| Christmas on Pikes Peak
December 25, 2010
Solo(ish)….tmathews (Terry) and I hiked together from the trailhead (TH) to Barr Camp
Pikes Peak (14,110’)
Trailhead: Barr Trail
Route: East Slopes
Distance: ~25mi (RT)
Elevation Gain: ~7400’
Gear: pack w/Winter Essentials & Overnight Gear, map & compass
winter hiking boots (N Face w/Prima Loft insulation), gaitors (didn’t need them), micro-spikes, CAMP Corsa ice axe (didn’t need it), trekking poles, Lowe Alpine soft-shell pants, MHW (Mountain Hard Wear) Transition soft-shell jacket w/hood, MHW hard-shell jacket w/hood, Mont-Bell UL (ultra-light) Therma-wrap,
two pairs of OR (Outdoor Research) mittens (shell & insulated pair), BD (Black Diamond) fleece liner gloves, goggles & facemask, balaclava
Overnight Gear: OR Alpine bivy, 15 degree down bag, sleeping pads—closed cell & air, Jetboil, thermos, extra food….did not use any of it, because I ended up day-hiking the Peak
NOTE: The aforementioned gear list is a paid endorsement by: North Face, CAMP, Lowe Alpine, Mountain Hard Wear, Mont-Bell, OR, BD, & Jetboil.
(Well, not really. But, if there’s a rep out there reading this, please send me your gear and I’ll gladly use it while on my mountain adventures! You could consider it as a Christmas gift. ;) )
Resources Used for Trip Planning: prior experience and knowledge of the trail, NOAA forecast accessed from 14ers.com
Every year, the small company I work for closes for the week between Christmas and New Years. So each year, I try to plan something fun to do. Generally, that means going to Ouray to climb in the ice park, but this year Ouray is not in the budget. Instead, I want to hike some peaks this year.
Most of my family is in New England (Vermont), therefore I don’t have the holiday obligations, so Christmas Day for me is usually a solo affair.
A “solo affair” has its advantages. This trip is an example of that (i.e., flexibility in what I do).
My first plan was to hike up Barr trail, hang out at camp for a while, and then go to the timberline shelter (A-frame) to stay the night. On Sunday I would go to the summit and then descend back to the TH.
The second plan (thought of as I hiked up the trail) was to summit on Xmas day instead, and then descend to the A-frame (where I would stash my overnight gear on the way up), and spend the night. On Sunday, I would hike down.
The third and final (painful?) plan came about sometime during my ascent from A-frame to the summit, or, it might have been thought of on the summit. I’m not sure when I thought of it, but in the end, I stashed my overnight gear at the A-frame, went to the summit, came back to gather up my overnight gear, and descended all the way back to the TH.
By the time I got back down to the TH at 9:30-ish, I was tired. This is the third time I’ve hiked the Peak up-and-down in a day, via the Barr trail. But it’s been 7 or 8 years since I’ve done it. Today as I write this, I am glad I did it the way I did.
I was sore when I woke up.
But that’s a good sore.
However, had I known in advance I would day-hike it, I would have left the ~10 pounds of overnight gear at home!
And, I would have replaced my batteries in my headlamp.
Note: I don’t recommend descending from A-frame to the trailhead in the dark with almost dead batteries.
Now to the Highlights…
The week leading up to Christmas, Terry (tmathews) had posted on 14ers about going to Barr camp on Christmas Day. I didn’t decide until Xmas Eve that I would go up Barr, and once I did decide I would do that, I didn’t know when I would start at the TH.
Terry had posted he would leave at 6am.
As it turned out, I did get to the trail at 6am, but he didn’t know I would show up because I never told him. He had already started, but quickly turned around because he forgot his sunglasses. I recognized him in the dark as he descended to get his glasses, so I waited a minute until he got back. From there, we hiked to camp together.
En route, we were treated to the sunrise over the Springs…
Once at No Name Creek, we hiked up the Experimental Forest trail. I’ll often go this way on my way to Barr camp, or on my descent, because it offers a change of views and it mixes the hike up a bit.
The sign says it all…for now.
The Experimental Trail T’s up with Longs Ranch road (to the right at the junction) and Bob’s road to the left. At the T, we turned left onto Bob’s road, where it would take us back to the Barr trail.
Views along Bob’s Road…
On our way to camp, Terry had “tested” the weight of my large looking pack when I had taken it off to adjust a layer.
My pack, mostly bulk due to my sleeping pads and bag, looked heavy. He commented his was heavier.
At camp, I “tested” his pack. Holy sh.t! He was right.
Terry basically stocked the pantry of Barr Camp. ;)
It took us about 3hrs to get to camp, arriving around 9am.
Hanging out at camp can be a special occasion, as it was on this day. I met someone (Nikki) who I already “knew,” I got to experience hot cocoa with spiced rum (recommended), and the warm fire in winter is always a treat!
