Decide if you Want to Climb!
I’ve been looking up at Pikes Peak Colorado Springs for the past six years. Since moving to Colorado in 2000, that mountain has been the mountain that I have viewed out my window, on my drives, while I’m working. I’ve never wanted to pay over $20.00 for the privilege of driving up a 14er, so I have never been up there. Last summer I started climbing 14ers (2005).
For those outside Colorado, a 14er is a mountain where the peak is above 14,000 feet above sea level. Last summer I climbed five different mountains. This summer, I want to climb 10. On Friday…I climbed one.
I left my house at about 5:15 am and drove over to the Crags Campground. (I used to live in Divide, CO.) The road was perfectly clear with no snow to be found. The weather has been quite warm for the past couple of weeks, so the snow is rapidly disappearing from these lower elevations. At around 5:40 am, I started out on the Crags trail. Despite the fantastic directions provided by www.14ers.com, I missed the turn to Devils Playground. I was having too much fun getting outside after a long hiatus to pay attention. After about .5 miles, I realized my error and turned around. Let me just say…going the wrong way stinks.
After getting back to the turnoff, I starting going the right direction. In the trees, I found that there is still quite a bit of snow. I also found that because of people walking on the snow, and because of the melting and refreezing at night, the snow has turned into an ice skating rink. Thank goodness for my trekking poles. There were places where I just had to walk beside the trail, because it was steep and very slippery. I walked on logs, and virgin snow and managed to make it to 11,000 feet.
It is here that the crux of the trail lies. At this point, you are about to climb 2000 feet in about a mile. It starts with switchbacks up a steep slope through the trees. Fortunately, however, there was not much snow so I was able to just keep climbing.
Above tree line, the trail turns and heads straight up the ridge toward the large snow patch covering the ridge line. At the ridge line, you are at about 13,000 feet. By this point in time, I was breathing pretty hard.
The views of some of the other mountain ranges in Colorado were worth the loss of breath.
Now I got a chance to catch my breath descending the ridge to Devils Playground. It is called Devils Playground because the lighting jumps from rock to rock during summer rainstorms.
At this point, I was in a relatively level section on this climb. There was minimal snow, but with 2.5 miles to go to the summit, it was still a fairly good hike to finish up. The peak looks like it is right there, but it is still a good ways off. At this point in time, the trail follows along the road that goes to Pikes Peak for a ways. Because the snow plows have been out, the trail was actually buried under mounds of snow. I hiked up the hill and stayed above the snow and just made my own trail. I cut across the shoulder of the mountain and descended back to the road. By 9:30 AM, I had reached the road and was looking at the last stretch toward the peak. Here you have to walk to the left of the 13,000 foot peak and head toward the final 500 ft. climb up to the top.
So off I went, crossing the snow mass toward the peak. Fortunately, the footing was not too bad. I followed the cairns (piles of rocks) that directed me up the steep slope toward the top of the mountain. At one point I lost my way, so I just headed straight up to the best of my ability. I arrived at the Pikes Peak Colorado Springs at 11:00 am.
The views from Pikes Peak Colorado Springs are extraordinary. You can see Garden of the Gods from the peak observation platform.
After spending about 1/2 hour at the top, I turned around and headed back for the car. At one point I post holed (sunk to my thigh in snow) and got a cramp in my right calf. I quickly pulled my leg out and worked out the cramp. The distance to the back to the car always seems to take forever. Working my way back down the long slope from the ridge, I could not believe how high it felt like it was.
This was a beautiful hike, there was not much snow, and I got back to my car by about 2:30 pm. Then I went home and collapsed. The first 14er of 2006 is completed. I’m sitting here looking at the peak and I love that I climbed it. This is the first of many. Every time I climb a mountain, I have to remember to just take one step at a time, keep moving, and I will make it.
You can do it too! If you are going to climb a peak, don’t forget your safety.