Peak(s):  Pikes Peak  -  14,110 feet
Date Posted:  02/02/2009
Date Climbed:   01/31/2009
Author:  KeithK
 January Is Still Winter, Right?  

Pikes Peak 14,110'
January 31, 2009
Northwest Slopes from Crags Campground
Round Trip: ~13 miles
Elevation Gain: 4200'
Jamie (shanahan96), Jamie (jamienellis), KeithK

After a nearly successful summit of Mt. Sherman in borderline blizzard conditions last weekend, I suddenly had some sort of strange belief that I could actually climb a 14er in winter. Check that, I suddenly WANTED to climb a 14er in winter! A far cry from my usual "ehh, I'll just snowshoe below tree line somewhere" mantra. Considering Quandary as a logical choice, I was all but set to head west, until Jamie Nellis extended an invite to join her and Jamie (this was going to be easy, almost impossible to forget my climbing partners' names!) for a journey down south to climb El Paso County's highpoint, Pikes Peak. The promise that I had made myself to never climb that mountain again was quickly forgotten, and I signed up with little hesitation. After all, in winter there are no cars on the road, no dust devils, and no crowds in the gift shop. This was certain to be a better climb in winter…

Arriving at the Crags Campground around 7 a.m., with only one other vehicle in the lot, we were headed up the packed trail at 7:20, under clear, crisp skies without a breath of wind. The familiar scraping of our snowshoes barely broke the silence of the forest, and the going was easy all the way to tree line, where the sun greeted us. At 9:30, a snowshoe cache was created and we took a nice break, enjoying the still of the day, the sun providing warmth, more psychological than physical. With views of four major mountain ranges suddenly available, it was an absolute pleasure to be in the high country. I love these clear Colorado bluebird days!

Keeping up with the Jamies…

The Jamies stop for some photo play…

One of the redeeming factors of this hike; the Sangre de Christo, Sawatch, Mosquito and even a hint of the San Juans can be seen…

Hiking directly up to the ridgeline on frozen tundra, encountering spotty snowdrifts that only served to reinforce that it is still winter, we were shortly looking southeast at our quarry. Only three more miles to go!

It sure looks closer than three miles, doesn't it?

Nellis hangs 10 on a gnarley pipe…

The trek across to Devil's Playground offered little resistance, as the old road that is the trail was blown free of snow for the most part. From Devil's Playground, we chose to walk the road for the first few minutes, until the standard route would provide a shortcut between switchbacks. We stomped the tundra between the road and the summer trail, eventually catching the trail and traversing along the north facing hillside of Unnamed Pt. 13,363. Here, for the second week in a row, I experienced a 14er first, my first bighorn sheep sighting! After two summers of hiking most every weekend, I had never encountered bighorns that weren't grazing along the side of I-70 or 285. I guess they actually do exist up in the high places. Combined with the clear view of the Sangre de Christo range including the Blanca Massif and the mighty Crestone group, this experience might just keep me motivated enough to brave more of these winter days.

The view north towards Rampart Reservoir, with Crystal Creek Reservoir just right of center…

We continued a steady pace up the road for a short distance, before once again veering over to the summer trail, and beginning the final big gain of the day in earnest. The Jamies kicked into summit gear, and I maintained a goal of staying within sight of them as much as possible. The altitude was beginning to have an effect, and my pace was slowing measurably above 13,000 feet. One foot in front of the other, breathe, repeat. It seemed to take forever to reach the talus that marks the push to the summit, and I watched my partners both eschewing any pretense of following the summer trail, and they made short work of the slope, disappearing over the crest within only minutes.

A look at the crux of the hike…

My goal was to keep a keen eye out for cairns, as I definitely did not have the energy to climb directly up the talus. There was enough snow to provide plenty of "gotcha!" opportunities, and post-holing between boulders did not sound fun. Once I finally spotted a large cairn, I knew I would have much easier going, as the route is very easy to follow when you know what you're looking for, and maintains a fairly consistent and almost smooth trail through the rocks. I zigged and zagged up the switchbacks, feeling relieved to finally reach the corner of the road which marks the last short stretch to the summit. Of course, at this point you can see the gift shop and the maintenance shed, and it doesn't seem very 14er-ish. I was still anxious to reach the comfort of the indoors, as the winds were blowing hard enough to provide a very chilly reminder of the season. Not to mention that by now I figured that both Jamies would have had their naps. At around 2:20 p.m., I made it indoors just before the concessionaire was getting ready to close up, and he graciously granted us ten more minutes, long enough for me to warm up; I didn't realize just how cold it had become on the summit. It is quite a paradox, climbing to the top of a mountain like that only to sit in man-made heated comfort. I was not proud enough to complain! Unfortunately, my camera decided that it had enough of the cold, and stubbornly refused to work the rest of the hike, as I just could not get the batteries to warm up inside my jacket. Oh well, we still had one working camera.

