Life: Climbing Pike’s Peak

Pikes PeakI hesitated to title this post “climbing” Pike’s Peak, as one would normally think of simply “hiking” it. However, it doesn’t seem like summer yet here in sunny Colorado, and when my sister and I went out for a summit attempt last weekend, we found ourselves in some pretty deep snow above tree line. Hiking Pike’s Peak via Barr Trail from Manitou Springs is an endurance feat more than anything else. The trail is 12.6 miles one-way, and the total elevation gain from trailhead to summit is 7,510 feet.

We started out at 5 a.m. and made it to Barr Camp—about halfway at 10,200 feet—a few hours later. All was going well at this point…we were on schedule, and we stopped for some sandwiches and a little stretch.

Barr Camp

It wasn’t until above tree line that the going got rough. The winds picked up, and the trail became covered with snow. We were punching through the crust into knee-deep hollows, which sort of slows things down. Here’s Shawna resting against one of the many boulders we navigated around:

Nearing the Top

Above 13,000 feet, I start feeling the altitude, and by that time, we were picking our own route through the snow. Hikers refer to this area of the trail as the 16 Golden Stairs…it’s normally a series of sixteen steep switchbacks that include high-stepping on and over a bunch of large boulders. This was all snow-covered. So instead of going that way, we post-holed straight up on solid snow and then cut towards the summit across this scenic ridge:

Shawna on Ridge

Then there it was in front of us…the final summit push. We could hear the cog railway whistle as it came into the station, and just as we were stepping up the final steep slope, we saw the tourists unloading.

Summit

Pike’s Peak is a funny summit…since there’s a road that goes all the way to the top and a cog railway that chugs up there several times a day, the summit atmosphere has somewhat of a carnival feel. People are walking around light-headed in the gift shop, eating potato wedges and pizza slices.

Summit Sisters

Of course, we too took the requisite summit photo…still smiling at 14,110 feet! Although we had originally planned to hike all the way back down to Manitou, we opted to hop on the cog railway and avoid a deep snow descent.

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23 responses to “Life: Climbing Pike’s Peak

  1. I love the cheesy summit photos! Well done, you two!

  2. Shawna Macnamara

    I think my favourite part was when I said, “We’re taking the cog down.” and then you said, “We’ll discuss that at the top”. Good one.

    I also enjoyed our french fries and soft pretzel with cheese…this concept though proves that altitude can lead to poor decision makin.

    Good times!

  3. Craziness. I didn’t have snow like that when I hked/climbed Pikes Peak in June 2005… wow. But my great adventure from that trip was getting five toenails surgically removed because of ill-fitting hiking boots (that were “professionally fitted,” mind you); the surgery was *after* a descent from the peak to Barr Camp and another six miles or so hike out with a full pack the next day. 🙂 It’s all good. Toenails all grew back and not even freakishly. Woot-woot! Congrats, Traci and Shawna!

  4. Oh, my. I’ve never sacrificed five toenails to a trail…and hopefully (knock on wood) I won’t have to do so this summer!

  5. Nice job you two! I’ve never encountered snow on the Peak yet! Some hail that’s it. I’ll be attempting my tenth summit on Aug 28th 2k9.

    God bless!
    -James

  6. Christine Coney

    Hello, judging by the date of your article, June 17, 2009, you climbed Pikes Peak sometime before that…
    I was planning on climbing with a friend on Aug 23rd, what are your thoughts on the timing and the amount of snow we will encounter?
    we are still small time hikers; only 5 14ers under our belts…thanks, c

    • Christine, I’ll second James’s comments. In August, it’s probably better to worry more about afternoon thunderstorms than snow. Get on the trail early…as you probably know, it’s a good idea to summit by noon and be back below treeline before any bad weather comes rolling in. Have a great hike! -traci m.

  7. Hey Christine,
    You should be safe as far as not encountering snow goes at this time of the year. But, be prepared to turn around if you don’t feel comfortable climbing. Like I mentioned above, I have hiked 9 times so far in late August early Sept. and never encountered snow. Just some hail on my first hike in 2000. I was a mile from the top and it lasted 10 minutes and provided me with a ball of ice to drink from as I had run out of water! 😉

    I’ll be on the mountain a week after you. Enjoy and God bless!

    James Jordan

  8. I am planning my first hike up the peak next summer. My guess is that I should hike with others, perhaps some one with experience. How might I connect up with a few folks. Planning to reach Barr Camp day one and summit on day two and COG railway down. What is the best time of year for this adventure….Thanks a million.

  9. Hey Dwight,
    You can try hooking up with some folks using craigslist. But, I’d want to meet them days before the hike before meeting them at the trail head at 3am if you know what I mean.

    Just a thought, but you can make this hike in one day EASY! Unless you are wanting to do the two day experience I say one day is enough.

    I have hiked Pikes Peak ten times now over the last nine years. You can do it alone. I did it alone on my first try. A word about alone on the Peak. You will not really be alone as many people will pass by you and you will pass by many of them. I have made some great friends while hiking that peak!

