| Solitude on Pikes
April 5th, 2008
Round Trip: ~15miles
Elevation Gain: 4300'
So the forecast for April 5th didn't look bad... Mostly Sunny, W-NW winds in the 20mph range, no chance of snow, 28 degrees for a high. I had planned to meet Nomad, but never heard from him, so I decided to go anyways and prepared for a solo trip, if I didn't see him at the TH.
I crawled out of bed at 4am, made my last minute preparations, walked my dogs and was in the truck at 4:37, pointing towards the Crags CG, 85 miles to the south. The GPS was estimating a 6:15 arrival, so I felt like my timing was about right.
This is pretty much how it looked at 4:37am (what am I doing up at this ungodly hour on a Saturday?)
I arrived at the Crags parking turnout at almost exactly 6:15am, pretty impressive routing algorithm on the old E-trex. There was a couple in the parking area that arrived just a couple of minutes earlier, we exchanged pleasantries, they didn't know about 14ers.com (how could anyone not know about 14ers.com?!?!) and said they were planning to summit. I geared up, and walked away from the truck at 6:40am.
Deep snow in the campground
Alpenglow on the Crag across the road from the campground
The trail was well traveled and very consolidated. I made really good time as it was like walking on pavement. I didn't need my snow shoes until I was almost to tree line.
Princeton and Yale lurk in the treetops
I was making good time, but about here on the trail the wind started to make its presence felt. I stopped for a break and added a layer.
The trees start to thin
Mr. Sun comes out from behind the Devils Playground
I crested the ridge and start into the west end of Devils Playground just before 9am. The basin to the west "The Hollow" looked pretty sweet. It looks like this might have some real nice lines for some May skiing/snowboarding.
The Rocky Mountains framed by the notch in Devils Playground
Onward and upward, I started the long climb up the ridge line towards the summit. It looks so close, but it wasn't. At this point the wind came up another notch and the gusts started. Typical spring thermal winds, it would gust, back off, gust then die for a few minutes. There is still enough loose snow to cause some minor ground blizzards, but nothing unmanageable, just really annoying.
The summit awaits
The trail through the Playground
I arrived at the base of the summit block, almost 7 miles into the climb at ~10:30am. At this point I was feeling pretty good and knew that the summit and lunch was just minutes away! Little did I know that this would be the most excruciating part of the climb. The trail was mostly obscured and the boulders were filled in with anything from and inch or 2 of snow to thigh deep. The snow was that "powder sugar" stuff, it looks wind packed, but you step into it and it goes until you hit terra firma. Very annoying. I decided the best course of action was to try and stay on the boulder tops and rock hop my way to the top.
Finally at 11:45, I had negotiated the last 400 feet caught my first glimpse of civilization.
The Army research facility over the edge of the summit
I wandered around for about 15 minutes, checking out the buildings, the Cog railway and the general summit. Took a few pictures then looked for a spot in the Sun and out of the wind. There wasn't a soul on the summit. The concessions were all closed, the train wasn't running and the road is still closed. I had 45 minutes on "America's Peak" all by myself. I had my lunch, ham & turkey slices, cheddar cheese and crackers and the best tasting peach yogurt I have ever tasted.
Colorado Springs and Kansas
I took a quick summit shot... self portrait. Where are the tourists when you need them?
My summit shot
My left knee has been aggravated for a few weeks now, so I decided even though it's slightly longer, and its closed, I'd just follow to the road down to lessen the stress on the joint. I headed off the summit at 12:30pm and started down the road. I ran across the occasional drift and had to avoid the icy spots, but the going was certainly easier on the knee. I wanted to save it as much as I could for the descent from the Playground into the trees.
About 2 miles down the road, a road worker from the city had gotten his Ford F550 (2 ton truck) stuck in a drift. I stopped to help him dig it out. We spent a good hour digging, rocking, digging before he finally called for help. A Ranger came up, we snaked a chain and got the truck out of the drift. He offered me a ride to Devils, and at that point I figured it was fair trade for the helping him get unstuck.
I picked up my snow shoes at 3pm, and plunged off the Playground onto the upper slopes of the Crags route. I kept looking at the snow fields to the south... would I be able to glissade them? I decided it looked doable, they were in the shade, so I assumed they were pretty solid this late in the day. Bad assumption.
About half way across the slope, it turned into post hole central... Argh! So I headed back to the north and ended up in the slot gully that runs down the slope. The bottom was solid enough to glissade down, so I took full advantage and burned off a couple hundred feet fast.
By now, I was back into the trees, but low enough to start fighting the spring concrete. After nearly 14 miles on the mountain, I was ready to be done, but there was still work to do. I got back to the hard packed trail at 4pm, and ran into the 5th and 6th people I'd seen all day.
It was a couple who had just been tooling around on snow shoes in the wet afternoon snow above the campground. We chatted for a few minutes, then I was on my way, hauling as fast and hard as I could for the truck. 4:45pm, 10 hours, 5 minutes after I started I was done. The other vehicle was gone, I can only assume that I was the only one to summit from Crags on this day.
This was as demanding physically as Longs peak was a couple of years ago. While not technical in anyway, this is not a gimme. The sheer length of the round trip, combined with the variable conditions and wind made this a very satisfying accomplishment.
It feels good to have the 2 easternmost 14ers under my belt. Time to go west...
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):