Pikes Peak - 14,110 feet
Pikes Peak - 14,110 feet
|A Quick Trip Up Pikes|
A Quick Trip Up Pikes
Alex "SpeedWalker" Walker
For our second week-long trip on the journey to finish Colorado's 58 14ers in the calendar summer of 2020, I decided to tackle the entire Sangre de Cristo range in 5 days. Just a week ago, my hiking partner Tim and I were on a similar mission in the Sawatch with the goal of 7 days; you can check out the trip report here for a more formal introduction and to see how it went.
Anyway, planning to start with Culebra (our reservations were for July 5th), we decided to stop by Pikes Peak the day before, to bag the peak and cut down on the driving each day. We had already hiked up and down Pikes via Barr Trail last summer, but I wanted to repeat it in order to complete everything in one continuous season.
Day 0 - July 3, 2020
We left home at around 4:00 PM, hoping to avoid some of the evening traffic leading into 4th of July weekend. We stopped for a pizza in Colorado Springs, then headed up towards The Crags TH. Having already completed a round trip on Barr Trail, we were happy to try out a new route that would also be much shorter and easier. After an easy dirt road up, we arrived at an almost-empty trailhead around 7:00 PM and set up the car for the night.
We drove through a huge thunderstorm on the way up, and the weather forecast for the following day didn't look any better. Though it would be dry throughout the early morning, it predicted a good chance of rain by 11:00 AM, and almost certainly pouring by noon. So, hoping to start early and avoid the worst of it, we set our alarms for 4:00 AM the next morning.
Day 1 - July 4, 2020
Pikes Peak - Northwest Slopes
Class 2 | Distance: 15.27 mi | Gain: 4,787 ft
We woke up much earlier than 4:00 AM, to the sound of rain pounding on the car. Since this was supposed to be the least likely time all day for rain, I wondered what this meant for the rest of the forecast. Mostly, I hoped the pouring would soon stop so that we could get moving as early as possible. I managed to fall back asleep before waking to the alarm, and to my surprise, it seemed fairly clear out: you could even see the stars. We got up and were out hiking on the wet trail by 4:30 AM.
Normally these early-morning, headlamp-lit ascents through the trees are pretty uneventful. However, this one didn't exactly go to plan. Just after hitting the first mile, I switched the mode on my watch to look at the map, realizing that we were no longer on the trail. Tim wordlessly turned around while I took out my phone to search for the mistake. It seemed we had gone slightly left instead of right at a junction, about a half mile from the trailhead. After backtracking for 10 minutes before finding the correct path, it became obvious how we had missed it: the proper trail headed down into a more forested area towards a creek crossing, while I had instinctively continued on a more obvious trail heading upwards. After looking online, it seems like a pretty common mistake. I thought I'd be fine with just the navigation on my watch (I must've missed its "off course" notification), but I guess it pays off to at least glance over a route description.
Anyway, after burning a mile for no reason, we continued on through the trees. Everything proceeded as normal until reaching treeline, at which point appeared an amazing view of endless clouds covering the ground below. I figured this had something to do with the strange weather this morning. Still, it was nothing but clear blue skies ahead, so we continued upwards.
After our off-trail adventures that morning, I figured I might as well bag the couple of unranked 13ers along the route, the first being "Devil's Playground Peak." I had gotten a bit ahead of Tim as we began the easy miles of relative flatness right around 13,000 ft, so it would give him time to catch up. I got my first glimpse of the Pikes Peak road, reaching what looked like a parking lot, from which I quickly found the proper trail to the top of the little peak. In fact, that tenth-of-a-mile trail was significantly better marked and had more signs than the entire 4 miles of trail up to that point (well, 5 for us).
After meeting back up with Tim, he seemed to be moving slowly, saying he felt tired, which didn't make sense considering it was only our first hike of the week. I again burned some time waiting for him as I ascended the second unranked 13er, "Little Pikes Peak." This time, he said he felt nauseous and later got a headache, which almost certainly meant altitude sickness. I encouraged him to drink more water and continue slowly up the last thousand feet with me. But having already completed Pikes and wanting to save his energy for the remainder of the week, he insisted on waiting for me back at the parking lot along the road. We both had cell service, and there would soon be plenty of people around soon (we just saw the first cars driving up around 8:00 AM), so I continued on upwards by myself.
