Back in November my kids and I were discussing what peaks we wanted to try to hike when Summer arrived. We discussed going back to Winfield and trying LaPlata from the west, San Luis Peak, maybe even Yale or Princeton. My son mentioned that he thought it would be fun if he was able to go with some friends. Well, I have very limited room in my vehicle and he could not narrow down to just a couple of friends so I made the suggestion that since most of his friends ran cross country with him why not invite the entire team for a trip that they could all bond during and also work their bodies in preparation for two-a-days and the running season. He like the idea and I called the head cross country coach in early December to see if she thought it would be an acceptable team activity. She thought it was an awesome idea and even wanted to participate herself! So the ball was rolling....the first thing I did was looked at a feasible route that was fairly straightforward, no bad exposure, was going to be close to some form of civilization and would be in a difficulty range for the kids (and some parents) that they could handle. Pikes Peak from the Crag's Campground route immediately came to mind due to it's vicinity to several decent sized towns, no exposure to speak of and Pikes Peak is a mountain that so many of these kids have seen throughout their lives and read and studied about, but never experienced what the mountain really is. So the plan now had a goal.
The original plan was to just camp out at Crag's Campground on the night of Monday, July 25th, hike Pikes on the 26th and then head out home on Wed. July 27th. I got to thinking about how having close to 20 teenagers packed into tents and vehicles for three days without a shower would begin to become an assault on the olfactory system, so I began looking at other options for the camping. I really didn't want to get motel rooms in the Springs or another small town since that would detract from the whole experience. I looked up some different places and I came across Mueller State Park as an option. This place was a Godsend. It costs a minimal amount, it is patrolled by Rangers, you can reserve spots ahead of time so you are not just hoping to find a camp site and most importantly IT HAS SHOWER FACILITIES!!!! That sealed the deal right there.
NOTE: I highly recommend Mueller State Park for any family camping activity. The facilities are extremely clean, the staff was friendly, quiet time is from 10 pm to 6 am and the views from the park, especially from the building where the showers are, is amazing. Much of the Sangre de Cristo range is visible, including the Crestones, Humboldt and Kit Carson. Just awesome.
Over the next several months I got sites reserved, held meeting with all the folks that were planning on going to inform them of what to expect and what essentials they would need to make sure this was going to be a safe and enjoyable adventure. This included what gear would be needed, what I would provide and what to wear both on the hike and at camp.
Little did I know what I would discover on the morning of the hike...anyways....
Before we knew it mid-July had arrived and I picked up all the groceries we would need for the trip and on the morning of July 25th, everyone showed up at the house at 8 am so we could get everything packed and hit the road.
The entire group getting ready to head out from my house at 3000 ft ASL
The trip up was uneventful and we decided to take the scenic route to the camp by heading up from our hometown of Borger through Clayton and Raton, NM over Raton Pass to Walsenburg and then take highway 69 up to Texas Creek and then take the county roads on the west side of the Pikes Peak Massif to the state park. It added a little more time but was well worth the time since many of these kids had never been to Colorado before. They really enjoyed the amazing scenery. The only thing that really got my attention was that the storms that usually fire up well into the afternoon were getting dark and thick much earlier...closer to 10:30 am. This concerned me quite a bit. I hoped this was not going to be the case for the next couple of days.
Hoping these early storms are not a sign of things to come.
We arrived at Mueller State Park right at 4 pm mountain time and ended up having to set up camp in a heavy sprinkle. It rained for around an hour but we were all able to stay fairly out of the elements until the storms passed.
Getting one of our three tents set up.
Since there was a burn ban in place, we had to use our gas stoves to prepare a dinner of hot dogs. Not as much fun or nostalgic as being able to cook them over a campfire, but everyone was very hungry, so it sufficed. Everyone was pretty excited for the next day so we all turned in at 9 pm so we could try to get a good nights rest.
4 AM came very quickly, my alarm went off and I started rousing everyone to get them ready for the long day ahead. We all snacked on fresh fruit, granola bars and fruit juice, and next thing we knew we were off to the trailhead at Crags Campground. I did not pay much attention to what everyone was doing before we left because I was busy filling up several hydration bladders and getting my pack in order...wish I had though...more about that shortly.
The drive from the State Park to Crag's is short and simple...took about 15 mins to get from the gate at the park to the TH. Another big positive for Mueller State Park. We arrived at the TH right at 5:30 am and hit the trail at 5:40.
Before we knew it we were off on the trail. The trail is very well kept, is easy to follow for 99% of the time and is never what I would call too difficult.
