Pikes Peak. It's the most visited mountain in North America, and it's right in my backyard (sorta). America The Beautiful was coined while climbing the majestic purple mountaintop. In fact, it was President Theodore Roosevelt, after traveling through these beautiful mountains and canyons, who famously commented that the train journey through Colorado was "the trip that bankrupts the English language." The summit of Pikes Peak boasts a height of over 14,110 feet, and that, my friends, is a trip worth making.
There are three approved ways to get you to the top of the peak. First, you can drive up the beautiful 19 mile highway to get to the top (which we have never done). Secondly, you can take the Cogg Railway up to the summit (which we have never done). Third, you can hike to the top (which we just did).
Before I get into the hike, let me remind you that we do a lot of hiking, as a family. We hiked part of the Barr Trail when we first moved here. The Husband went even further on the Barr Trail and hiked up to the Barr Camp (halfway to the summit) with a friend. Heath has even hiked to the top of Pikes Peak via the Craggs Route, which is going by way of the back side of the mountain, and you start about halfway up the mountain. We are even frequent visitors to The Incline (a massively brutal steep mile hike up old railway ties alongside the mountain). But as of yet, we hadn't ventured the whole way, from base to peak. It was a goal of ours (The Husband and myself) to accomplish this during this summer. September 7th was the day we marked on the calendar. The day off was given, at work. Kids were in school. Kimble was being looked after. Pikes Peak or Bust!
We planned carefully. Each of us had our hydration packs filled with water. We carried extra water, as well as some electrolytes (Gatorade). We packed snacks like protein bars, granola bars (Cliff Bars), fruit, dried fruit, crackers, cheese, turkey meat and a few other small things. We packed layers for wind and for rain and for warmth. We had flashlights, water filtration kit, and first aid kits. We had a whistle and a camera, good shoes, comfortable clothes, chapstick, camera, and hiking poles. Just a tip: The hiking poles made all the difference. It was almost an easy climb, with the hiking poles. If you plan on hiking to the top, please please please get yourself a set of hiking poles. You'll thank me.
Our plan was to awaken at 4am, leave the house at 4:30am, drive to the base of the Barr Trail (at 6,300 feet), and start our 13.4 mile hike by 5am. However, here is what really happened: I had a hard time sleeping that night (anxiousness, I think) and was awake much of the night. There was a terrible wind storm that moved in around midnight, and by the time 4am came, I was convinced our house was getting blown away, and didn't want to venture outside at all, let alone hike up the side of a mountain.
So we looked at the weather, saw what the reports said about the storm, and it wasn't until 4:30am that we concluded that the storm was passing through and there should be relatively no wind on the mountain. We got up and got ready as planned. With our packs already done, we were out the door by 5:15am. (We left Kamy sleeping in our bed, with my alarm set for 6am, so she could get the kids up and out the door for school by 7am.)
We got to Manitou Springs (about 25 minute drive) and parked our car. We got our packs on, had our sweatshirts and ear coverings on, and after a quick potty break, we began our hike at 6:04am.
It was still dark.
We shed layers pretty quickly. The sun came up. There were relatively few people on the trail (nobody was hiking up, but some people had done the incline, and we began to see them hiking down the trail after a little while.).
Things were going good. We were making good time and were comfortable. Here's a picture about an hour into the hike.
We spotted a view of Pike's Peak! The next picture we had the angle wrong. The picture after this one shows the peak...so.far.away.
We came to our first sign a bit after the Incline turnoff. Pikes Peak was 9.5 miles away. That meant we had hiked 4 miles thus far. We were doing good! The first set of switchbacks were behind us. Now the trail evened out for a bit, and sometimes was flat. Let's go!
Still going great! The weather was lovely. We were pretty much alone on the trail. Every once in a while we saw someone, but for the most part, we enjoyed it just being the two of us.
Another view of Pikes Peak. This time, it was much closer and bigger. It's hard to see in the picture because there's no vegetation to bring out the color, but the peak is there, although a bit whited out by the exposure.
The trail was nice and wide enough for us to walk side-by-side. We saw a guy on a bike who passed us on his way to the Barr Camp, one lady runner who was also running to the Barr Camp, and one older man who was hiking down the mountain and had left the Barr Camp earlier that morning.
1.5 miles to the Barr Camp! The trail got a bit more rocky now, and there were switchbacks again.
Yay! We made it to Barr Camp! Time for a little snack break.
At this point it was 9:36am when we arrived. It had taken us 3.5 hours to get to the Barr Camp. We were officially halfway to the top of Pikes Peak, at an elevation of 10,200 feet. We stopped for about 20 minutes to eat our lunch of Gatorade, crackers, turkey meat, and Boursin cheese. It was a bit chilly too, so we donned on some layers again.
Let's keep on moving! The trail got steeper now, and was filled with dark green vegetation lining the path. Our exertion warmed us up, and we took off layers again. In this next picture, Heath is pointing the way we are going. Up! To Pikes Peak!
This was probably my favorite part of the hike. It was so pretty, and although it was steep with long switchbacks and somewhat rocky terrain, it was beautiful.
