| The Mundane Switchbacks - Pikes Peak
It has been a slow summer being away to China for a month, then pulling my calf after too much running because I was ashamed by my teammates at the 2011 Tough Mudder. So after much rest and fulfilling my duty for the week, my wife gave me the okay to try Pikes Peak, again, for the 3rd time. This is officially the 14th summit, but I have tried previously 2x 2 years ago back in October of 2007.
1st time ended in failure as my husky, Maximus was too clumsy to scramble on top of the icy boulders from the Crags approach.
Later in the same month, I was too naive to believe someone that I could complete the whole 26 mile r/t in 6 hours. So starting casually at 9am, I made it to 1 mile from the summit at 4pm but decided to run down the mountain before pitch darkness... It was one of the most horrible trekking experiences I have ever had; reactivated an old knee injury and an ankle sprain. It was stupid hiking 3 hours in pitch darkness without a torch. So this will be the 3rd attempt, and hopefully a successful one for Pikes which have eluded me previously.
I get to the TH @ 530am. It's still pitch dark, but the parking lot for Barr's trail is already 90% full. Looks like tailgate party. I pack my backpack, this time with over 4L of water, snacks, shells for the journey.
I take the Incline, instead of the Barr's trail to avoid the endless switchbacks. The trail was full already with people with headlamps up and down, must be some kind of group fitness thing from our local military community or college campuses. I get to the top 1 hour later, ~ 630am, slower than I thought since usually I can do it under 45 mins, perhaps it's the extra baggage I am hauling. Sun is breaking through the horizon.
I mistakenly take the wrong switch back (the one on the left) that connects the Incline back to a power generator of some sort rather than back to Barr's. It was no big deal, alleviated my business and back tracked and took the middle wide path with tire marks and got me back on track in 20 mins. Sunrise is full now and you can see Pike's Peak thin layer of snow of the recent precipitations.
Suddenly, I feel so tired, the way I usually feel after the completion of the summit. Am I hypoglycemic, or did that Incline approach, even though saving me 2 miles of switch backs, already spend me? So I just awed at the beautiful colors of the fall.
It's now past 8am, and become weary that I haven't reached Barr's camp yet, but the clearing looks nice.
Finally, despite optimistic doubt that I perhaps already passed Barr's Camp, 30 minutes later around 850am I see first sign of Barr's Camp. I am half way completed the ascent!
Ideally at Barr's Camp you can resupply, water, food, rest just like Max is doing, but since I have 4L+ of water I press on. Resupplying I think would've been wiser, allowing to carry less, move faster and save more energy.
As Max and I resume our hike to the summit, I see a couple for are older (50's) making to Barr's Camp. They looked fit with their power poles. We press on through more switch backs in the dense forest.
We reach the Timberline Shelter ~ 1045am. On my previous attempt I had visited the shelter, which was spartan but would serve any hiker well during a snow blizzard, and the view was just stunning!
I take care of my business 2 more times. Crazy, especially I hadn't eaten that much, must be all that walking activating my gastrocolic reflex. Max always patiently waits.
By now the 2 older couples passes us just before we reach the tree line. I feel like Max and I are not making good pace. We reach above 12,000 feet ~ 1110am. And the beauty sets in. It was a chill day and I had my newly bought Arcteryx shell on the whole time, it did the job.
We continue more switch backs in the open now, ~ 1140am we reach the 2 mile marker. Having made it here previously, I know the most difficult portion remains up ahead, where the screes will be covered with loose snow and ice, and it can take up to 2 more hours to reach the summit. My 2L bladder is now dry, so I refill it with my Nalgene reserve and take out my iceaxe, just in case...
It was a beautiful sunny day, with occasional blast of arctic wind that reminds you to keep moving. Can anyone tell me what that lake/reservoir is? And if it's possible to hike there with the family for picnic on a sunny day?
We reach the snow scree. From Colorado Springs, the snow appears to be patches, but up here, it's a different feel. Lucky for me this time, snow is soft and not packed or icy, and my Teva shoes provided enough Gore-Tex protect for me without the need to take out my gaiters.
Max is happiest in his natural habitat as he poses for the camera.
Once in a while in can hear a reverberation of the train on the Cog's rail echoing through the canyon.
We reach the 1 mile marker according to the time stamp on the camera and it is just before 1230pm... I am now day-dreaming of some hot food when I reach the summit. Because fruit snacks, hard salami and pistachios just get boring after awhile.
We now reach the Cirque, which is a cool 1500 feet straight drop. Impressive but not terribly exciting, by now you have hiked our own 6000 feet windy-way up plus a dozen miles.
I now reach the "16 Golden Stairs"... must be close to the summit, not sure why they are call it that, because there were no gold nor stairs, at least not just 16 of them, more like 600 more steps.
So we march on more switch backs, and now I catch a glimpse of the older couple as they push themselves towards the summit. I must have made up some time on the snow scree. They were wearing regular tennis shoes, so I bet it was pretty slippery and not mention, their toes must be soaking wet by now.
We reach the summit at just before 130pm, a total of 7 hours since the start at the TH. Not lot of tourist up at top. It was cold, windy and wet.
At the Welcome Center in the summit, ate a quick lunch combo of Mountain Dew, BBQ sandwich and French Fries, we were on the road again. You may consider not getting the French Fries which was way over salted. Grabbed 2 more Hersey's chocolate bar before heading out. Gosh, only 13 miles back home. Fun!
And it was good timing too, by now just before 2pm, the dark scary clouds have rolled in. I remembered those clouds last time on Evans. Time to haul ass.
I guess Barr's trail was named after some dude named Fred Barr who built the whole trail? Impressive!
The picture below shows you the type of snow scree you will encounter going up and down. Looks worse than it is, just budget about 1 mile per hour the last 2 miles when going up and you will be safe.
This is the starting of the snow scree, this part actually looks better than it is, because if you slip then it will be a nice tumble down.
By now I noticed that my Teva shoe was coming undone, I pray to just let it last until I reach out of the snow patch and hopefully to the TH.
As I pass the 2 mile marker, I bid farewell to a father and son combo (both older, like 60s and 30s) still heading up. It's about 320pm, and I hope they will catch the last train otherwise will have to hike in the dark back down like I did 2 years ago.
I start running, huffing and puffing stoping at Barr's camp to ask if someone had recovered my beloved hiking pole that I had used for almost 15 years. No luck, but did trim my shoe off with pair of borrowed scissors.
I manage to reach back to the top of Incline at 6pm and call my wife who wants to eat at Adam's Cafe in Manitou Springs. It takes me 30 minutes to hobble and wobble down the incline steps. I guess my threshold for pain and tolerance is ~ 12 hours or 20 miles. I get to the TH and there's a parking ticket waiting for me. Manitou Springs is now charging parking fees even at the TH, something I could not have seen or known at 530am. So make sure you pay at this tiny booth by the bathroom near the Barr's TH.
Thanks for reading and good climbing to ya!
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