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Tag: Barr Trail

Pikes Peak: Second Time’s Most Charming

Spring snow melt is producing seasonal streams down the high east slopes of Pikes Peak.  The alpine tundra is greening and blooming.  With perfect weather and good, unexpected company, my second round trip hike of Pikes Peak by Barr Trail was the best summit experience yet.

Pikes Peak, Barr Trail, treeline, timberline, photo, self-portrait, self

Self-timer near the A-Frame Timberline Shelter, Barr Trail, Pikes Peak

I pulled into the parking lot off Ruxton over the Hydro Plant immediately behind a guy in a Toyota Tundra.  As we were both getting our stuff together, he asked if I was heading to the summit and if I’d ever done so.  I answered in the affirmative to both questions, prompting his follow-up: can we hike up together.  He wasn’t so keen on my idea of starting the hike on the Incline, but he decided it’d provide a good challenge and cool story.

(Aside: committing to spend the entire morning with a complete stranger may seem striking, but it’s not.  My rationale: we’re both in the parking lot at the bottom of Barr Trail at 4:45am – we’ve definitely got enough in common to carry 5 or 6 hours of conversation!)

Just like that, Jay and I were headed up the mountain.

We’d probably have made it to Barr Camp a half hour or 45 minutes faster, but Jay tweaked one of his calves on the Incline and it kept seizing up on him.  He worked through it nicely and we kept a nice pace the rest of the way.

I love the mountain, the people and the culture of the place, but where Pikes Peak by Barr Trail really gets great is at the Ghost Forest a bit above Barr Camp.  Next is the A Frame Timberline Shelter, followed by a climb up to a broad, bouldered bench.  For its beautiful alpine tundra and wild granite figures, my favorite part of the hike is around the 3-miles-out mark (progress is all very well marked).  Once the trail switches on a long, southerly crossing of the east face of the mountain, you’re treated to a couple nice looks into the 1,500-feet-deep Cirque.  A few mouths full of diesel exhaust from the Cog train let you know you’re close to the destination.  The “16 Golden Stairs” are the final switchbacks before the summit, where a zoo awaits.

Pikes Peak, Barr Trail

Greening, blooming tundra and granite figures make this my favorite part of Barr Trail, two or three miles shy of the summit.

Jay wasn’t hiking round trip, as he had a 5pm commitment far across town.  I hung out at the summit house while Jay lined up a ride down with a family from Kansas City.  We thanked each other for what was certainly a mutually positive experience.

The hike down was marked with a nice Father’s Day phone call with my wife, son and father, all of whom are in Michigan at the moment.  Passing through Barr Camp, there was a little to-do about a huge black bear that’s been hanging around this spring.  I also took a little more time to shoot some photos than I did on the way up (example: the stands of Columbine just above the Fremont Experimental Forest were in the shadows on ascent, but lit on the way down).

It was a fantastic 12-hour day throughout which I became more fond and more familiar with my “home court” hike.  Pikes Peak and Barr Trail don’t get much love from the serious hiking and climbing community (my impression), so I’ll share it in abundance.  I aspire to return annually, maybe at different times of the season.

Random Notes

I really felt great all day – never weak, tired or sore.  That said, I woke up pretty tight on Monday morning!

The summit is not the best part of Pikes Peak.  The views are nice, but not nearly as fine as those on many, many other mountain tops or as those from elsewhere on the mountain.

To enjoy the finest part of the experience in a way that doesn’t require as long or high a climb, I recommend you drive to the summit and hike down three or four miles.  Sure, you’ll have to hike back up, but you’ll have walked the finest part of Barr Trail.

By starting the hike on the Incline, you knock off a mile or mile and a half in distance and put 2,000 feet of the 7,500 foot climb behind you.

Tedious Lists

Timeline:

  • Parking lot 4:45am
  • Start of Incline 5am
  • Barr Camp 7:15 or 7:30am
  • Summit 11:15am
  • Depart summit 12:15pm
  • Back at parking lot 4:45pm

Beverages drunk:

  • 3 liters of water
  • 1 32oz Gatorade (Fruit Punch-Berry)
  • 1 16oz Gatorade (Lemon Lime, purchased at summit at 250% of normal retail price)

Snacks thrown down:

Albums to which I pop/rocked down the mountain:

Links

My Flickr photo set of the marathon round trip summit hike of Pikes Peak by Barr Trail is here.  Click “Slideshow” to see them in sequence.

