Tom Ross Just who was Sam Elbert anyway?

You have 25 days to get in shape to climb a fourteener

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— Please consider this to be your personal invitation to attend my not-so-gala 50th birthday celebration. You have 25 days to prepare yourselves. And if your present level of athletic conditioning is no better than mine, you have some work to do.

This has the potential to be a really big birthday party, but more likely, it will be tiny.

There won't be any cake with gooey frosting. And there won't be any beer until hours afterwards -- it weighs too much. What I can promise you is that you'll enjoy unobstructed views and have the opportunity to demonstrate that you can endure a minor amount of pain.

Sound enticing?

My plan is to spend a brief part of my birthday weekend at the highest spot in Colorado -- 14,443-foot Mount Elbert.

Before I go any further, I want to make certain any true adventurers reading this column understand that I am not indulging in illusions of grandeur. I know that climbing a Colorado fourteener on a summer weekend is not worthy of a lifetime achievement award. That statue goes to Steamboat Springs' Betsy Kahlmeyer who ran up a dozen fourteeners over a long weekend last summer. And there are plenty of Steamboaters who have come back from grand adventures like climbing an eighteener in Latin America, and then skiing down.

Just the same, I think standing atop Colorado's highest peak on my 50th would make the otherwise grim occasion memorable. Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary bagged Mount Everest two months before I was born.

Fifty years later, I'm going to bag a peak of my own.

If you are one of those people who has always talked about climbing a fourteener but never acted on the daydream, consider yourself invited.

Elbert is no intimidating climb. You won't need an ice ax and you won't find yourself dangling from a cliff by a braided rope. All you need to climb Mount Elbert is a willingness to trudge.

Elbert is part of the Sawatch Range, which dominates the view from the Arkansas River Valley. The range includes 15 fourteeners, the three highest in the Rockies among them. There are a series of peaks named after Ivy League universities -- Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

One might think that the name of the highest of them all would be reserved for a historical figure of exceptional notoriety. Samuel Elbert was no chump but it's a bit of a mystery how his name became attached to the second highest peak in the contiguous 48 states.

He first came to the Colorado Territory in 1862 as secretary to Governor John Evans. He married the governor's daughter, and in 1873 was appointed territorial governor by President Ulysses S. Grant.

He lasted less than a year, but went on to serve 20 years on the Colorado Supreme Court.

I'll be certain to toast him July 27 if I succeed in summiting Elbert. I made a test climb on Mount Werner Sunday afternoon and I'm sorry to report that I'm not quite ready to bag a fourteener tomorrow.

The trailhead to the summit of Elbert begins at 10,060 feet and climbs 4,400 feet in 4.5 miles.

Over the weekend, I climbed the Thunderhead Trail at Mount Werner. It rises 2,180 feet in three miles. When we reached the 9,080-foot summit, we had a light picnic and rode the gondola down.

They don't have a gondola at Mount Elbert.

So, I've come up with a strategy to make the climb manageable.

When climbing fourteeners in Colorado, it's important to get an early start so you can be off the peak before afternoon electrical storms boil up. We'll plan to climb part way up Elbert on July 26, carrying full backpacks so that we can pitch a tent. The calendar promises a moonlesss night -- ideal for stargazing.

That will also allow a shorter hike on July 27, and a chance to bag the summit by noon. Back at base camp, if we can get up off our sleeping pads, we'll be sure to party.

If you'd like to be a part of history, get in touch.

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