The final 800 feet or so on the Northwest Slopes route are certainly the hardest. You walk entirely on rocks all the way to the summit, with a well-cairned "trail" that's still easy to get lost on after missing a switchback. But this class 2 hiking would be perfectly manageable if dry; unfortunately, it happens to be at just the angle as to not get any sun until late morning. Hoping around these wet rocks wasn't particularly hard, although one particularly slippery step was enough to knock me off my feet. I can remember the motion of falling as if it lasted a couple of seconds, thinking to myself that this was about to hurt. However, I actually managed to break my fall just at the last moment using one of my trekking poles. After breaking one of my nice Leki poles during our last trip (I had just sent them in for repair/replacement), I was using my cheap pair from Cascade Mountain Tech. Unfortunately, the pole snapped clean in half as it took the weight of my body falling, marking my second broken trekking pole, just 8 days after the first.
Thus concludes my quick trip up Pikes. Well, at least on one sense of the word; I do still have to get to the top and back.
I stood back up completely unscathed and continued hiking with my one remaining pole. Following my map to the official "natural" summit of the peak, I walked through an opening in the construction site fence into the middle of a parking lot. Unimpressed (and disappointed I couldn't climb to the actual highpoint on a dirt pile just beyond the fence), I took this wonderful panorama.
I then headed back along the trail to sit down and get a decent view towards Colorado Springs. Having seen nobody all day (except for a construction worker), I was surprised and amused to see a hoard of masked tourists coming from the parking lot. I don't think I had ever seen a single person wearing a mask at the top of a peak; it was funny just how out of place it seemed.
Wanting to return to the solitude I had on the hike up, I quickly gathered my things and headed back down the trail. Out of the vicinity of the parking lot, it seemed like I had escaped the masses of tourists... at least for a while. After making it down past the steep section, I came across my first other hikers of the day, though they didn't seem to be moving fast enough to be coming from lower trailhead. Soon, I started seeing more and more of them, sometimes passing groups of a dozen or more people looking like they were on a leisurely stroll. I soon realized that they were coming from the previously-empty parking lot along the road, where Tim was waiting. When I returned, it was packed with what looked like fifty cars, with shuttles full of more people coming every few minutes. Not to be outdone by some tourists driving halfway up a mountain, I picked up my pace from from my usual "speed hiking" into a run. It was actually surprisingly fun, at least on the flat and slightly downhill sections. I would certainly do this on the descent of every peak, but usually the trails are too rocky or steep for my knees to handle pounding down the hill. Luckily, this middle section along the road on Pikes was neither, so I continued jogging for a few miles at 13,000 ft. I got some funny looks from tourists around the parking lot, and shortly after meeting back up with Tim, I was happy to see a sub-10 mile split on my watch.
I was being very careful about my footing as it started getting rockier. But as luck would have it, the second I looked down at my watch to see that split, I took my eyes off the trail and rolled my ankle. I always end up doing this once every few hikes I go on, but it usually isn't too bad. (I guess this was my "quick trip down Pikes?") After sitting down for a few minutes, I got back up and continued on down the trail, walking. The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful: Tim seemed to feel a lot better as we descended lower, and we soon made it back to the parking lot. Unlike the previous evening, it was now packed with cars, not only in the parking spots but all the way down the side of the road. A car waited for us for at least 10 minutes as we were getting ready to leave, just to get our spot. I guess the 4th of July (and a Saturday) is an extremely popular day to go for a hike.
It was now around noon, and judging by the blue skies all around, it turned out that the weather forecast had been horribly wrong. We did see storm clouds approaching later in the afternoon, although it didn't seem nearly as bad or as early as had been predicted. We headed back into town for a quick lunch, and stopped by a sporting goods store to pick up a new pair of trekking poles for the rest of the week. Being aluminum, they were quite heavy, although probably much harder to break. We then set off on the few hours more driving down to Cielo Vista Ranch to hike Culebra Peak the next morning. But the rest of this week is a story for next time.
My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):
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