Peak(s):  Pikes Peak  -  14,110 feet
"Little Pikes Pk"  -  13,363 feet
"Devils Playground Pk"  -  13,070 feet
Date Posted:  01/31/2015
Date Climbed:   01/30/2015
Author:  Zambo
 Winter Day Trip - Pikes via Crags   

I sort of loosely keep my eye on the easy 14ers every year as winter rolls around. I have no aspirations of climbing them all in the season and I don't really have any draw to the coveted blue snowflake either. Some of those motivations just seem silly to me. Moreover, it eventually becomes a pretty dangerous, high-stakes game for those who get closer to completing that list. I have nothing but respect for those who do, it is just not something I would ever want to pursue.

Having said that, I do think it is really cool to see familiar areas in a totally new way. Others might cringe at the thought of this repetition, but I for one think there is something very appealing about seeing old peaks in a new light. Winter can be captivating like that. Don't get me wrong: I am all for visiting new areas and new mountains. But when conditions are good, I find it very tempting to try to go get a winter summit on one of our beloved high peaks.

It is also nice to have a working knowledge of the routes beforehand for anything involving snow. The last time I was on Pikes Peak was with a big group for my finisher several years ago. I was anxious to try it out again. The forecast for Friday was iffy, but Pikes appeared to have the best outlook of anything I was considering. Couple that with a recent favorable conditions report - not to mention the knowledge that the road was open all the way to the Crags Campground - and the route selection was a no-brainer.

And so, after a very busy week of planning & running a conference for work, I took Friday off to go get some 'me time' that every introvert needs.

Winter Day Trip - Pikes via Crags

Peaks: Pikes Peak, "Little Pikes", "Devils Playground Peak"
Distance: 14 Miles
Vert: 4,300 Feet
Climbers: Solo

Frankly, the whole mountain was in great shape. The drive to the Mennonite camp was almost entirely on dirt. Beyond that, the final 1.5 miles to the Crags TH was on a very passable 4wd winter road. The tire tracks were deep and made for easy passage. As I geared up and hit the trail right at 7:00, I found an awesome trench. I don't think it had snowed in this area for a few weeks, as evidenced by the hard-packed trail. All the way to tree line I was able to move quickly on a deep, well defined highway forged by hikers, skiers, and snowshoers alike. Occasional icy patches required sure footing, but apart from that, there was no need for snowshoes at all.

ABOVE: Breaking tree line. Being solo, this was the spot that had me nervous all morning before I saw it. I was content to head back if it looked risky. However, the conditions continued to be just about perfect. Patchy snow presented no danger whatsoever. Like I said, it has been some time since this area has seen snow. I would think this slope would be a very different case were it loaded.

ABOVE: Looking back down on the long slope up to the ridge near 12,800'. As they would for the duration of the day, the clouds mixed in and about the mountain, but held their snow until the afternoon.

As I crested this first ridge I was able to see the remainder of my route. All good news. Sparse snow was mixed in with plenty of rocks. I saw I had a clear shot to the summit, some three miles away. Seeing how clear it was, I stashed the clown shoes under a boulder, thankful for yet another winter day where they were unnecessary.

ABOVE: The remaining lines to the summit. Close, and yet, not so close.

ABOVE: Next stop, Devil's Playground.

ABOVE: The gates of hell? (or probably something slightly less dramatic)

Arriving at Devil's Playground, I had one quick detour to make before crossing the road. Lists make us do funny things. There are two unranked 13ers on Pikes, and I decided to tag each on my way up. The first stop was "Devil's Playground Peak." This blip of a peak only has 100 feet of rise, but it is in a cool spot amidst the red rocks of this area. I learned later that this is actually a county high-point as well. So, I guess I've got that going for me, which is nice.

ABOVE: First look at the road.

ABOVE: Calm today, but nothing escapes the wind's influence here.

ABOVE: Off the unranked summit and crossing the the road. From here, I was able to follow the trial easily enough as it paralleled the road toward "Little Pikes", my next destination.

ABOVE: Something about lightning.

ABOVE: Rounding the corner, this was as far as they were letting cars go that day. Although the weather was great all morning, the rangers were unsure of how bad the coming storm would be, so they were stopping most traffic at about 13,000'. I probably only saw a dozen or so cars all day.

