) and some other mountains in the 12,000-13,000 foot range.
Bull Hill, CO Above timberline, the trail turns right and travels up a ridge. Adjacent is the view looking at a basin with Bull Hill (alt. 13,761 feet) as the tallest peak.
South Elbert, CO

South Elbert

The summit of South Elbert comes into sight.
I reached a ridge and had some snowy areas to get around. Fortunately, there was little postholing on the snow.
I thought this was interesting. Many spots in the area had ice like this... I thought about my friends in places like Kansas, Texas and Mississippi who have been complaining about "sweltering heat" lately. :)
South Elbert, CO A walk along the ridge (avoiding the snow as much as possible) was all that remained.
Snow At the ridge, my cell phone began to have reception. I tweeted four photos on my Twitter profile including this adjacent picture of snow. Ahhhhh ... snow in the summer! :)

The Summit - South Elbert (alt. 14,134 feet)

Arrival at the top. I was so happy!

South Elbert, CO
The view looking toward Mt. Elbert, the highest point in Colorado. Many climbers continue past South Elbert and walk along the ridge to reach the summit of Mt. Elbert. I did notice many people standing on the top of the mountain. Now I'm not necessarily against being around other people, but I must say it was special to have South Elbert all to myself. :) Mt. Elbert, CO
The view to the south. I captured a closer-up photo of La Plata Peak. I really love the shape of that mountain - it has character!

All of my 14er climbs so far:

  • Pikes Peak
  • Mt. Princeton
  • Mt. Sherman
  • Mt. Democrat - Mt. Lincoln - Mt. Bross
  • Quandary Peak
  • Mt. Sneffels
  • Mt. Yale
  • Huron Peak
  • Mt. Antero
  • La Plata Peak
  • Mt. Belford
  • Mt. Harvard

  • Colorado Rocky Mountains

    La Plata Peak, CO

    The view of Turquoise Lake. I know I could see Leadville with the naked eye, but I can't see it in the photo. Turquoise Lake, CO
    Looking toward Twin Lakes, CO with the Buffalo Peaks on the right and Pikes Peak way out there in the center foreground. Twin Lakes, CO
    So many mountains could be seen including the San Juan Mountains in far southwest Colorado. I thought the view of the Maroon Bells and Snowmass Mountain was worthy to show off.
    A self-portrait using the timer. This was my first serious climb of 2009 - my body "shouted at me" about how out of shape I was, but I look forward to improving next time. :)

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