It’s not every day that you hike the highest peaks in Kansas and Colorado (Mt. Elbert in Colorado and Mount Sunflower in Kansas), nor is every day that you do both in less than a week! So, here are my tails of two (very different) peaks.
Kansas: “Mount” Sunflower
4,039 ft or 1231 m
I lived in the state of Kansas for 18 years, but I never explored the northwest portion of the state….. which is rather shocking for somebody who calls themselves a travel blogger.
But really, I never had any reason to travel up to what I call “the most boring part of the state.”
So, the last time I was headed to Colorado, I decided to take a small detour and see what the Northwest portion of Kansas had to offer. I stopped at the Monument Rocks and the newest Kansas State Park, Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park.
Honestly, I really loved visiting the Badlands. (Pictured above) They don’t look nearly as good in pictures as they do in real life, but the park was maintained, the walking trails were easy, and it was surprising quiet considering it was the weekend.
So, I was really excited to see what Mount Sunflower had to offer. This was despite the fact that:
- I had been told it wasn’t that impressive.
- It was still three-and-a-half hours away from my camping location that night.
- Visiting Mount Sunflower was an hour-long detour.
After “almost” traveling to the Colorado-Kansas state line, I turned onto a dirt/sand road. (No 4×4 is needed. A car can handle it, but don’t exceed 55 miles per hour. You will lose traction at higher speeds.)
I had to drive twenty more miles, I turned left at the sign warning me of a dead-end ahead. (Looking back on this, that sign should have been my sign that I needed to turn around.)
I continued on to adventure, until I saw the highest point.
I mean I wasn’t expecting much, but could it at least look like this?
Everyone has heard jokes about Kansas being flat (It isn’t. Central and Eastern Kansas are rolling hills.) But in the case of Mount Sunflower……. let’s just say… Maybe it’s because I moved away, or prairie land doesn’t excite me anymore.
Either way, to me it was disappointing.
If you decide to visit Mount Sunflower, be warned that the only parking area is at the top, so you will have to park at the top, walk to the road, and walk back if you decided to climb the highest point.
Lesson learned: In the case of Mount Sunflower, “Mount” is a complete misnomer.
The only small savior is the small lending library. I did not take or leave any books, but this is a local elementary school’s initiative. I thought that was the only good addition to an otherwise very sad place.
Colorado: Mount Elbert
14,440 ft or 4,401 m
So, I didn’t know I would be climbing Mt. Elbert until about two days before. (Actually, the day after I “summited” Mount Sunflower.
I knew I was going to be climbing a 14,000 foot mountain, and I was really hoping it would be a class two or three peak. But my scrambling and vertical climbing is rather limited. And my hiking buddy decided that would be a better option for him
Pro-Tip: Mount Elbert is a gentle giant, meaning it is a Class One. Class Ones are relatively easy, and the biggest danger is the elevation and length of trip.
Elbert was also a short distance away from our last destination (Garden of the Gods) and close-ish to the next destination (Great Sand Dunes National Park). Plus, a friend from college recommended it. As a Denverite, we trusted her opinion.
About my preparation
Now, since I knew I would be climbing the mountain in June, I didn’t really change that much from my normal diet, (no binge-eating desert). And my exercise routine was actually about that same. Run three miles and calisthenics. (No lifting due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.) I really didn’t change that much, as I had just finished my first and only sprint triathlon in Februrary.
About three hundred miles of running outdoors later, I was ready to climb.
Back to the story…
The night before we climbed, Kai and I camped in a national forest to minimize cost.
It was an awesome experience, but getting there was a nightmare. To make a long story with many wrong turns short, don’t trust Apple or Google maps if you are attempting to get to Mount Elbert’s South Trailhead.
After setting up a tent during dusk, we agreed that 7:00 AM would be a good wake-up time. Fortunately, we woke up at 5:30 and were on the trail at exactly 6:55 A.M., 5 minutes before we even planned to wake up. 🙂
More on that later…
By starting at the very bottom, we hiked through the wooded areas first.
It wasn’t steep, but it was littered with waterfalls and creeks that led to the lakes below. Little did we know we weren’t on the actual trailhead at this time; we started about
two three miles away. The views were worth it though!!
Final Pro Tip: Whenever you decide to hike Mount Elbert, there is actually a second parking lot higher up the mountain.
So, if you want to save an hour or two of climbing time and start at a higher elevation, I recommend driving to the top parking lot. However, you will miss some of the best parts of the climb like waterfalls and large sections of pine and aspen trees!!
The rest of the climb was like a typical mountain climb, but there is another thing you should know about, Mt. Elbert is known for its false summits.
What is a false summit? I’m glad you asked.
A false summit is basically when you think you’re about to the top, but really you just had to climb a steep hill to get to the next steep hill. Basically, you cannot see beyond the top of the current hill you are climbing.
It sounds fun but not so much when you are at 13,000 feet.
Another thing about Mount Elbert is you actually summit from the south side (if you are on the south trail head)… but you climb the first few thousand feet actually on the east side of the mountain.
Elbert ended up being about a ten mile hike, and we arrived mid-afternoon. We stopped a bit, but I am SO GLAD we were on the trail at 7AM instead of 8AM like we planned.
All around, it was a six hour climb up and a three-and-a-half hour climb down (granted, we stopped a bit.) But it was a fun experience for sure. The view from the top looked like this
Needless to say, I appreciated the view a lot more in Colorado than I did in Kansas. It was a good, easy experience that I would recommend to anyone in the Leadville, Colorado area.
Have you ever been extremely disappointed in something, and really appreciative of the very opposite just one week later? (Kids not included..)
One more note: Does anybody have any other mountain suggestions/hiking suggestions in the lower-48? Let me know below!