| Pikes Peak solo from Crags, Feb 2010
For those who didn't know, my brother's birthday would have been last month. And this is the story of how I made a unique birthday present for him (and his family). It didn't turn out so great, but if it was the thought that counts, then this one should count.
The summer before he passed away from colon cancer, my brother had come out to Colorado with his family for a week. We had a wonderful time, visiting Estes Park, riding the Georgetown Loop railroad, visiting a gold mine, kissing giraffes at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, walking through the Garden of the Gods... but there was one thing we didn't get to do. On the last day of his visit, we were going to take the Cog Railroad up to the summit of Pikes Peak. We had been there with our parents when we were kids, and he wanted to take his kids up so they could stand on top of the world and experience it as well. Sadly, the two-year-old went into a total meltdown (as only a two-year-old can do), and so out of pity for anyone else riding the cog railroad that day, we skipped Pikes Peak.
When he passed away, I decided that I was going to somehow try to get into shape to climb up that mountain and record a video for him on his birthday, so the seven kids could see "the purple mountain's majesty above the fruited plain." I was in lousy shape and way overweight, so this was not going to be an easy accomplishment, but it was something I wanted to do. I didn't tell anyone about this goal, but I used it to push myself. So, I lost 80 pounds, started hitting the gym every day, hiked up Quandary and Grays last summer and fall, and then did winter climbs of Sniktau, Storm, and Lady Washington, and then a hike up to the Crags area -- just to get myself ready, and to get used to winter hiking.
It was a beautiful day for a hike -- the high would be in the 60s on the Front Range, which of course meant that it was about 10 degrees at the Crags trailhead at 5am. I left my snowshoes in the car -- there just wasn't enough snow to justify lugging the extra weight. I had scouted the route previously, so with a flashlight and a little moonlight I had no problem finding my way. Once the sun rose, it was going to be a beautiful and clear and bright day.
The trail through the Crags area was snowpacked, with many "rabbit trails" where creative hikers had tried their luck at forging their own routes. The only tricky footing was crossing a small stream area, where the water had overflowed and made about a 20' wide ice sheet. But hey, that's what microspikes are for. I was plenty warm, and had learned from prior trips how to keep my camelback from freezing, so I was in good shape.
I reached the open clearing where I could see the ridge rising above me, and turned left up the hill. From here, route-finding got interesting in a hurry. There were literally hundreds of trails leading off to the right from cross-country skiers and snowshoers and hikers. I have no idea which one was right (I still don't). I stayed on what appeared to me the main trail, going straight, until I ran out of tracks. I knew the trail was to my right, but I also knew I was in an easily hikable area with some really cool rock formations above me.
So, I switchbacked my way up the slope, keeping to the rocks as much as possible, and away from an unstable-looking snowfield to my right. I made my way up to the gorgeous rocks, and then through them to another equally impressive rock garden. This was actually my favorite part of the hike, but then I'm a sucker for really cool rock gardens.
I turned back southeast, and up the slope, where I got my first visions of the morning sun square in the face. Nonetheless, I had to get up on the ridge. Well, that's what sunglasses are for. Once over a first ridge, I found that there was a second one as well. Onward and upward. I finally rejoined the trail just to the west of the Devil's Playground. Devils Playground Peak is a fascinating rocky peak, apparently named for the way lightning dances across the rocks in a storm. I have no real desire to be caught there in a lightning storm, so I will just have to visualize how cool it would look.
From here, I hiked up the trails where I could make them out, and otherwise up the empty road. I was passed by one or two plows, and just stepped aside and waved as they went by. It was a straightforward climb toward the summit. I had hoped to get Little Pikes as well -- I was only about 300' from its summit -- but I had to be at work by 5:30 that evening, so I was constrained on time. My detour was very scenic, but it was clearly longer than the standard approach.
I made it to the summit of Pikes Peak at noon. It was beautiful and sunny, about 20 degrees but breezy. I had my video camera with me to record a greeting to my brothers family -- and to my brother. (I'm assuming that they have access to the Internet in the afterlife). Sadly, the majority of the sound was drowned out by the howling of the wind, so it really didn't come out that great. But at least from the video, all of the kids would be able to see the summit (it really is an ugly summit, all graded over and turned into a parking lot) -- and more impressively, the views. You can see forever from the top of Pikes Peak.
The trip down was beautiful, but uneventful. I made it in to work with about 5 minutes to spare, and I had my tribute to my brother. And I had spent a wonderful day hiking in the mountains.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):