The 2009 Pikes Peak Atlas by Ormes and Houdek is here.

Previous blog post with more details about Barr Trail and Pikes Peak is here.

I’m obviously extremely fond of Pikes Peak.  If you have any questions about the mountain or the hike, please Connect with me about it.

Pikes Peak: Gleeful Ignorance vs Mental Challenge

Tomorrow, I’ll day-hike Barr Trail to the summit of Pikes Peak and back down for the second time.  This hike, however, already feels different.

My first ascent was undertaken in gleeful ignorance just three weeks after moving to Colorado Springs.

  • Sure, I knew I’d be hiking about 25 or 26 miles round trip to the top of “America’s Mountain,” the inspiration for the writing of “America the Beautiful.”
  • Yeah, I knew it would require most of my waking hours that day.
  • Absolutely, I was up for a walk up through three distinct ecological life zones (Montane, Spruce-fir and alpine).

It wasn’t until I hiked up alongside of JJ, a 20-something from Denver who’s in the Colorado Mountain Club, about 5 miles up that I really understood the accomplishment of day-hiking it.  The young man filled me in.

Pikes Peak, Barr Trail, 14er, mountain, summit, hike, peak, Colorado, Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs

First summit hike of Pikes Peak by Barr Trail, September 2006

Pikes Peak by Barr Trail is marathon-length, the longest approach of any of Colorado’s famed 14ers (+14,000 peaks).  It also has the greatest elevation gain of any approach; from the trailhead in Manitou Springs to the summit, you climb approximately 7,500 vertical feet.

Among more than 50 qualifying Colorado peaks, Pikes ranks 30th at 14,110ft above sea level.  So, it’s not even close to being the highest.

It’s also not the most technical.  In fact, it’s probably the least technical.  Barr Trail is a Class 1 walk-up, about as simple a summit hike as you’ll find.

It’s also insanely civilized.  To call Barr Trail heavily used is a gross understatement, even by 14er standards.  There’s Barr Camp halfway up, where many hikers spend the night, purchase t-shirts, eat a pancake breakfast or pick up a bottled drink.  The summit itself is a tourist’s delight, designed to satisfy all those who drive up the Pikes Peak Highway or ride up the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.  In addition to a huge gift shop, replete with the requisite “Got Oxygen” t-shirts, summit house offers a snack bar and fresh donut stand.  Note: in addition to hiking it, I’ve been up by (rental) car and by cog railway.

So, what’s the difference between my initial go at it and what I’m preparing for tomorrow?  I don’t keep a list, but I’d guess I’ve climbed a couple dozen mountains since my day-hike of Pikes Peak.  So what’s the big deal?

I’ll call it the mental aspect of endurance.  It’s a little more in my head now.  I’m thinking too much about it.  It’s shaping up as more of a mental challenge than a physical one.

It’s going to be a long day – probably 12 or 13 hours of hiking.  I’m going to start before sunrise.  I’m certain to have blisters by the end of the day (even though I plan to switch between shoes and boots near treeline).

I’m not going up the much shorter Crags route on the west side of the mountain.  I’m not splitting the hike in half with by staying overnight at Barr Camp.  I’m not hiking up, then catching a ride back down in a car or on the train.

Instead, I’m heading up as fast as I can, buying a Gatorade in the summit house, seeing how full the parking lot is, then hauling all the way back down and out (the hike down’s different, but it isn’t easy).  I’m already wondering how tired and sore I might be as I head in to work on Monday morning.

To feel a little more prepared, I put on my boots and a full pack and did The Incline this morning.  And to think … last time, I simply decided on a Thursday afternoon that Saturday’s weather looked good, so I should head up that mountain in my back yard.

All kinds of Pikes Peak photos from my Flickr photo stream are here.

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