| Pikes Peak via The Crags Trailhead - Sun, January 15, 2006
Based on favorable trailhead and trail information I decided the time was right for a winter ascent of Pikes Peak. With snow predicted to move in on Sunday evening, the window of opportunity would soon close. I arrived at The Crags Trailhead at 0640 finding the 3.5 miles access road from highway 67 to be in excellent condition - well graded dirt or firm packed snow suitable for my four door sedan.
The trail from the parking area through the forest to timberline was packed snow and easy to follow. From timberline to the ridge it was mostly shallow windpacked snow with the trail impossible to find/follow. It was windy, but sunny and beautiful. As described in various route directions, the trail parallel to the Pikes Peak toll road was spotty and difficult to follow. However, snow cover was thin and the hiking generally easy. The final 500-700 feet to the summit was fun class two scrambling, but on the way down the wind had picked up and made the talus hopping challenging...
I summited at 1120 and after a lengthy 30 minute lunch I began my rapid descent. Although clouds were building, it remained sunny until the final hour of my descent. I returned to the car at 1440 just in time to see the first few flurries falling. All in all, a well timed winter climb to eliminate one more 14er from my list. I found neither snowshoes nor crampons were necessary for this climb.
Someone messaged me and asked for a more detailed/insightful route description. Since several people have expressed an interest in doing Pikes Peak as a winter climb I am adding the following:
I have never hiked this route in the summer, so I dont know how easy it is to follow without snow. I referred to the route descrition and map from this website - and that is all I carried with me. However, I also rely on Dawsons Guide to Colorados Fourteeners - Volume II (The Southern Peaks). In the description of Pikes Peak there is a black and white photo that shows the closed service road and the route along the Pikes Peak Toll Road. But I think you can get by without this "image" in your mind. (But I will brag a little and say that I have always found myself to be good at maintaining my orientation and with creative routefinding...)
The trailhead is easy to find and get to. From the trailhead the trail through the woods is heavily travelled and easy to follow to timberline. It is actually marked with pink surveyors tape on several trees - until the trees run out at 11,900 or so. From timberline you just make your way southeast up an open slope up to the ridge referred to in the route description. I think there is a decent trail up this slope in the summer, but it is impossible to find with all of the shallow wind packed snow right now. I was able to find a few footprints from the previous day, but I was not able to follow them consistently. I think everyone just headed up to the lowest point on the ridge. (If you head up slightly to the left the sunrise will hit you sooner - and warm you).
Once on the top of the ridge you will head east (I think) across well packed and windblown snow and find a old road (covered by snow) that winds eastward. It will go around a few rock spurs and is easy to follow. It leads a half mile toward the Pikes Peak Toll Road and you will find a cable barricade at the Devils Playground area where you are heading. Cross the Toll Road and hike on the other side of the cable on that side of the parking area. This trail is hard to follow consistently, but generally wanders parallel to the road for a while. If you are good at map reading, just keep the map from the route description in your pocket and estimate the traila location distance from the road from the map. This area is mostly open and you can see the summit way off in the distance (2 miles away). Hard to get lost. You will actually have to walk on the road for 50-100 feet at a few of the roads turns because there is no way to stay below the road (dropoffs with steep snow).
I did like the instructions said and stayed slightly up on the side of point 13,363. Make sure you look up and down this slope for the best place for you to traverse. There was steep windpacked snow on the E side of this slope. I am pretty good at "edging" with my boots on steep slopes, so I did not take off my ice axe or use crampons, but a slip on this slope could lead to an interesting slide. It was easy by my standards, but I recommend caution.
Once past this point, you just rejoin the road at the corner and then follow a faded trail directly up toward the summit. It is 500+ feet of class 2 scrambling. The rock was dry and good for talus hopping when I did it, but the snow between the rocks could be deep in places and I postholed the few times I did not hop from rock to rock.