| Pikes Peak - three attempts, two successful, one with accident.
Information resources: Roach – Colorado 14ers; 14ers.com – trip reports especially from winter climbs; people on the Barr Trail.
Estimate: 7410 feet of elevation gain, 26 miles round trip in 2 days.
Gear and equipment: Microspikes, Ice Axe, Poles, Gaiters, Hand Warmers.
Started-Finished: Saturday start 11.00 am - Barr Camp 3.30 pm; Sunday start 7.45 am – A Frame 10.00 am – Summit 12.50 pm – Barr Camp 4.30; Monday start 9.30 am – My car 12.00 pm…
Estimated route (probably wrong under the tree line)
The first time I hiked Pikes Peak, it was in September 13th 2008 via Crags Trail. It was a nice hike with about a foot of fresh snow on the summit but with the coffee shop open, overall very comfortable 14er. The second time I tried to hike Pikes Peak it was during Christmas 2009. I hiked with a group of friends via Barr trail and our plan was to stay two nights at the Barr Camp to have enough time and energy for the trip. On this trip, I fell about 200 feet on icy snowfield close to the 2 miles sign on the Grand Traverse, I dislocated both of my shoulders and with a lot of luck, the SAR crew was able to rescue me, I was fixed in the hospital and later I struggled with the shoulders until I had surgeries on both of them. Since then, I had a strong desire to hike Barr trail again, visit Barr Camp and meet with Neal, a camp taker, who happened to be the first SAR member to help me out of the mountain after my injury. I wanted to summit as well, but I learned my lesson and was ready to give up whenever the conditions seem bad, weather worsens or
I started on Saturday, March 3rd, at about 11 am. The weather was just gorgeous, sunny but not too warm, I parked down at the Ruxton Ave., its free; I didn’t want to pay 15 bucks at the trailhead. I packed all of the necessary equipment and the backpack was pretty heavy but I didn’t rush, this day, I only needed to get to the Barr Camp before the dinner and I guessed I had plenty of time.
The first switchbacks are supposedly steep, with lots of elevation gain but it still is well maintained trail, no big deal at all. There was a very icy area a little after the Incline intersection, at the 3.5 miles to Barr Camp sign, so I put on microspikes and let them on because the trail was packed snow all the way to Barr Camp from there.
Lower trail was nice, dry, warm but not too hot.
I could see Pikes Peak several times but the best view was about a mile before the camp.
First nice view of Pikes Peak
In the Camp, Meredith, one of the camp takers welcomed me at about 3.30 pm, there were other people and I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, drinking coffee, and talking with all of the nice people. Meredith helps Neal and Teresa, the main camp takers this time and she told me Neal will be there on Sunday. We had a dinner and I went through all of the materials about the history of the area that they have available for their guests.
Next morning, I ate the infamous Barr Camp pancakes, packed stuff for the trip to the summit and started at about 7.45 am and continued on hard packed snow trail using just microspikes and poles. 2 runners passed me aiming for the summit, we talked a little bit and I discussed if it’s better to hike the gully instead of following the trail above the tree line and they recommended the gully. I got to the A Frame pretty fast
At the A Frame
At the A Frame
I put off my sweaty shirt, stashed my poles, snowshoes, and a bottle of water there and continued towards the gully, fortunately, I could follow footprints of those two guys in front of me. There was almost no snow to the left of the gully, I went about 2/3 way up and then crossed it to the right (north) and continued directly up to the sign 16 golden stairs.
Gully above A Frame
Higher in the gully
Higher in the gully
I could identify the trail several times, the grand traverse, overlook to the Cirque but I didn’t try to follow it, instead, I went directly up.
Segments of the trail at 16 golden stairs
I knew that after the sign 16 golden stairs, the terrain gets steeper and I was hoping for the trail segments there. I found first two switchbacks but then it disappeared completely and I had to go straight up again, climbing between those big boulders, over some small snow fields, actually, not that big of a problem, especially with ice axe and microspikes.
I got to the summit at 12.50, took some pictures, forced myself to eat a sandwich and a snickers and drunk some water. Then I started hike down, I took some pictures of the steeper section on the way back.
