Mount Elbert and Mount Massive - Leadville, Colorado
Summer has finally arrived, and it has me reminiscing about a trip my family made to Colorado last year. We took a family vacation to Breckenridge, Colorado so we could explore the area and take advantage of all the activities that Colorado offers. We had skied close by at Copper Mountain, but this would be our first summer there as a family. We took full advantage of the area and packed a lot into the two weeks such as:
Hiking the trails around Breckenridge, Colorado (1000 feet (300m) gain on the Burro Trail!)
Spending the day at Breckenridge Resort EPIC Discovery where we got to ride mountain coasters and rock climb and the kids did extreme trampoline, rope courses and zip line.
Indoor rock climbing and swimming at the Breckenridge Recreation Center
Taking a tour of an old gold mine at Country Boy Mine
Hanging out in the Breckenridge Town Square
Doing open gym on the trampolines and foam pits at Woodward Copper
Besides all these fun things with the family, I found the opportunity to do three runs that were all extreme due to the elevation being above 9000 feet (3000m), but also having a lot of elevation gain, some of it with very steep ascents. You can even string together two of the runs for an amazing ultra distance run.
The second tallest mountain in the contiguous United States is Mount Elbert. What is surprising about this is the trail up to the peak is very runnable and the trailhead is easily accessible by car. The next tallest mountain is nearly next door, Mount Massive. The trail up Mount Massive is even more runnable, but the final approach to the peak requires bouldering. The area below the tree line for each run is a thick forest with a nicely maintained trail, and then once above the tree line there are some grassy areas which transitions to more rocky footing.
I made two separate trips for the Mount Elbert and Massive runs, a little over an hour drive from Breckenridge. The trailhead for each is along the same dirt road that is reached from a drive that goes through the town of Leadville, Colorado. The most critical thing when running these mountains is to check the weather, and to start very early, 6am at the latest. The reason for the early start is that afternoon summer storms can pop up and make the run very dangerous since there is absolutely no cover above the tree line. It also helps to be early to find a parking spot. It’s also critical you are well supplied with fuel and water. On each run, I gave away an extra liter of water I had on the way down, along with packages of gummy bears, to hikers who didn’t expect how much food and water they’d need. Both runs have a very rewarding view of the surrounding mountains when you get to the top. In both cases, I was done around lunchtime, so I stopped in Leadville on the way back to have lunch.
The third run I did was up an expert ski run along the Falcon Super Chair Lift in the Breckenridge resort. I was able to pass the top of the ski lift and keep going to see the back side of the mountain. The view from the peak of the village below was well worth the effort run all the way up. However, it was almost harder to make the descent because of the steep slope such that I had to traverse side to side in places because I could not keep my footing going straight down the hill.
No matter the time of the year, Colorado has a wide range of outdoor activities. Especially in the summer, there are many trails, some right from the town you are staying in and many more just a short drive a way. I encourage you to investigate your options if you are in Denver or the surrounding areas for a trip, but also remember that Denver has many direct flight from all over the US, so an ultrarunning destination weekend is very doable. If you start early, and check the weather mid way through your run, it could even be possible to string together the Mount Elbert and Mount Massive into a very challenge ultrarun. And finally, not only can you have a great time making this an ultrarunning destination, but there are plenty of adventures for your entire family!
Distance : 9.7 miles / 15k
Elevation Gain : 4,476 feet / 1364m
Distance : 13.8 miles / 22.2k
Elevation Gain : 4,602 feet / 1402m
Distance : 6.4 miles / 10.2k
Elevation Gain : 2322 feet / 707m