The sky was so blue and the trees were so green. It was the perfect day to go hiking!
For the first time in the trip, we saw other people who were on their way up too. Four men were hiking together, and had stopped to catch their breath. We zoomed past them, and The Husband had quite a bit of pride in how well we, or more specifically, I, was hiking. Cardiovascularly, we were doing really really well. We weren't out of breath. We weren't pushing the red zone. It was like we were just out strolling in the woods. Nice, even breathing. Happy thoughts. Smiles, chatter. We were doing great!
Ok. Now we come to the last three miles. Here is where treeline ends. We are at an elevation of 11,500 feet. We stopped and had another snack (Mandarin oranges), chatted with a biker who was on his way down the mountain, having already summitted, and then we headed on. Three miles. We can do this!
The next mile took f.o.r.e.v.e.r. We thought for sure we were almost to the top, when we saw the sign that said we had two miles to go. I gave it a major thumbs down. Two more miles? Really? Surely we traveled more than one mile between signs. At our calculation, we were now doing one mile every 45 minutes. Each step was long and hard. Man...atop treeline is no small feat!
However, we kept going, because what else were we supposed to do? The trail was steep and rocky and sometimes hard to pick out, but the view was great.
If you looked up, all you saw was steep rocky inclines that we knew were in our future. One step at a time.
By now, we were ready to be done. We were slightly annoyed at the trail, and The Husband was feeling some effects of being at high altitude. Although I was fine with the altitude, I was somewhat ready to be done. It was hard to have the energy to move faster than a slow turtle pace. But then, The Husband pulled out his dried fruit. We each took a few handfuls, and within minutes, we had energy again! Yay for sugar! With one more mile to go, we knew we'd be fine. Let's just get to the top!
Although, if you looked up, the top seemed so very far away!
If you went past this sign, you would fall down a gorge of 15,000 feet deep. Scary!
16 Golden Stairs. What could this mean? Well, it means torture. This was the hardest part of the trail. The switchbacks were rocky and hard to manage. They were steep and crumbly. We had to load up on more dried fruit just to get past this section.
This is what I thought of the sign for the 16 golden steps. Ready.to.be.done.
Then, we made it to the top! It was 2:18pm. That means it took us 8 hours to hike the Barr Trail from base to Peak. That's almost laughable at the rate that some people take to summit it every year during the Pikes Peak Ascent Race (which I have friends that do, Go Trinnette and Nathan!), where their time is closer to 3 hours) but we were pleased with our time. We didn't run. We didn't race. We set a somewhat leisurely pace and the only time we stopped was to either shed (or put on) layers, go to the bathroom, or grab something from our packs to eat. I think we did great.
We tried to find a ride down the mountain from people who drove up, and although some people were willing to take us down the mountain, the highway exit was about 12 miles away from where we parked our car at the foothills of the mountain. So, we ended up paying 22 dollars for each of us to catch a ride down the Cogg Railway.
Thus ended our adventure. We were home in time for dinner. The kids were safe and happy and glad to see us. We felt extremely accomplished and although our feet were tired, we were feeling great. Even the next day, I thought for sure I wouldn't be able to move, but I was fine. A tiny bit stiff feeling, but not sore or achy. Guess I'm in better shape than I thought!
I'll leave you with a few fun facts about Pikes Peak.
Starting on March 25, 1929, Bill Williams from Hondo, Texas spent 21 days on the Pikes Peak Highway pushing a peanut to the summit with his nose. It is said that he wore out 3 pairs of shoes, 12 pairs of gloves and 150 peanuts. No information about the conditions of his jeans (or knees) was available.
Dennis Wied, a local Colorado Springs man spent his 34th birthday climbing Barr Trail to the summit of Pikes Peak five times on September 8, 1984. In the attempt to break an unestablished world record of altitude gain by foot in a single day, Wied left the Manitou Cog Railway platform at 12:01am (6,571 feet in elevation) and finished his efforts at 11:31pm. Two years earlier, Wied hiked up and down Pikes Peak three times on July 31, 1982. This endurance junkie is the only person known to have hiked up Pikes Peak five times in a single day, and up and down Pikes Peak three times in a single day.
In 2004, Crayola Crayon produced a limited edition set of its 64-color box. In the collection were colors for the 50 U.S. states plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico and 12 Patriotic Colors. The color chosen for Colorado was Pikes Peak Purple. Other related colors included Amber Waves of Grain, America the Beautiful, Dawn's Early Light, Fruited Plains, Purple Mountain Majesty and Sea to Shining Sea.
In 1995, six students and two teachers from a local high school dribbled basketballs and volleyballs from the tollgate to the summit on the Pikes Peak Highway. The funds raised were used to purchase new computer equipment.
In June 2001, a family visiting Colorado Springs drove up the Pikes Peak Highway. While posing for a photograph near Crowe Gulch Picnic Area (MM 3), an 11-year-old boy spots a Big Foot-like creature crossing an open stretch of grass. His nine-year-old brother is the only witness. Their father was the one taking the photograph, and had his camera in hand at the time, but did not turn to snap the shot.