My next stop was "Little Pikes" Peak, the other unranked 13er on the Pikes massif. Although I had planned on doing this peak all along, as I got closer, I saw that I actually had no other option. The standard route diverts from a loop in the road and runs to the northwest of "Little Pikes", avoiding it entirely. However, the only slope I saw all day that gave me pause was coming off the northwest slope of the unranked 13er - directly where the standard trail runs. While I am fairly confident it would have been fine, solo is never a time to take any chances with potential avy slopes. Thankfully, ascending over the summit and the back down the other side allowed me to bypass it entirely. On the return trip, I simply followed the road around the opposite side of Little Pikes, avoiding any danger.

BELOW: Road shots from atop "Little Pikes."

From this summit, it was just over 1,000 feet to the true top. I had been preparing myself all day for the final slog, remembering well how much it sucked from last time. But there was nothing to complain about, really. While some flurries had kicked up, the winds were still calm, helping to keep it relatively warm. The low clouds continued to provide great lighting and beautiful views. So as usual, the only way to knock it off was just to put the head down and go.

ABOVE: Looking back on Little Pikes and the winding road.

ABOVE: Cairns lead the way up the final 500 feet or so.

I always find that when I go solo I end up moving quicker than with a group. Perhaps it is just because I can set my own pace and find a groove more easily. Or maybe it is because I am usually pretty good about taking fewer (and quicker) breaks on my own. Or maybe it is just all in my head. Whatever the case, it all caught up to me on the rapidly steepening final pitch. I was gassed. When the road finally came back into view, I was very happy to be done with all the uphill. Time now to enjoy a deserted Pikes' summit. I am not sure how many days a year Pikes only sees a single visitor, but I think this might have been one of them. It was a fun experience.

BELOW: Wandering about on the top, taking shots of things that caught my fancy.

All told, it took me 4 hours and 15 minutes from car to summit. I owe that time almost entirely to the great trail below tree line and the lack of snow in the alpine. After wolfing down some much needed food and water, I was ready to head down. Although the weather was holding, the sudden stop had me chilled. Time to go home.

The walk down was mostly uneventful. By 2:30 I was at the car, 7 1/2 hours after setting out. However, there was one thing that made this descent special.

Right around 13,000 feet - where the rangers had cones out to block the road - I spotted a party of two who walking about the snowfields after parking their car. As I approached, I realized it was a little girl - probably 9 or 10 - and her dad who were out for the day together. Coming closer still, I caught the sound of singing carrying across the snow. I couldn't help but smile as I realized that this little one was belting "Let It Go" with all her heart. Her dad was taking pictures as she danced, sang, and moved about the rocks. I just smiled. Commercialization, repetition, and pop-culture tends to make cynics of the best of us. But in this moment, some 13,000 feet above the sea, there was nothing but genuine affection and love for the moment from this little girl. On that day, she really was a princess. Sing on girl.

Thanks for reading my TR. Happy climbing!

Comments or Questions
Dad Mike

So cool
02/01/2015 00:34
Love those summit pics. Always a bonus in the winter when the weather allows you to take a break and enjoy the summit. Nice work dude.


Exploring the Rockies
02/01/2015 00:52
Great report, Zambo! One of the better ones I’ve seen for a winter trip on this route....great photos!

Annual climb
02/01/2015 23:17
My husband and I climb that route every winter. We love it. We usually always have it to ourselves. Also, it is a bonus when the restaurant is open. Nothing like a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup before the hike back down.

Nice pictures!!!!


What they said...
02/02/2015 22:05
Fantastic photos!


I’m partial to Pikes Peak...
02/03/2015 16:47
living here in the Springs, but I usually find myself on Barr Trail. It has been many years since I’ve been on the Crags Trail, so it was nice to read your trip report and get that perspective! Very nice, and great pictures – thanks.


Nothing but Respect...
02/04/2015 16:32
I know the slope you would be concerned about and I too would like to do all the easier 14ers in winter when conditions warrant safe passage, but I’m not hung up on the idea either.


Glad I read the whole thing
02/21/2015 16:25
The last paragraph about the girl was a nice way to finish out. Loved the pics at the top too, nice job. I hope to be doing this route a week from today, we’ll see how different things look after the current storm.

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