| Pikes -- Crags Route, Ski Descent
Hitting the Road
It had been way too long since my last 14er trip, so I called up my climbing buddy Chuck and planned a quick trip to Pikes Peak. The Crags Route is the standard winter route, and after reviewing doumall and maverick_manley's trip report from last year, we hit the road. We agreed to meet up on Friday night near Colorado Springs.
I first had to drive down to Santa Fe to pick up my newly mounted skis (Dynafit Vertical ST, Ski Trab FreeRando). I grabbed my new incredibly light set up, and hopped on I-25 for the long drive up to Colorado.
Chuck and I met up at Billy‘s Old World Pizza (308 S 8th St, Unit 8, Colorado Springs), which is immediately on your left as you turn onto US 24 from I-25. They agreed to let us leave a car in their parking lot, and we enjoyed the all you can eat pizza / Italian buffet. We got back on the road, and made our way to the Crags Campground.
We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the road was open all the way to the campground. We slept in the car, and set the alarm for 3am. Back in my sleeping bag for the first time in a month, I slept like a baby.
New Gear to Test
Part of this trip was about trying out some new gear. For a long time, I‘ve been using insulated water parkas with my water. I have had some bottles freeze, but in general they have worked well. On this trip, I wanted to try out a new, all-metal (vacuum) Sigg thermos for comparison (thanks, Scott P).
Also, I‘ve been using Fritschi bindings (Diamir 2, Freeride) for about 10 years. I finally bought a pair of Dynafits (Vertical ST) to go with my new Trab FreeRando skis. I was really looking forward to seeing how they would perform.
On the Trail
(NOTE: As usual, my pics are from the descent for better lighting.)
We woke up, got dressed, and put our climbing skins on our skis. After eating some food, and grabbing a thermos of hot water (great suggestion, Scott P), We were on the trail by 4am. The first "route-finding" on the trip was trying to find the trail that leaves the main road. We never did see the pipes that Dawson and Roach describe. However, the correct trail departs to the right immediately past campsite #8:
We continued to follow a very well-packed trail through tree line. This picture shows the typical trail:
Eventually, we came to a fairly wide-open meadow. We had a choice: continue on the trail through the meadow...
... or head up directly through the snow slope:
That snow slope would eventually become our ski descent, but we wanted to stick to the edge of the slope as much as possible. We followed the trail through the meadow, and hit edge of the slope. Here, we found a very safe ascent path as we worked through the rocks:
As we got to the big rocks in the image above, we had another choice to make. We weren‘t sure whether to go to the right...
... or whether to go straight up:
(We also should have ditched our skis here.) We chose to go right to avoid climbing up a slope until we could see better. We found some rock scrambling, some post-holing, but in general an easy path over to the next rib. However, we should have just kept climbing straight up. There was no snow, and it would have been a more direct, easy climb. We ended up in the same spot, looking at more climbing ahead to reach the top rock formation:
When we reached the top of the slope pictured above, we finally ditched our skis, as the remaining climb looked really dry. At this point, the sun wasn‘t yet up, and we recorded a temperature of 0F, with estimated winds of 30-40 mph. This gives a wind chill of around -25F. This was the coldest I've been in Colorado. We both put on our full expedition parkas for the remainder of the climb. We hadn't had to do this since summit day on Denali three years ago.
We followed the dirt road/trail leading through the formations:
Eventually, we hit the main Pikes Peak Road.
Here, we crossed the road, and followed the trail that parallels the road about 50-100‘ above it. We kept to the trail, and off the road, which actually put us on a potential avalanche slope (heavily wind-loaded) on a hill that goes between the road and the trail. (Sorry, I didn‘t get a good picture of this.) We minimized exposure by staying towards the bottom, where some dirt and rocks separated the slope from above. After crossing the slope, we made our way back towards the road and the upper mountain:
At the end of the corner, we got back on the trail by heading up the next hill:
We finally arrived at the bottom of the summit slope:
We followed the well-cairned trail up the slopes:
We neared the summit on the final traverse:
The summit appeared at last:
We followed the road from here, and arrived on top. It was 10am, for an ascent time of 6 hours. We were surprised to see the train crew approach. They were clearing the tracks with a large snowblower (capable of moving 9‘ snow drifts!) and assessing the weather (mostly the wind) to see if the train would be able to run. They were surprised to see us on top!
At this point, the temperature was 10F with 32 mph sustained winds, and gusts up to 39 mph (measured over a 1 minute period). The resulting wind chill was around -15F. After about 30 minutes on top, we began the descent.
The descent took longer than either of us planned. We ran into three other groups on the way down. It was still cold -- we kept our parkas on all the way back to the large rocks where we could put our skis on.
I was excited to get some turns in. I skied the (skier‘s) right side of the slope, next to our skin tracks on the top part of the slope to minimize avy risk. As the slope mellowed out a little bit, I waited for Chuck to downclimb the slope above (after all, this is his first backcountry ski trip!). I measured the slope of the next section as below 30 degrees. I got in some great turns and really enjoyed the skiing. Chuck continued to downclimb back to the flat meadow.
Once we hit the trail in the meadow, Chuck put his skis on, and we skied down the trail all the way to the car. This was really fun, and somewhat unique: the trail was constantly downhill the entire way! We arrived at the car at about 3:15, for a round-trip time of 11 hours, 15 minutes.
Thermos: The thermos worked amazingly well. My water was still steaming hot at the end of the trip, which was 24+ hours after I filled it up. I was very surprised. For comparison, my Vitamin Water, kept in my insulating water bottle jacket, was quite slushy/frozen by the end of the day.
Dynafits: I was amazed at how well the Dynafits performed. They skied well, but they climbed hands-down better than the Fritschi‘s. Climbing was a breeze -- minimal friction and no extra weight (bar + heal piece) on each step. I haven‘t ever had that much energy left at the end of my climb.
Trabs: The Trabs were great. The ski technician asked me what the skis were made of -- he had trouble sinking the screws on the binding mount. They are incredibly light, and yet ski like a much beefier ski. (I usually ski on Volkl Explosiv skis.) I saved more than 10 lb on my ski set up over my Explosiv/Freeride set-up.
End of the Trip
We drove back to Billy‘s for another round of pizza. I‘d highly recommend stopping by their restaurant for great food, friendly service, and carpooling.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):