Summiting Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado

River Smith (right) enjoys a moment at the summit of Mt. Elbert – the tallest mountain in Colorado – with his parents Dave and Leslie, his little brother Sawyer and his big sister Lucy.
River Smith said climbing 4,700 feet in 9.5 miles made for a tough hike, but reaching the summit made it all worthwhile
River Smith takes a moment to enjoy the view from atop Mount Elbert.

By River Smith, Lake Ridge Explorer

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by 8-year-old River Smith with a little help from his mother, Leslie Smith.

This summer my family and I did something we never imagined we could ever do! We summited the highest mountain in the whole state of Colorado on our own two feet. The trail was 9.5 miles in length and gained 4,700 ft. in elevation. And man oh man could you ever feel that elevation gain!

The day began early. My mother and father carried myself (I’m eight), my five-year-old brother and nine-year old sister from our tent, in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area of Colorado, to our van at 3:45 in the morning. We had a two-hour drive across Independence Pass (the continental divide), to get to the Mt. Elbert Trailhead, located just outside Leadville, Colorado.

A forest ranger had informed us that we had to get their early to get a parking place (it’s a very popular trail) and we also knew we needed to get to the summit before noon to avoid being above the tree line in the afternoon when the potential of thunderstorms in the Rockies is at its greatest.

We started hiking at 8 a.m. through a pine forest. We had been one of the last groups to begin, but we quickly were able to catch some of the other hikers. The trail quickly got steep and we quickly became out of breath. My little brother was hiking kind of slow, and my dad said we needed to move faster in order to make it to the summit on time, so he decided our dog Thor could help my brother.

Thor is a Golden Retriever and he is still a puppy (even though he’s 2 years-old) and he hasn’t learned not to pull. Most of the time, this bothers us, but not on this day. My brother held on to Thor’s leash and Thor easily helped my brother up the steep trail.

When we made it out of the tree line, we saw a summit and thought we might be there. But we weren’t. Little did we know there would be three or four false summits. And when you hike what you think is a summit and then realize you’re not at the actual summit… it’s a real bummer and can kill your ambition!

But we rested, snacked, drank water, breathed deep and decided that we would not give up. We wanted this moment. We wanted to climb a Colorado 14er! And guess what … we did! It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t all fun. There were tears. And there were times we wanted to turn around, but that’s a lot like life and my family is sure glad we didn’t give up.

At the top of the mountain we all did a big “Yee haw” to represent East Tennessee. On the way back down the mountain and on our way back home, we were already talking about our next 14er, maybe Mt. Massive.


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