Peak(s):  Pikes Peak  -  14,110 feet
Date Posted:  11/26/2011
Date Climbed:   11/25/2011
Author:  rernst

 Pikes Peak Black Friday - Crags TH  

Looking at recent trip reports and weather forecasts, I found myself planning a trip for my 1st Winter 14er. Weather forecasts for Pike Peak where favorable (nice for late November) with partly sunny skies, and winds forecast at 15 to 20 kts (wind chill -5 to 5 F).

The road conditions up to Crags were pretty good with packed snow, but soon after the right turn at the Mennonite camp, there where some icy spots that forced me to use 4wd to get up the slight inclines. I saw some spots where it looks like folks had placed tree branches to obtain traction. 4wd and or good snow tires with front wheel drive should be fine. I arrived at the Crags Campground parking lot at 06:40am.

I hit the trail at 06:50am. The trail all the way up to tree line was in good condition - packed snow. It was fairly easy to follow but there where a couple of places where there are packed trails that branch off (easy to follow others and get off trail). This was my first time on this mountain and I was not familiar with the trail. Map and GPS kept me "on track". There was another group that ended up "off trail? and on the ridge to the south. I met up with them on the way back. They said they somehow took a wrong turn following what looked like footprints and ski's and ended up what they described as a difficult hike up to the saddle just above treeline.

Past tree line, it was pretty difficult to locate the trail. The snow was packed / windblown with ground and rocks visible. I was able to locate footprints but not able to track them consistently. Once past the saddle, it was a fairly east trek to/through the Devils Playground.

The final push up the talus slope was covered with wind-blown/packed snow. I post holed a couple of times in between the rocks and kept hitting my shins - learned quickly to stay on the rocks. Traction was pretty good all the way up. No flotation or micro-spikes (I left flotation in the truck, carried the micro-spikes just in case).

I reached the summit around 12:10 and grabbed some hot chocolate and hot water and warmed up / ate lunch for about 45 min. My bladder system was frozen solid from the mouthpiece all the way down to the bladder. Was able to thaw it out and on the way down, I re-routed it in my jacket (it worked but I need to come up with a better approach).

The trip back was a bit warmer with the sun on the west side. Conditions where great but I probably should have broke-out the micro-spikes on the switch-backs just below tree line as well as the frozen/icy ground on the last 1/4 mile. Made it back to the TH at 16:10.

Overall, great hike and I learned a couple of things about hiking in winter.


 Comments or Questions

Frozen water
11/26/2011 15:49
There are insulating methods, but most people shun bladder systems in the colder months. I carry two one-liter Nalgenes, one in an insulated coozie ($10-12 at REI) clipped to the outside of my pack for easy access and the other wrapped in my extra layers inside my pack. I also usually use Gatorade powder in one, as I find the electrolytes help with headaches/energy and it's said this slightly lowers the freezing point.


Re-Frozen Water
11/26/2011 16:10
Thanks for the tip. I learn a lot from others and appreciate the info.
When I noticed that my line started freezing at 12.5K (frozen solid at around 13k), I was thinking that there's got to be something that will improve the colligative properties and be helpful. I didnt appreciate lack of hydration on that last push to the top.

On the way back I dropped two tabs of Nunz (electrolytes) in the bladder ( I forgot to do this at the trailhead..)- Im sure that helped. I will try the Gatorade as I'm having mixed gastronomic results with the Nunz.

I will try out your tip (Nalgene bottle w/insulation and a platupus ”platy bottle” (these are light) inside the pack.


Spike Abuse
11/26/2011 17:18
Hey, rernst, just go ahead and abuse the spikes; that's what they're for! Though they're not cheap, they keep you off your ass. I've found it well worth trashing a pair versus trashing the body. I use them year round, most often on the descent. Think of them like a co-pay.

Brian C

Frozen camelbak
11/26/2011 21:34
I've used lots of different things in the winter but lately I have been just using my camelbak. You can keep the system successfully thawed down to sub-zero temps by padding the bladder with extra clothing and routing the hose through your jacket. It is crucial to make sure you blow out the hose completely after each use and lock it off with a valve. I've heard/tried a variety of additives to the water to lower freezing temps but water will be fine as long as you are careful. I always have a back-up nalgene incase the bladder freezes completely. Nalgenes with the pack holsters are nice but I find that I drink more water with a camelbak accessible.


Black Friday
11/28/2011 18:16
Hey Rernst, we saw you on the hike, I was wondering about those 3 people on the wrong ascent, I thought they got lost but wasn't sure. I could not imagine anybody would choose to take the ascent they did, it looked really steep. I did some glissading on the way down, just above tree line and pulled my hamstring, luckily I didn't feel the pain until I got home. Glad you had a good day, we sure enjoyed it. My water never froze using the Ospry insulated shoulder strap for the bladder. That thing worked great. It's an Ospry Kode 30 snowboarding bag and REI has them on sale right now.


Three others...
11/28/2011 19:21
On my way back, I came across 2 of the 3 very near the summit still heading up. They ended up catching a ride down to where you head back to the Saddle and they leap frog-ed ahead of me. I caught back up with them (all three) a bit below tree line - they where tired but in good spirits and just catching a break.

I must have been right behind you on the way back. I could see your tracks and I saw the fresh glissade marks ('').

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