TRIP REPORT: Pikes Peak (14,115′)

Pikes Peak is known as “America’s Mountain” and is the most popular fourteener in the US (mostly because you can drive up it).

However it is typically known to be one of the harder hikes due to distance and gain. There are 2 main routes. The Barr Trail starts in Manitou Springs and is the standard route. It tracks 26 miles round trip and about 7,600′ of gain but is only a class 1 hike and is not technical. The shorter route is the North West Slopes route outside of Divide, CO at 14 miles round trip and 4,300′ of gain but is a bit more difficult to navigate as it is class 2 near the summit.

This particular report follows the upper portion of the NW Slopes route. The trail parallels Pikes Peak highway one you come out above tree line. My husband and I were celebrating our anniversary this particular weekend and we planned for him to meet me at the summit so for the sake of time and consideration of my husband, I decided to start my hike from Devil’s Playground at around 12,900′, while he shuttled to the top to wait for me. Some might call this cheating, however that is up to you and your preference on how you would like to climb this mountain.

***NOTE on 14er “rules”***

There are a few different “rules” some people consider to count as an official 14er summit. One is that you must climb at least 3,000′ of gain for it to count, another is that you must summit and descend on foot. THIS IS UP TO YOU AND YOUR OWN LEVEL OF PRIDE. There are a handful of 14ers that have high trailheads and less than 3,000′ of gain as their standard route. This is a separate level of achievement some people strive for and one I have zero interest in. The other “rule” is also just a matter of pride for people. When I took my husband up Mount Evans several years ago, we hitched a ride back to our car from the summit because he was suffering from altitude sickness. I still felt we both earned the summit because we did the hard work of the uphill climb to the top.

In the case of Pikes Peak, I had every intention of shuttling back to the car with my husband when I planned this climb. This was probably one of the 14ers I cared least about. I figured if I at least did the work to summit and check it off my list, that is enough for me. Out of 58 14ers, Evans and Pikes are the only two with roads to the summit. I have to do the hard work on every other mountain, I personally don’t feel the need to do the full ascent/descent on this particular peak.

FROM DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND:

The NW slopes route is 7 miles to the summit. Reaching Devil’s playground marks 2.5 miles left to go. From the parking lot you cross the street to the trail on the other side of the road. (DO NOT HIKE ON THE ROAD. It is not allowed and is dangerous due to traffic) The first stretch of trail from Devil’s Playground is fairly flat and parallels the road until a hairpin turn near some cliffs.

Stay on the road side of the turn wall because walking below the turn wall is VERY shallow and exposed. The trail then does up and over the hill to an open area next to point 13,363′. Follow the trail straight on through this area back to the road’s switchback up ahead.

From here you have about 600′ vert to the summit. The trail steepens and the trail gets more difficult to follow. Keep a careful eye out for cairns as the official trial switchbacks in the rocks and is easy to lose. As you top out the ridge at 14,000′ you can see the final road turn. stay to the left of the road and aim for the weather station on the summit.

This is a LARGE summit area to explore! Current conditions when we were on top had construction blocking off areas of the summit but the new summit house is nearly complete, and the Cog Train should be running again May of next year according to their website. The old summit house was still open so we were able to enjoy the famous pikes peak donuts.

It was a beautiful day and I am glad I got to share the top with my husband (even if he didn’t hike it).

TRIP REPORT: Mount Elbert (14,439′)

There is no better way to celebrate the summer solstice than from the highest point in Colorado! Mount Elbert is located in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains just outside the city of Leadville. Not only is it the state’s high point, but it is the second highest point in the contiguous US. A steep climb, but definitely one for the books!

Looking N-NW from the summit

Out climb started just after 3:30am from the standard North route. The trail started off pretty moderately with switchbacks for the first mile, very doable. The trail then flattens out and actually heads slightly downhill for about 5 minutes of walking or so before you reach the Contintental Divide trail fork. This flat continues for just another half mile or so before the steeper incline begins. This first steeper section goes for another mile or so until you hit treeline and makes you question your life choices.

At this point, coming out of the trees the we were in twilight and sunrise was approaching. we slowly continued to make our way out of the trees just in time to see the alpenglow hit the peak in front of us and watch the sunrise. Once out of the trees you can basically see the majority of the route headed up the ridge. It is a slow steep walk but take your time and you will get there!

steepest pitch up 1st false summit

The crux of the route starts at about 13,000′. This is the steepest section and is a slow spot. Knowing you have 1,400′ left of climbing the first 900′ are right in front of you in a very short distance. This is the first false summit.

2nd false summit

As you come around the north side and to the top of the false summit you can see the second false summit in front of you, a more moderate incline in comparison as you make your way up the hill.

3rd false summit…

As you come up on this second false summit the 3rd and last false peak gets your hopes up as it LOOKS like it could be the real deal…. it is not. HOWEVER, as you quickly make your way up this last hill you can see the REAL summit and it is a simple 2-4 minute ridge walk away!

Actual summit just ahead!

Welcome to the roof of Colorado at 14,439 feet!!!!! We took our time on the way up as we encountered wind and cold and had to keep adding layers. We summited at 8:50am.

The decent took half the time for the most part. Some steeper spots were a little slow for those needing to be gentle on the knees. (bring poles) As for difficulty, its just the steep gain and the altitude. The standard North route is a class 1. Very well maintained trail as it is heavily trafficked. We did pass plenty of people who turned around early in the morning as they were not feeling it that day. Also, being June it was VERY cold and windy for us. It had snowed the day before so the summit temps were at or just above freezing that morning and the windchill was recorded at 17 degrees Fahrenheit! (burrr) Overall, it was a BEAUTIFUL day to summit.

HAPPY SUMMER!