| Pikes Peak by Barr Trail, almost
On Saturday, 3/24, I took a stab at Pikes Peak via the Barr Trail. I've made the climb before, but never up and down in one day.
In a nutshell, things would have been fine but for a few small mistakes.
The first (biggest) mistake was starting too late. After a leisurely breakfast, I hit the trail at 9:00 AM. I don't mind hiking down the rail in the dark if it means saving a few precious hours of morning sleep. Later in the summer, frequent afternoon thunderstorms take this option off the table.
My gear was just about right : I had an ice axe, trekking poles, Ice Trekkers, a few warm layers, and food.
I made it to the top of the incline by 10:06, and to Barr camp by 11:51, or 2.85 hours. I heard a rule of thumb that people take about one hour more for the second half, which would be 4-ish hours to go. Had I done the math at the time, I wouldn't have spent such a leisurely lunch at Barr Camp. But it was beautiful day, I was feeling great, and thought I had plenty of time.
So I left Barr Camp at 12:51, and trucked on up to the A-frame by 14:33. Trail conditions were excellent : mostly snow after Barr Camp, but well compacted and crunchy: not much hard ice. Also, for the first time ever I tried taking an Ibuprofen (at Barr Camp) and to my pleasant surprise had no altitude symptoms (previously I was really foggy-headed and my vision sort of got dim and tingly).
Anyway, even this late in the day, I didn't see any problem coming. Physically I was feeling better than ever, and I decided that if I left gear behind at the A-frame, I'd have plenty of time to summit and get back to the A-frame before it got too cold/dark. It was about 15:00 when I headed out. But I made two new mistakes : I didn't bring anything warmer than the long-sleeve-base layer and pants I already had on, and although I filled two water bottles at the A-Frame I forgot to put the iodine tablets in ! By the time I realized this it was too late : no safe drinking water.
I had been up to the A-frame the week before, so I already knew what conditions to expect. But after the A-frame was a surprise. I knew that several people had summitted recently, in fact I saw Neal on his way down from a run. But as I followed the trail, I kept running into patches of snow that were too big to go around without abandoning the trail altogether. So I followed the footsteps/bike-tracks of others right over the snow, and ended up post-holing over and over again. Prior to the A-frame, I sank up to mid-shin maybe 3 times; now, I was kind of holding my breath on each step, trying to be ultra-smooth in my motion, but every couple of steps I'd be up to my thigh. (I weigh 187 and wear a size 10.5 wide, if that matters.) I'm thinking the big problem is how late in the afternoon it was; this was a gorgeous, warm day, so the snow was probably a lot softer than when most other people were on it. Having the ice axe was definitely helpful, even if only for confidence and a bit of extra stability.
Anyway, by the time I made it out of all those switchbacks and to the start of the big traverse South, the trail was clear and I was hankering to start covering some distance. About halfway across the traverse the sun popped down behind the summit, and it suddenly started feeling colder. Although the day had been extremely calm, a tiny bit of wind started blowing in from down the slope, and I could feel my hands starting to get cold. So not only was I racing against time, I also had body temperature to worry about. And the fact that I was wearing sunglasses made it feel like darkness was fast approaching; duh !
Most stories with tragic endings usually have a happy beginning and a middle where little things start going wrong. I didn't want to be part of such a story, so I decided to tag in at the cirque at the south end of the traverse and get back to my gear. I'll summit again some other day.
The descent was smooth and uneventful, apart from losing the trail above the A-frame for a bit when I tried to get around the snow. I got to Barr Camp by 6:45, and after a little rest and pampering of feet, I set off into the dusky evening at 19:30. I made it to the parking lot by 10:00, very glad to be done.
The take-away :
* Get an early start ! Even if you're not a "morning" person.
* Definitely bring MicroSpikes or some other traction aid.
* Be ready for snow/ice conditions to be different from what others may have reported.