| Barr Trail Attempt
Route: Barr Trail
RT Length to A-Frame: 18 to 20 Miles
Gain: ~5,200 Feet
Participants: stevevets689, tweak
After a tough attempt on Centennial 13er, "Lackawanna" in the Sawatch Range, I was in the mood for another tough attempt on a big peak. With the mindset that President's Day weekend shouldn't be wasted, I hunted for a long trip that would thoroughly wear me out. Options included Mt. Elbert, West Spanish Peak, and Pikes via Barr Trail. Eventually, Pikes won out. I got my hall mate, Josh, to go with me and made plans to stay the night at the A-Frame at timberline, deciding that the camp located halfway up, Barr Camp, was too expensive. I would come to realize that it's probably worth every cent.
Friday came along and Josh and I headed out with Josh's roommate, Spencer, who lives in Colorado Springs and offered us a place to stay that night. We arrived at Spencer's place at around 8:30 or so and talked with Spencer's family about Pikes for a bit, received soda and "death by chocolate" and finally crashed at about 9:30. Despite the hospitality we had received, I was still restless and slept very little that night. We got up at 2:00 AM and had coffee and bagels that had been prepared for us. I left a note for the family, thanking them and letting them know where we were going and about when we would be back. We definitely were aided by Spencer's family and I cannot express how thankful we are for the chance to stay at their place.
We drove to the trailhead just outside Manitou Springs and were hiking by around 4:30 AM (I think). The initial part of the trail starts with the trail's most memorable feature… uncountable switchbacks. With a starting elevation of 6,700 feet, you have to climb upwards in a hurry before you can start moving west towards the long distant goal of Pikes. After over an hour we started a more consistent westward movement as the sun started to come up. The trail was in decent condition, with some icy spots at the beginning and moving into hard packed snow. We moved through endless aspen and spruce forests as the trail incessantly moved westward.
The snowpacked trail in early morning light
What do you mean, too early for pictures?
Pikes in the distance
The trail about ¾ of a mile to Barr Camp
After hours of hiking we arrived at Barr Camp. We stopped by for a break and to let the caretakers know what we were up to. Barr Camp is operated by a husband and wife, Neil and Theresa, who basically live there all the time. Neil wasn't there but Theresa welcomed us in and offered us leftover pancakes from that morning's breakfast. She offered us excellent beta on the route and we stayed a while and fed the incredibly friendly birds that flock to the camp. The warmth and hospitality of the camp already had me wondering about my A-frame plan.
Barr Camp, about half a mile. These signs are not exact.
Welcome to Barr Camp!
One of the friendly visitors
Hungry, are we?
Josh iodized some water for us and we got moving again. Now the trail isn't quite as well packed down, and we had a few post hole occasions, but it was still pretty good. At this stage in the game, we were now actually on the slopes of Pikes as the trail switchbacks up and then takes a long leftward slant. Then the trail starts switchbacking again, and we started watching for the exit for the A-Frame. My Trails Illustrated map showed that it should show up after the second left turn, and Josh's USGS Topo print said it would be after the third left turn. Well, it didn't matter much as the trail finally gets too snowy to follow. We had a report from a couple on their way down that they couldn't find the A-Frame and we were starting to doubt whether we could or not, but then another hiker came down saying that he did find it. He told us to follow his tracks, and not the snowshoe tracks that were also up there.
Yes, we actually hiked up from all the way out there…
It was time for us to put on snowshoes. We did our best to follow said hiker's route, but eventually it turned under a rock, up the side, and disappeared as he must have crossed the rock. Josh was leading and followed the tracks to the side of the rock. I watched his progress as he started climbing, and he slowed down immensely as the snow turned to sugar and he had serious issues gripping the ground. I decided that the snow on the other side of the rock was firmer and used the traction of my snowshoes to get up. This was working really well until I was over halfway up the snowslope. At that point, I heard my second "whomph" in two weekends, but this time I was actually on a slope that could slide. It wasn't a big slope or a thick slab, but it wouldn't be fun to ride this down, and I very slowly and carefully made my way above the fracture line I had made. Once I finally moved to the side and to safety, my heart had a chance to rest. It was some of the scariest elevation gain I had encountered. In the meantime, Josh was having his own struggle as he removed his snowshoes to try to have better grip. He had to ascend slick, sugar snow covered rock in stiff mountaineering boots, and came close to stumbling a few times. He eventually got to the top of the rock, put on his snowshoes again, and caught up to me.
Josh heading up a steep slope
After a bit of trailblazing through the trees mainly led by Josh, we found the trail sign that pointed out the A-Frame. We later found out that Gerry Roach puts the A-Frame at 11,900 feet after 15 switchbacks, so it's no wonder people have a hard time finding it, especially in winter. We had hiked 9 to 10 miles and gained over 5,000 feet, and were exhausted. We quickly got to work on settling in for the night. The A-Frame was partially open, but most of the opening was drifted in with snow. Josh cut the opening bigger and started getting ready to boil water for food as I chopped into the nearby icy creek with my ax to get water. Soon enough we had eaten some food and moved our stuff into the A-Frame, and we got out our sleeping bags and bivys to sleep. It was a long night. I was in three layers of clothing, a 0 degree bag and bivy sack, and as this was enough to keep me alive it was certainly not the most comfortable experience. I would often wake up cold, have to resituate and warm up, and fall asleep again. We also had made the stupid mistake of lying with our heads near the opening of the A-Frame and every now and then a gust of wind would sprinkle some snow on our faces.
My alarm went off at 5:30 AM. I looked outside and could see the lights of Colorado Springs 6,000 feet below, so it was clear, but it was still dark. Neither Josh nor I were very interested in starting yet so we decided to sleep until it was a little light out. Well, as the clouds moved in and we were in a wood structure anyway, it never did get very light and we didn't get up again until nearly 10 AM! Now it was snowing, and what with the time and the conditions we decided that the summit would have to wait for next trip. I got up and to my dismay discovered another mistake that I had made; my boots had been left out and were frozen solid. I got out a couple hand warmers that I had brought along, activated them, waited until they were warm and then put them on my toes with two layers of wool socks. Then I unlaced my shoes with some effort and crammed my feet into them. The system was working but my toes of my right foot were still not liking it and I had to take that foot out of its shoe to rewarm the toes, as they had since gone numb. Once I could feel them again, I got my foot back into the shoe and this time didn't have to take it back out. I laced them up tightly and got packed.
Thankful to be moving again, we started the hike out. We found the trail nearby and started hiking but soon lost it again, and once again we had to trailblaze our way down until we could pick up snowshoe tracks again. We finally found some and they led back to the trail lower down. We quickly headed back down to Barr Camp to let Theresa know conditions and to take a rest before the hike out. We stayed for quite a while and then started the long hike back down to Manitou. The snow dwindled away as we moved lower, and stopped altogether. As we made our way back to the trailhead, I couldn't keep my eyes off nearby Cameron Cone and its ridiculously steep east face. I might have to climb that one someday, too!
Not much farther…
We got back to the car just before dark. Thankful to be done with our 18 to 20 mile trip, we got our stuff back in the car, called up Spencer and another fellow School of Mines student who needed a ride back to Golden and headed out. I know that I'll be back one of these days to try Pikes again, only next time I hope it'll be a more productive experience. Nonetheless, we came out of this one with some good lessons and memories. "America's Mountain" will be there when I'm ready to try again.
To see more photos from this climb, please visit my online photo album:
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):