I went all the way down on the north side (left on the descent) of the gully and it was a mistake, I hiked into some larger snowfields and did not feel very comfortable there. The snow was too soft to glissade, too deep to simply hike through, small trees made deep holes in it. It was not dangerous; I just had to use too much energy to pass through. The best would be crossing the gully again. I made it to the A-frame and then it was very fast hike all the way to the Barr Camp.
I finally met with Neal. We talked a lot, he helped me to fill up the blind spots from my accident, I learned how the SAR work, he told me a lot about the mountain and life there. We had a dinner, this time another lady stayed overnight, so it was overall a very nice evening.
Back at the Barr Camp, Neal Taylor (left) and I (right).
In the morning, we fed birds and squirrels and after the breakfast, I packed my stuff and went down to my car. It was three (technically 2) beautiful days on Pikes Peak.
I borrowed this title from an article that Neal wrote after one of his first SAR organized rescue trips on Pikes Peak. I can’t find a more appropriate title for a trip I would like to describe here.
Dates hiked: December 28-29th 2009.
Crew: Milan + 4 friends
During one of the bad skiing days in Keystone during Christmas 2009, friends of mine invited me on their trip to Pikes Peak; they were doing the same trip annually, with two nights at Barr Camp and with the main goal to have fun. As far as I know, most times they did not summit the peak because of the weather or snow conditions. This time shouldn’t be different and I wanted to join them because it sounded fun. We all met in Manitou springs at around noon, had a lunch and were pretty late at the trailhead. We knew we would go a large part in darkness but we had our head lamps ready, it was supposed to be full moon that night and its pretty well hiked trail. We did not care much about the time.
It got dark in about middle of our way to Barr Camp
We got to the camp at about 8 pm, we had the small lodge for ourselves and had some fun before we went sleeping.
In the morning, we went for the breakfast at 7 but then it took forever to pack our stuff, filter enough water and hit the trail, I think we started at like 9.30. The trail to the A Frame was packed snow with some minor postholing when we got off the trench. At the A Frame, we realized that 3 of us - I, Rico and Stacey are in a good shape, we were there pretty fast and had no problems, but the rest of the group felt sick, they were slow and decided to go back to the camp. The three of us decided to continue. We followed the trail as it was partly covered with snow. We met two people and asked about the conditions above us and they told they couldn’t continue, because there is a big icy snowfield that they were not able to avoid and since they didn’t have traction, they had to go back.
A Frame in the morning.
We decided to continue and see. We passed the sign 12 700 feet/2 miles at about 12.30 pm and just started the grand traverse but after several hundred yards we came to the frozen snowfield.
Thats how the trail just before the grand traverse looked.
We put out our gear. Rico only had an ice axe, so he started to dig steps. I put on my snowshoes, they are the Denali type with those iron spikes at the bottom, so the traction just seemed perfect and I had poles. Stacey was the only person with proper gear; she had crampons and an ice axe. Rico started but once I had my snowshoes on with the nice traction, I quickly passed him. I tried to soften the snow for him using bottoms of my snowshoes. Stacey stayed behind for a couple minutes fighting with the crampon straps but she caught up fast. At the end of the snowfield, I needed to hike little higher to reach a rock rib that I needed to continue over. However, when I put my weight on the left leg, I realized that the snow is frozen just at the surface and there is “crystal sugar” or what’s called facets underneath. The icy layer broke apart over an area of about square yard and I lost balance. The snowshoes prevented me from going through the snow and reaching harder layer or rock underneath and regain the traction, so I fell on my stomach and started to slide down without control. I knew the only way to slow down is to use the snow shoes’ bottoms, so I turned to my back and used them to break. It helped but I still stopped by hitting a small boulder field. Fortunately, I was head up. After I stopped, about 200 feet lower, I felt great. I am OK but shaken, give me several minutes, I’ll drink and eat and we can continue. Then a horrible pain in my shoulders started and I realized, I couldn’t put off my backpack to get water. Then Stacey came. Rico went back to the rocky area, he realized that without traction, he can’t continue. We figured out that I dislocated both of my shoulders and Stacey proposed to call 911. I responded I needed to try if I can make it on my own first. I could not. It took many attempts, maybe 15 minutes but dislocated shoulders not only put you in horrible pain, they also mean no stability. You make a step and you fall because your two heavy hands just do a random and painful movement. So at the end, I sat on a boulder, asked Stacey to call and she did so. They transferred us to the local sheriff, she told him what happened and they started a rescue operation.
