Sep 13, 1993
Quite obviously most people have heard of Pikes Peak before I became familiar with it after moving to Colorado Springs the month before and now having a view of it off my deck. I gaze up to it each morning and afternoon. I had been into rock climbing, hiking, and backpacking earlier in my life but had been devoted solely to cycling for the last seven years. Perhaps I should get back into alpine stuff now that I was living in Colorado courtesy of the United States Air Force.
I met Craig Girard through his wife, Michelle, a professional colleague who was also into climbing. He convinced me to take a refresher rock climbing course and a few weeks later I convinced him to go up Pikes Peak. As we looked up from our backyard there was already a dusting of snow on the east face, but eh, it looked like we could do it!
We set off up the famous Barr Trail at 6:00am using a small flashlight to work our way up the initial switchbacks. We carried small packs with the essentials; hats jackets, cell phones, etc. I had never been to 14,000′ before and felt a bit faint when we visited Woodland Park at 9,000′ a few weeks before… we kept going. After the steep first part, the middle of the Barr Trail is pleasant and somewhat level. We reached Barr Camp at 9,800 in about 4 hours; probably a slow pace but this was our first 14er! After a short rest and some food we pressed on to timberline and the A Frame shelter. Here my great route finding abilities steered us up a talus slope until we found the well-worn trail. We continued up, and up… the east face seems to go forever. We had arranged to meet Debbie and the kids at the top and ride the train down with them at 2:00pm. We started to move slower and slower.
I entered the snow and got to the final steps near the summit. All of a sudden it was over; eight hours after we had started. I looked around and saw Ben and Katie playing in the snow by the train getting ready to board. I ran over to Debbie and she said the train was full and that we would have to wait until the next one. I bid them farewell and they left down the narrow gauge track. I descended about 100 yards and met up with Craig and we summited together, grabbed a donut at the gift shop and waited for the next train. REAL ALPINE MOUNTAINEERING, gift shop included!
We caught the next train down and were celebrities with all of the tourists. I had no immediate thoughts about climbing 14er’s and did not even know how many were in Colorado. It was just a good local challenge and I was to find out later that Pikes Peak is not considered the easiest by any means. It was a start…
Beta: Barr Trail, 12.5 miles, 7,500 elevation gain, 8 hours
Pikes Peak, 14,110′, Colorado Springs, 7 Jun 95 – Trip Report – The second time…
Pikes Peak was the first peak I climbed when I moved to Colorado two years ago so it is fitting it is one the last to do before I depart temporarily. This year’s 200% of the “normal” snow pack has blocked early summer access to many peaks so l thought I would go up Pikes Peak to see what the conditions were like in preparation for leading an office group and my wife up next week. I am glad I did because the high snow level will make above tree line travel only for experienced folks well into July!
I started up Barr Trail at 4:00am with my headlamp as company in spring like conditions wearing just my lightweight polypro and shorts. The lights of Colorado Springs slowly gave way to the rosy glow of the sun as it sped across country. I reached the approximate halfway point in mileage at Barr Camp at 6:00am and kept going not wanting to awake the family sleeping there. (Barr Camp is a cabin where a family lives at 10,000′ where hikers can get information, shelter, and lively conversation) The trail was dry to this point, but I knew from weekend reports that snowshoes were used higher up…. but there is a limit to how far I will carry snowshoes when you start at an elevation of 6700’and you may not need them until 12,000″ :-). Right past Barr Camp I encountered small (1-2′ drifts) in the trail, but the combination of them still being frozen and footprints from previous hikers did not slow me down much. As I continued up to tree line, the drifts on the trail got bigger and bigger, but I was still making ok time. Then I came around a bend in the trail and the trail simply disappeared under 5 feet of snow across everything. It’s a pretty big trail to disappear too! I kept going where I thought the trail was, promptly broke through the icy snow, wrench my knee, gashed my leg on a log and slightly bent a trekking pole. All of that in about a space of 1 minute after enjoying 3.5 hours of quiet hiking; and this 9 5 miles into the trail and only 3.5 miles to go. So I regrouped, and spotted some tracks bushwhacking straight up through the trees. I followed them and came out from behind the trees to see the “A Frame” shelter only 50 feet away and the whole of the east face of Pikes Peak I knew I was close but did not know I was that close! I reached the shelter at 8:00am and the order of the day was lunch and sun cream.
The weather was fantastic, still very warm and sunny. Usually Pikes Peak has a Class 1 trail that makes two broad switchbacks up the face and can be done by kids and older folks who are in shape — you just have to walk up it. Today, that trail lies under some 15′ of snow that shows no signs of melting quickly. I did not care as that was not my plan anyway as I wanted to do the “Direttissima” of the “East Face” or go straight up the center of the face; something you can do usually only after a heavy dump of snow, and then you have to worry about avalanches. But with 200% of the normal snowpack, the east face is one very large snowfield (very large :-)) and now very stable. I had gambled on getting up to the snow while it was still frozen… I won that bet. I put on my crampons and began the 2100′ straight up snow climb. The hiking and climbing was excellent as I cramponed up the slope. The slope is gentle at first, about 20 degrees, going to 35 degrees in the middle, to 50 degrees as you exit the cornices on top. As I reached the 13,000′ point, large fluffy clouds drifted below me and sealed off the bottom half of the mountain, keeping me in sunshine. There was a slight wind and I actually hoped for more as it was really quite warm. Nothing much can be said about the climb other than it is 2100′ of kick stepping up a slope; I love it! The setting was fantastic with the sheer rock walls rising on the north and south side as I went up the middle of the face. It beats the trail any day Nearing the top, I heard the train whistle and realized where I was… in tourist land. As I reached the top, tourists from the lowlands came over and asked all of those tourist questions, but I have a sense of humor so it was entertaining. I was more interested in getting a seat down on that train as my wrenched knee was hurting a bit. I had planned on the train, hitchhiking, or going back down the train as option… the train worked out and I was back down the mountain in about 50 minutes and home for lunch. Being the only climber on the mountain that morning made it special as until you summit, it feels like you are the only one there on a very beautiful mountain. I would expect “tourist hikers” will not be able to go up the trail safely until early to mid-July. As for going up it with friends next week, we will probably just head to Barr Camp to take some goodies to the family there. Hope to do another mountain this weekend farther west, I will report on snow conditions there when I get back.
Beta: Barr Trail: 13 miles, 7000′ elevation gain, 6.5 hours, Class 1 hiking and Class 3 snow climbing right now!