    Best time to hike for me is last week of August first week of September. Or anytime after the last snow is gone. Make sure you do not try the hike the weekend of the Assent. You can find that info by googling it.

    If you would like any more info feel free to hit me up. jamesjayjordan@gmail.com or go to my website above and email me from there.

    Best,
    James

  10. It’s difficult to find well-informed people for this topic, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

  11. I am 58 years old and want to try to hike pp I would like to take two days and possible sleep one night there is this a problem suggestions from experienced folks will be appreciated. one more thing off the bucketlist thanks

    • Hello Greg,

      Hiking Pikes Peak in two days is the way a lot of folks do it. You need to book the night at Barr Camp to sleep. (http://www.barrcamp.com/) Unless you plan to sleep along the trail, which I have seen some people do in the past.

      Hiking the Peak in one day has always been more desirable to me though. It is a relatively easy hike to do in one day as long as you pace yourself and are acclimated to the altitude. Which if you are not from Colorado should take about two days if you are in decent shape. You can ride the Cog Railway down. (http://www.cograilway.com/)

      I’d say the biggest problem you may have in doing the overnight hike is the fact that you will have to carry all your sleeping gear and everything else because Barr Camp does not supply covers and sheets.

      My best advice is that if you encounter anything like altitude sickness, rain, snow or a gut feeling that you should turn back by all means turn back. The mountain will be there the next time you want to try for the summit.

      Hike safe and God bless!
      James

  12. Hello All,My 2 teenage sons and I are contemplating hiking to the summit the week before Thanksgiving. We are in pretty good shape and have hiked the Grand Canyon, but no high altitude experience. What do you think? Should we attempt the hike or pass? We will be in the Denver area for a week and this may be our only chance. Any advice would be appreciated

    • It’s a long hike, best done in the summer months because it can have snow towards the summit. Hmmm…it’s already snowing here in the high country in Colorado, but I’m in Vail now–many hours away from Pike’s Peak. Check with local, Colorado-Springs-area rangers to check on conditions. Also check on your options to take the cog railway back down–if it’s still running, you may be able to hike up and then take the railway down if you don’t want to hike it both ways.

  13. Does anyone have any advice on hiking up the Barr in early April, like around the 8th? Keep in mind this would be the first 14er my husband and I have ever attempted. We aren’t planning the trip around the hike, but will be in Denver several days and have wanted to hike Pikes for a while. Thanks.

    • Hello. I wanted to know if you and your husband did the hike. Me and my Husband are planning to hike April 14th and its our first 14er too. Was there a lot of snow? Thanks, Eliada

  14. My wife and I, and a couple of our kids are starting training now (we are old and out of shape) to hopefully do the climb possibly this fall, but more likely in 2015. What are the best months to try it, as far as temps and storms and such?

    Thanks,

    Frank

  15. In my experience the best months to hike are July, August and first half of Sept. You are least likely to encounter snow towards the peak. But, I have seen snow up there in late July. Not much, but still snow. Remember, that storms at altitude, rain, thunder, lightening and snow can happen at any time! Also, good to remember that you do not want to hike the weekend of The Ascent. (http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/)

    As far as temps go. Expect a 30-40 degree difference from the trailhead to the summit. I usually start at 3am and it’s usually pretty cool at that time. So, the difference in temp can be nice as you hike to warmer temps and then to a bit cooler at the top.

    Make sure to get some good walking poles and comfortable walking shoes or running shoes. (I hike in Vibram 5 Fingers, but that’s not for everyone by any means.) Make sure you have a way off the mountain and do not be afraid to turn around. Like I’ve said before. The mountain will be there next time! You need to be too!

    God bless and hike well!

    James

    • Thanks James for you reply. When you start at 3 AM is that to do it in one day? My thinking right now is that we would stay over night at Barr Camp. But we are VERY early in the planning stage so I dunno for sure. I seem to recall that i read somewhere that waiting till Sept reduces the risk of lightning. have you seen that to be true?

      thanks again,

      f

      • Hey Frank,

        I do indeed start that early for a one day hike. But there are other reasons. I want to be off the mountain before the afternoon storms so starting that early gets me to the top before noon and off soon thereafter. I also enjoy starting that early to be alone on the trail. I really enjoy the solitary solitude. Seeing the sun rise is also a big plus to starting early. And getting started early also means getting a parking spot at the trail head.

        If you plan on an overnight trip then you can start pretty much anytime you like and make Barr Camp in 4-5 hours.

        I have found that hiking in September does not reduce the risk of storms. Above tree line anything can happen and happen quickly almost any month of the year. Not trying to scare you here. Just a fact.

        James

  16. Dumb question but… do any folks carry mini oxygen tanks for help near the top?

    • I have never seen any one hiking carrying O2. If you get to Colorado Springs and give yourself two-three days to acclimate you should be fine. Unless of course you have COPD or another lung ailment. I would talk to my doctor about the hike first.

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