First, they send a message to Neal in Barr Camp – fall close to the 2 mile sign. Then they gathered people and equipment and drove a car to the summit of Pikes Peak and then they informed medical helicopter but waited with it until Neal reaches us and evaluates the situation.
Meanwhile, I was sitting on the boulder; bending forwards reduced the pain from 9 to 7.5 on 1-10 scale. I knew I needed to stay warm, so I forced myself to shiver and in a while, I did not need to force myself, I simply was very cold. We could not exchange my sweaty clothes; we only could put extra stuff on me. Stacey gave me some hand warmers into my gloves and boots. She removed my snowshoes. Sherriff called again to ask how we were doing and we said we were freezing. (Neal told me, that at this point they send the helicopter and stopped waiting till he gets to us and evaluates what happened). Neal himself came in less than 90 minutes, we saw him and Stacey waved but he did not show up for another half an hour. During the recent visit, he told me he encountered the snowfield that just continued under the rocks I landed on and it was too icy and too dangerous and it took him so long to find a safe passage. He checked what happened, confirmed the dislocated shoulders, soon we saw the helicopter. Fortunately there was a landing spot about 300 yards far from us. The chopper went there and stayed hovering. Neal told me, that the group from the summit has stretcher and they are ready to descent to our position, put me on it and carry to the helicopter but it would take them at least several more hours. I answered: “I am cold, if you do something to prevent those hands from movement and if you are able to find me the route, I will go on my own.” (recently I learned that to get to us, it would probably take the rescuers from the summit till the morning, I think I would get severe frostbite by then, sometimes one decision can make the whole difference). So, Neal duct taped my hands to the body. I looked like a mummy. It was a genius solution, it worked. Then, we needed to descend the icy snowfield. Neal and Stacey were exploring the route. Stacey was digging steps in the icy crust using the ice axe and Neal was kicking steps using his boots. They could not help me, there was nothing to grab on me. At some points, I postholed. It’s extremely difficult to get out of a posthole without hands. Overall, it took us just little less than an hour to down climb those 300 yards, I had to stop every 10 steps and take deep breath and bend over to reduce the pain. Meanwhile, the helicopter was low on fuel and had to land but they let the engine running. They put me on a stretcher and lifted me to the cabin. There was a pilot and a nurse, who started to take care of me. The door hit my shoulder and the other shoulder hit the pilots’ chair when they were closing the cabin, so I bend and this allowed me to see the beauty of the land underneath in sunset. In about 15 minutes, we got to the hospital. They put off my jacket and cut through my shirts. The doctor came and said that both of my collar bones are broken and they took me to X-ray. The result – nothing was broken, only the shoulders were dislocated so unusually, that they were in front, on my chest. They gave me anesthesia and then put the joints in their sockets and sent me to the waiting room to call someone to pick me up. So I called my friends, one of them left the Barr Camp, run down to the trailhead, took his car and picked me up, drove me to a motel where we stayed till the morning. Then we went to Manitou Springs and waited for my friends to come down and go back home.
Pikes Peak, looks tame but it can bait.
Approximate place of the accident.
At the end, I dislocated my shoulders three more times and then I had surgeries on both - now they are supposed to be fixed. I know now that ice axe, crampons/microspikes (and much more gear) are the elementary equipment if there is snow in the mountains, the accident happened when I felt in good shape and though my traction is just perfect, so now I don’t stop paying attention when I just feel great. I hiked many snowfields in late spring/summer before this accident but none in winter before – learned that snow is different. Since then, I’ve been learning stuff on many trips to the mountains including all seasons.
Also I learned that there are many people, who volunteer for the SAR, they give up their comfort, leave their homes whenever it is necessary and someone needs help out there. I could say "thank you" to Neal but there was the crew who drove to the summit, the helicopter pilot, the nurse...They all do a great job. Thank you people.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):