Below treeline the trail is wide and in great condition
another shot of the great trail
Why am I always taking pictures of everyone's backsides?
Some members of the group enjoying the views to the west.
Lots of great places to rest such as this rocky spot.
A narrower spot of the trail just before treeline
Once you start to reach treeline the next section is a nice grassy slope with a gentle, but steeper grade.
A rocky outcropping just above treeline and not too far from Devil's Playground
The ascent gets a little stepper just before the ridge up to Devil's Playground
Typical trail conditons above treeline.
Once you attain the ridge the first view of the summit arrives.
Finally! Our goal shows itself. Still a good ways away!
The different views around the Devil's Playground area are really great!
There are lots of rock formations right by the trail and some great views down toward the cities to the east and northeast. This is also where we encountered a strong, cold wind that made it a little more brutal for a short time.
Little bit of the road to the summit.
Some of the group seeking shelter from the winds.
My son and I posing by one of the many gullies near Devil's Playground
The kids enjoyed all the rocks that they could climb near or on the trail!
This is also where the trail runs right by the Pikes Peak summit road for a little over a mile and a half.
Trail conditions along the Pikes Peak road
Thee trail gets a little rocky for a little while
More typical trail conditions in the Devil's Playground area
Before we knew it, we were past the easy, gentle trail of Devil's Playground and we were at the final, rocky pitch to the summit. About 600 ft. of elevation gain over boulders and large rocks awaited us. For many in our group, this was the most challenging section of the hike since all but 4 of us had never done any kind of mountain hiking before. We regrouped and I explained how cairns work and let them know to follow them and they would keep them close to the trail.
Almost to the final pitch
Lots of rocky pathfinding on the last 500-600 ft
Looking up at the rocky final pitch
After about 30 mins of scrambling over the final pitch, most of us made the summit at about 10:30. Just shy of 5 hours for the ascent.
YES! The summit...and lots of parking????
Great views to the ENE
Most of the group headed straight to the gift shop/cafe to get a bite to eat and rest their legs. We all refilled our water supplies, got our trinkets at the gift shop, rested for about an hour and then got our obligatory summit shots by the big sign.
Our entire crew of 17 on the summit
My 14th summit, TJ's 6th. We really enjoy these times together.
If you notice in the group summit shot the aforementioned pajama pants and skinny jeans on a few of our hikers (facepalm). Two of the three girls and one of the dads had on pajama pants (to their credit they did wear appropriate shorts underneath) and the kid with the yellow bandana wore his trademark skinny jeans with his boat shoes! I couldn't believe it...just goes to show that many times, when it comes to teenagers, good information can go right in one ear and out the other. Oh well, what can I do...
After about an hour and 15 minutes on the summit it was time to head down.
Time to head back down
We actually got to see some great wildlife on the way down.
A little wildlife arrived too.
The trip down took right at 3 hours for most of us and the last hikers in our group showed back up at the TH around 3 and 1/2 hours. No injuries and we got back in our vehicles right as it began to rain...what great timing.
We headed right back to camp, where we ate...in the rain...and everyone was dead to the world right at 9 pm.
We all woke up shortly before 6 am and got packed in and decided that we wanted to go home a faster way so we headed straight to Woodland Park and Manitou Springs to I-25 and headed south. Highway 24 is actually pretty neat and the views of Pikes Peak were really cool. It was fun listening to some of the kids mention how they were just up there the day before...I think it's pretty cool to think about too! 8)
Back to 3000 ft elevation and 105 degree heat...yuck.
One last shot of Pikes Peak from just N of Pueblo
Now....what to do next..........
A few of my observations and thoughts about this hike:
First off, I can not say enough good things about Mueller State Park. It is a great facility and I highly recommend it as a place to camp due to it's close vicinity to Crag's Campground.
Another note: This hike, while it is not too hard, is extremely long. You will want lots of water and luckily the folks that worked up at the summit store were very diligent to make sure we all had refilled our supplies before we left out.
The weather was great for us but you still need to get an early start to avoid storms. We were blessed with great conditions but it did start to thunder right as our last hikers were showing up at the TH. Due to it's length, I think taking first-timers on this route needs to be carefully thought out. It is a great route though and really, the distance is the only thing that made this route harder than usual. (To me anyways.)
The views from the summit are amazing. The wide open plains to the east and the Sangre de Cristo, Sawatch and Front Range mountains to the SW, W, NW, and N. I would almost think that you can see half of the state from Pikes. Just breathtaking.
As always, watch the skies. It is a great hike and the weather can change what is a great time into a cold, miserable experience.