Although Mt. Elbert is the highest point in Colorado, and the second highest mountain in the lower 48, the hike via the Northeast Ridge is relatively easy, and relatively safe. One of the keys to a successful summit is to make sure that you're properly acclimated. Soon after leaving the trailhead hikers will reach the Colorado Trail (CT). Here you'll turn left and follow the CT for a little more than mile. After passing the remnants of an old cabin you'll arrive at the North Mt. Elbert Trail junction. Hikers should turn right at this junction. Soon afterwards you'll begin the climb up Elbert's northeast ridge. Near the half-way point, at an elevation of roughly 11,900 feet, hikers will finally reach tree line. Although you'll have a great view of the mountain, you won't actually be able to see the summit from this vantage point. In fact, as you proceed higher, there are a couple of false summits that will lead you to believe that you're closer than you really are. At roughly 13,400 feet the route becomes much steeper. This next section of trail gains almost 500 feet in roughly three-tenths of a mile as it climbs the rugged talus-scree ridge. Once past this section the path to the summit becomes progressively easier. Hikers should always be aware of lightning risk while hiking in the Rocky Mountains, especially at higher elevations. As a general rule of thumb you should plan to be off the summit before noon in order to avoid the notorious afternoon thunderstorms that frequent the mountains during the summer months. Hikers should also be prepared for a variety of weather conditions while on the trail. Make sure you have the proper gear with you, and know what safety precautions you should consider beforehand. If you're looking for a place to stay the night before or after your hike, check out the historic Delaware Hotel in Leadville. Although the town may look a little rough around the edges, it's one of my favorite mountain towns. It has a ton of history surrounding it, has great food, and lacks the pretentiousness you'll find in many of the surrounding ski towns.
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