The Jamies welcome the last Cog of the day…

Princo makes a friend on the summit of Pikes Peak…

I insisted on a more aesthetic angle to prove my accomplishment, with the distinct outline of Humboldt Peak and its friends the Crestones over my left shoulder…

Another immeasurable benefit to climbing Pikes Peak in winter is the fact that the road is closed. Rather than follow the standard trail back through the talus, which was sure to be time consuming and potentially unsafe, we all agreed to boot down the road, a much more desirable path for my tired legs and sore feet. Even with the road at our advantage, the hike back to Devil's Playground still seemed interminable. A nice Ranger stopped to make sure we were alright, and to offer a ride, which I politely thanked him for, but told him that we would get down just as we had made it up, without mechanical aid. My feet were very unhappy with my brain after that. The slog back to our snowshoes eventually came to an end, and I was telling myself that it was easy going the rest of the way. I strapped my snowshoes onto my pack, while my partners chose to wear theirs; Jamie Nellis was fighting with a broken binding, but managed to make it work. The trail was icy at tree line, but quickly became solidly packed, and very bootable. We made it back to the car with only ambient and somewhat eerie twilight to guide us, as the sun made its exit to the west with about 20 minutes left on the trail.

So close to a perfect parting shot, as the sun sets at the end of a great day in Colorado's high country…

Although I've technically "hiked" with Jamie and Jamie at the last two Winter Gatherings, I've never really hiked with them. This day was a real treat for me, as they have my utmost respect and admiration. I enjoyed getting to know both of you, and I'll feel privileged to join you again in the future!

It's very interesting how perspective changes over time. When I attempted Mt. Elbert two years ago in March, snowshoeing up a huge mountain seemed more a novelty than a desire, something to tell my friends and family about, never really a serious pursuit. Now, with experience, proper equipment, and a little confidence, I'm suddenly beginning to lose my distaste of winter. From a hiking stand point, of course. I'll always be a sun worshipping summer lover, but tolerating the dark, cold months of the year seems to be getting easier. Geesh, next thing you know I'll be strapping some boards to my feet and sliding down hills on them. Then we'll know for sure that I've either lost my mind… or changed my perspective.

 Comments or Questions

Good Trip Report
02/03/2009 04:08
There is barely any snow up there. Thanks for sharing.


I assume you used your ”rock skis”?
02/03/2009 04:11
A beautiful winter day. Looks like you were really able to enjoy it. Congatulations.



Awesome Job
02/03/2009 07:32
Great job..I haven‘t done Pikes yet but I am not looking forward to putting in a serious hike only to get to a glorified donut shop. Awesome job.

Chicago Transplant

02/03/2009 15:47
That‘s a lot more snow than I was expecting to see for June
Seriously though, looks like it was a great winter ascent, about the best weather you can expect! Glad to see you are realizing that Winter isn‘t all that bad after all!


02/03/2009 15:53
Thanks for the report. We really enjoyed getting out with you! It was a great day! I didn‘t realize it was your first winter 14er. I kinda feel like an arse now for not making a bigger deal on the summit!


02/03/2009 16:49
now you have to start a second list..


Well done
02/03/2009 17:33
Nice job, Keith! Quite a contrast after the previous week‘s attempt.


Nice outing,
02/03/2009 19:48
but the crags route in winter is supposed to be completed in hurricane force winds and subzero ambient temps. Doesnt count


Re: Nice outing,
02/04/2009 00:38
Ja! With some nice frostbite eh doumall? It‘s crazy how dry it looks up there. Nice report Keith. Congrats on your 1st Winter ascent.


02/04/2009 16:51
all the tourists that got off the Cog thought is was really cold and windy. Doesn‘t that count for something? I don‘t want to have to climb it again in order to look like Rudolph, er, I mean Prakash the next day.


02/05/2009 04:23
I appreciate the sentiment, even from Joe the extreme skiing, alpine rock climbing cyborg... There was one gust of wind that knocked me off balance right below the summit; I‘m calling it hurricane force and it definitely dropped the wind chill below zero.
Trust me, Jamie, you didn‘t need to make a bigger deal, I appreciate all of the support and encouragement that you guys gave me. Thanks for letting me tag along!


Less snow than on the first...
02/06/2009 04:32
It has been way to dry. Looks like less snow than our trip on Jan 1st, but sounds like that maybe changing soon.

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