After getting snowed out on several previous attempts to summit America’s Mountain, we finally had a window of opportunity with the warming temps and slowly departing snow. Leaving Denver late Friday evening, we set up camp just as the sun was setting a little ways above the Crags Trailhead.
We awoke the next morning at 4 a.m., as always, reminding myself that I needed a hobby that does not involve waking up before the sunrise. About an hour later, we were packed and on the trail at 5:15 a.m., just as the sun was beginning to peek over the mountains.
We knew we had a long ascent in front of us (6.5 miles) and the hike started accordingly: gradually. As we walked below treeline for the first 2.5 miles, the trail stayed mostly dry, only having to cross a few snowy spots. Once we emerged from the trees at 12,000 feet, our situation changed:
The trail suddenly steepened and became increasingly snow-covered to the point where we were essentially climbing steps of snow. Thankfully, we had gotten an early enough start so the snow was still frozen. We hadn’t brought snowshoes, so this was a tremendous blessing.
At this point in time, the summit of Pikes Peak was blocked by the ridge line in front of us and we were somewhat unsure of where the trail was going to go. We decided to climb directly up the snowfield to gain the ridge line so we could assess our next step. As we neared the top at 12,700 feet, we were treated to the first alpenglow of 2011.
At the top of the ridge, the rest of our hike was laid out before us. Now we knew the full scope of what we had to accomplish…and it was not going to be short work. Add in the fact that the wind had suddenly picked up to 30mph+ and we had a tough couple of hours in front of us. We began to walk down the slight descent into the Devil’s Playground, so named because of the way lightning bounces from rock to rock during storms on this area of the mountain.
Devil’s Playground has to be one of the most beautiful alpine areas I’ve come across.
Shortly after passing through Devil’s Playground, we come across the Bottomless Pit couloir. The road runs right by here, so we took a second to stop and glance down the couloir that is famously known for there being two car wrecks towards the bottom. Many skiers often come across them as they pick their lines. As for us, it was one of the steepest slopes I’ve ever seen. Lets just leave it at that…for now.
After pausing for a short break by the Bottomless Pit, we started trekking upwards again. Our hike was a bit easier now…at least the route finding part of it, since all we had to do was follow the road.
As you can see on the right side of the above picture, our climb soon became much steeper (although still not too bad by 14er standards). We could sense that we were getting closer to the summit…but at the same time, it was getting increasingly windier. Considering how windy it had been…this was getting a lot tougher.
As we began our final ascent, the hike became noticeably rockier and steeper. However, the snow became less consistent so it was a trade-off of sorts. For this last segment of the hike, I don’t believe a word was exchanged between the 4 of us. We solemnly set our sights on the task ahead and pushed through the wind and the pain of the first 14er of the season.
All in all, the last push was about 1,000 vertical feet and we were finally at the summit. Only 3:34 (probably a bit more as I kept accidentally stopping my watch) to the summit. When we arrived on top…we made a beeline for the Summit House where the Cog folk went shopping and enjoyed their donuts and an UNEARNED view.
As much as we hated everyone else around us, we happily grabbed a booth and sat down for almost an hour. The wind and length of the hike along with it being the first of the season had exhausted us. During this hour, all four of us inhaled Clif Bars and Trail Mix, seemingly unable to satisfy our hunger.
Finally, we decided to get all of our gear back on and head out onto the summit so we could take the requisite summit photos and then start our journey down.
Below you will find a couple of other summit photos:
After ten minutes of taking pictures and meandering about the broad summit, we begrudgingly we began our descent. Immediately we were reminded of how strong the wind was, but thankfully the lower we hiked, the less the wind affected us. The hike down wasn’t too tricky and we got back to 13,000 feet relatively quickly. From here on out, our descent was very gradual which can be a welcome feeling on tired legs. Sometimes I feel as though the constant stabilization of descending exhausts me more than the climb.
After the long ascent, we were ready to cut loose a little bit on our way down. Once the wind died down, our spirits raised noticeably and we became much more playful. Kris and I attempted to practice our glissading skills on some snow slopes we had climbed up earlier. Unfortunately, most of it was too soft or not steep enough to effectively slide down.
However, during our glissading forays, we managed to end up north of the trail, which Ben and Amanda humbly pointed out after a short while. Fortunately enough we were able to see the trail from our position and work our way back to it. We had to do some serious bushwhacking through 2 ravines to get As we trekked across the slopes, the snow had softened up considerably with the early afternoon warmth and we lost Brownie to one of the more awesome post-holes I have seen. All the way up to her waist! there though.
Once we were back on the trail, we finished out the hike without event.
Pikes Peak Stats:
Total Time: 6:49
Moving Time: 4:49
Elevation: 4,458 feet
Avg. Pace: 30:00/mile