There were some comments that I was getting too comfortable in the rocking chair, where I would likely stay for the rest of the day! It was a comforting thought, but, the summit called.
Shortly after 11am, I hauled my pack back on and headed up the trail.
Currently, the trail beyond camp has very little snow, and only a few patches of ice, which is avoidable.
I didn’t use my micro-spikes on any part of my ascent.
Bottomless Pit trail turnoff….
I got to the A-frame turn-off at 12:25….
Colorado Springs from A-frame…
I stashed my overnight gear in the A-frame and took a short break before going up. It was almost 1pm when I started up. I figured I would be on the summit by 4pm, where I thought I would wait to watch the sunset.
Leaving A-frame, I was down to my base layers and my liner gloves were off. There was no breeze, it was sunny with mostly clear skies, and probably in the low 40’s at 12,000 feet!
And we’re now officially in calendar winter?
I don’t think the Pikes Peak region is there yet. It felt like fall.
But hey! I’ll take it. ;)
Ahead of me were two groups of two, by this time on their descent. Two had left from camp that morning, and the other two from the trailhead. They had the pleasure of “breaking” trail, which with our current snowpack on Pikes, it was probably with little effort. Regardless, their effort made my hike easier!
Just after the 2mi-to-go sign, I took a short side trip to a notch in the NE ridge.
Here’s a look to the NW…
Getting back on the trail, I started across the E face, and by this time I had already met the descending parties.
Also by this time, the sun was further to the W and behind the S ridge, shading much of the E face. I stopped near the line where sunlight meets shade, and layered up for the expected cooler temp’s I would soon be in.
2pm and I’m about to step into the dark side…
The Sign of the Cirque….
Me and My Shadow near the Summit…
The Aliens have Landed and are Awaiting Me….
Or maybe they’re robots?
3:05pm at the tracks without a train in sight….
The winds found me on the summit, albeit a light wind, maybe in the low teens. But it was enough to put a chill in me, so I layered up with everything I had, including face mask.
The sun was still fairly high in the sky to the SW, so I started to have doubts about hanging out for the sunset.
I started doing laps around the summit house and parking area to kill time and to stay warm.
Pan to the W/NW…
There’s a “buzz” in the air….
It’s 3:50pm, the shadow of Pikes is growing while I’m getting colder….
At this point, I didn’t think I could stay around for another 40 minutes to watch the sunset. I did some more laps, trying to stay in the sun for the warmth, but the wind was chilly. Only on the N side of the summit house was I able to get out of the wind, but there I was out of the sun!
Plus, my fingers were getting too cold because I had been taking my mitt off so I had better dexterity to take pictures. I wore my liner gloves, but they didn’t provide much warmth while fiddling with the camera.
Oh, a couple more pictures anyway….
The Sangre de Cristo Range….
It’s 4pm, I’ve been on the summit for almost an hour, and it’s time to go.
I decide the sunset can be seen from the east side, at least the shadows it will cast.
The Shadow of Pikes over Colorado Springs and Black Forest….
Sun setting on the south slopes and Almagre Mountain…
As I descended the east slopes, my mind kept going to the thought of sleeping in my bed, versus sleeping in my bag and bivy at 11,900’.
I already realized that it was feasible to descend the whole way, although I would miss out on sleeping in the A-frame with the city lights below, and watching the sunrise in the morning.
I’ve slept in the A-frame before a few years ago on Christmas Eve; and it felt like a magical experience with the bright lights of Colorado Springs below. On that trip, I woke up to clouds and blowing snow, so I did not see the sunrise.
On this trip, I would experience the city lights as I hiked down Barr, but would forgo the sunrise experience once again. I can live with that, and sleep better (in my bed) knowing there will be other opportunities down the road.
I got to A-frame around 5:30pm, sat down for a short break and had a snack, then packed up. From here, I wore my micro-spikes down the trail since my vision would not be as good in the dark, with a headlamp with weak batteries. Slipping on snow or ice and falling going downhill would probably hurt. So the added traction of the spikes was welcomed.
I stopped at Barr camp to let Neal and Teresa know I was descending the whole way, because I had told them I would stop by on Sunday to let them know I got down safely. They graciously offered me some lasagna, and I mean they really had to twist my arm for this, so I stepped inside for a few minutes and refueled for the rest of my hike down. Dessert was fudge that a day hiker had brought them. Mmmm…..good stuff!
As I came within ~2mi’s of the TH, a woman startled me when she said, “And here I thought I had the trail to myself!”
She was standing in the dark, shading her eyes & face as I stopped to talk with her.
As I departed, I asked her if she had a headlamp.
“No, I travel without one. That’s why I shaded my eyes from your lamp so I didn’t lose my night vision.”
And here I am crying about a dim-lit headlamp with dying batteries! Jeez. I’m a sissy.
Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays!!
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):