Monday, September 20, 2010

The Suicide Mission - Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak was up next for the Summit Bandits (as we now like to call's an inside joke involving a ski mask, campfire and kitchen knife) this past weekend. At 14,110 feet it's the 30th highest in elevation ranking in Colorado and one of the only two that has a road to the top and the only one with a Cog railway (which happens to be the world's highest). It's the most visited mountain in North America and the second most visited in the world behind Japan's Mt. Fuji. Every year they hold an Ascent run and a Pike's Peak Marathon because the standard route from the east slope is exactly 26 miles round trip. Needless to say, as we found out at 6am on Saturday morning while trying to find parking, it's quite the crowded mountain.

Our original plan was to hike halfway to Barr camp then spend the night in a cabin there and finish the trek the next day. Meghan sent me a message earlier in the week however, to say that all the cabins were full and it would probably be best to attempt the hike in one day. We could stay at her uncle's house in Colorado Springs then drive to Manitou saturday morning and hike to the top where her uncle would meet us to drive down. Essentially we had to get a ride because the hike is 13 miles one way and at the rate we hike, it has taken us in the past about 10 hours to do 12 miles roundtrip. Could we handle 13 one way, nothing but incline the whole time? We were about to find out.

Chad, Meghan, Neil and I with our dogs started up the Barr trail at 6am. There were quite a bit of hikers and runners on the trail but as the day wore on the herd thinned out. We joked that the hike was a vortex because people would pass us but we would never see them again. On most 14ers there is only one way back down so everyone that goes up you see again at the top or on their way down later. Apparently if you aren't running back down you are either getting a ride or taking the Cog train. This was also the most over prepared I have felt on a hike. Most of the people I saw weren't even wearing hiking boots or carrying much water. If it weren't for the length I'd say it would make a great beginner hike because the trail itself is very easy. Unlike most 14ers the trail isn't a huge scree field and there was plenty of aspen's to shade us for the majority of the 13 miles. In fact, it would have been an enjoyable hike if it weren't for one thing:

It was too damn hot.

Last chance for water, gatorade and snacks at Barr Camp. If only we had known

At 80 degrees this is the hottest 14er hike I have ever experienced. We were hot, the dogs were hot and the heat led to thirst. Our thirst eventually led to running out of water. My worst fear. Keep in mind Chad and I had about 6 liters of water between us and Meghan and Neil had camelback's and extra canteens as well. There were even streams for our dogs to drink from here and there (don't worry I always carry water for bebe, her thirst comes before mine even) but it just wasn't enough. Once we broke treeline there was another stream so I filled up my empty nalgene bottles for the dogs but we didn't want to drink the water unless we had to for fear of getting giardia (a microscopic parasite that lives in water that has been contaminated from the feces of an infected animal). Thankfully some VERY nice hikers stopped on their way down from the top and gave us some water and gatorade because I guess they could see how much we were struggling the last hour and a half of our hike. Of course, it didn't hurt to have the dogs with us and people are almost always compassionate to animals and in this case their caretakers as well. The fact that it was almost 4pm at this point must have alarmed them as well because, well, the sun was starting to go down and we still had a ways to go until the top.

tuck and roll down? wouldn't that be easier?

The beauty and the curse of Pikes Peak is that all throughout the hike on Barr trail, you can't see the summit. You might get a small glimpse through the trees here and there but for the most part it's like walking in the dark. Most 14ers you can at least see your target (or the false summit of your target) from the beginning but not Pikes. We were, however, treated to hundreds of beautiful yellow aspen's changing color that lit up against the blue cloudless sky.

For having so long a hike, we were fortunate to have amazing weather the whole 13 miles.

breaking treeline but still a long 3 miles to go

the final push to the summit begins here

Reaching the summit of Pikes Peak was, we all agreed, lackluster. It's quite an accomplishment to hike that far all uphill in one day but there's a sense of defeat when you reach a parking lot at the top. The cog railway and the road bring hundreds of tourists in daily funneling them into a gift shop and restaurant.

we finally made it!

Most of the people up there had definitely not chosen to hike the route as evidence of their clean appearance. The highlight of the summit was enjoying some of their world famous donuts, which, is a mystery in itself how they can make them and get them to turn out so amazing at that altitude. Buyer beware, however, the chocolate ones cost $3 each. Yeah I think it's a ripoff too so go for the plain...a steal at $1.88 for 2.

While I really enjoyed the Barr trail, spending the day with the Summit Bandits and eating donuts I'm happy to say I will never hike Pikes Peak again. It was long, tiring, and had a disappointing finish. I guess what makes the 14ers so special is usually their remoteness and how few people make it up to the top with you. It's hard to say, but there's an unmistakable camaraderie among your fellow climbers when you make it to the top. People congratulate you. They appreciate the effort you put in because they did it too. You may only share the summit of some of the mtns with 1 other person or there could be 20. Regardless you all feel like champions no matter how long it took you to get there. Pikes Peak was a tourist trap which felt like any other thing of beauty that's been taken over by commercialism. I'd say if you weren't interested in hiking to the top, at least take the Cog railway and experience something new. At$35 a car to drive up the road, there are much prettier free drives all over the state you can experience....

although you know it wouldn't kill you to walk instead :)

Obligatory summit photo which I'm sure every tourist has taken a picture with this sign

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