| Cheeseburger in Paradise - Pikes via Crags
MOUNTAIN: Pikes Peak (14,110')
ROUTE: Northwest Slopes
RT DISTANCE: 13.25 miles
RT GAIN: 4300'
RT TIME: 8.5 hours (8:45 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.)
CLIMBERS: Rob (RJansen77), Jeff (SurfNTurf)
(All photos taken by Rob.)
The previous weekend was a total wash because of the weather, and I’ll be at sea level for four days over Thanksgiving. So really, not getting into the mountains Saturday wasn’t an option. Once again, however, the forecast seemed to have it out for us. But Rob (RJansen77) and I were determined to hike no matter what, so we simply chose the mountain with the most reasonable weather: Pikes Peak.
Oh, and by reasonable weather I of course mean winds forecast for anywhere between 50 and 90 miles per hour with gusts hitting the triple digits. At least it was (mostly) sunny.
We car-camped the night before at the Crags TH because I wanted to test out my new four-season Black Diamond Firstlight tent. We hung out for a bit, talked about climbing, drank a few beers and staggered off to bed around 9:30.
The wind was supposed to decrease as the day went on, so we opted not to set an alarm and got a leisurely start at about 8:45. Rob hadn’t brought skis or flotation, and I decided on-the-fly to leave my snowshoes in the car. It was the right call. Microspikes were helpful almost immediately, though. The lower trail is covered in thin ice/snow and it’s unavoidable until you reach Devil’s Playground. There’s a nice wide track in areas where the snow is deeper.
We followed the obvious path through the snow all the way to treeline, and then just picked what we thought was the easiest line to the saddle. We were wrong. On the way down, we discovered a nice boot-packed trench interspersed with trail segments that we somehow missed altogether. Climbing up our own way, we had to deal with loose talus and soft knee-deep snow. We’d been cruising up until that point, but gaining the ~1,000 feet from treeline to the saddle proved to be slow going.
Once we popped over the saddle, Devil’s Playground, the famous road and Pikes Peak itself came into view. So close, yet so far away. I’m not too familiar with Pikes, and I was surprised to find the road basically in summer shape. We even saw a car driving back and forth. I didn’t know the summit was open to tourists this late in the year – more on that later.
The winds, which were nonexistent below treeline, had been pretty moderate (30-40 mph) up until Devil’s Playground. Not anymore. We started to get hammered at about 13,000’ and it got worse and worse and worse. I’ve been in clocked winds of about 70mph, but never before had I been knocked around like that. I don’t want to guess the wind speed because I’m sure I’d be exaggerating, but suffice it to say the conditions were brutal. We staggered onward like drunks.
oh, well hello Pikes. And your atrocious wind.
Can you see me? It might be hard because of my subdued color scheme.
Gaining the gorgeous road
On a side note, I was utterly shocked at how well my Patagonia Nanopuff performed in the wind. I didn’t even put on my hard shell until the way down.
We followed the road where we could. Unfortunately, many of the straightaways climbed directly into the wind. Every step felt like my legs were covered in cement. I was knocked forward, backward, left and right – at points I had to hunch over just to take a breath. Rob, being the cross country runner he is, hardly seemed affected at all and made me feel like a lard ass. Thankfully he didn’t mind waiting as I struggled to keep up.
Me, hiking up the road
We left the road for the final pitch up snow and ice-covered talus. We could have stayed on the pavement, but the last stretch headed directly into the wind and we were pretty over it by that point. Rob beat me to the top and a couple hundred feet later I joined him. When the summit came into view, I saw his bright green wind shirt in the middle of a pack of…wait, what? Tourists?
I had no idea the train runs this late in the year. We shared the summit, quite unexpectedly, with a whole gaggle of adventurous folks who seemed incredulous we’d walked up in those winds. Even better – the gift shop and restaurant was open! Normally I have to wait until after the hike to get a cheeseburger. Not this time. No sir. A few gleeful noises and $20 later, I was sitting in a heated booth woofing down a cheeseburger, french fries, Sprite and a free donut.
Second best summit ever.
The restaurant closed and the train ferrying the tourists departed. With nothing left to do, Rob and I grudgingly suited back up and headed down. We again stuck to the road, this time with the gusts mostly at our backs. I caught a hell of a second wind. I thank the summit cheeseburger. It is my opinion that every peak should have a mandatory fast food restaurant on top.
One quick gripe – I didn’t notice it during the ascent, but that damn road has more than a few “ups.” So mentally prepare yourself for that. On the plus side, the views of the Sangres are amazing. The range looks like one giant steely rampart from Pikes.
Sangre de Cristo Range
Rob, probably smiling under there somewhere
Views on the descent
Back through Devil's Playground
Saying farewell to Pikes
Looks ike a fun ridge
Between the saddle and treeline
We eventually left the road, meandered back through Devil’s Playground and started down the saddle. The sunset was a real treat. We were faced with about three or four different snow tracks to follow, and though I’m sure they all led to the same place we were a bit worried about choosing the wrong path and getting lost in the dark. Luckily we were able to find the main track below treeline shortly before light became an issue.
Once on that, we were able to book it out of there. We beat total darkness by only a few minutes, arriving at the TH shortly before headlamps became necessary. It didn't hit me until I got home and was updating my Peak Checklist, but it turns out Pikes was my Front Range finisher to boot.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):