pikes

There are two routes up Pikes Peak. This first-hand account follows the East slopes 13 miles up, and 13 miles back down to Manitou Springs. There is a shorter route, 14 miles round-trip, on the other face of the mountain but it is not as easily accessible and is far more challenging than the east slopes. If you and your partners decide that Pikes is a worth venture, keep in mind that the Barr Trail route is a 26 mile round-trip excursion. It is imperative that climbers not only start before sunrise, but also eat a hearty meal beforehand.

And we are off!
And we are off!

Class 2, 14,110’ Pikes Peak had waited in my backyard for my ascent for twenty one years. Finally, on August 8, 2014, I packed my day bag and headed into the Front Range with my dad (this would be our first and last climb together). Our ascent began just before sunrise on a particularly warm morning on familiar territory, Barr Trail Manitou Springs. We ran into the switch backs almost immediately after beginning the climb. Although they were steep, we hiked the first four miles without any problems. We did, however, find ourselves shedding layers quicker than we had originally predicted and also passed by numerous runners who were practicing for the annual Pikes Peak race. Once we had successfully completed the first segment of switchbacks, we quickly learned the rules of Pikes: after every section, there is a deceivingly flat portion that only leads to steep switchbacks. So, we decided to stop to re-energize with a quick snack approximately two miles out from Barr Camp; by this time, still a discouraging nine miles from the summit, I was already using the man-made metal mile markers as my motivation.

Now, halfway into our ascent in terms of distance and elevation, the trail was well defined and the terrain was not difficult but the seemingly endless journey to the top made it challenging to keep moving forward. In addition to the trail of the thirteen mile one-way trip, my shoulder (still recovering from a sprained joint, sprained rotator cuff, and a partial tear) added an additional element that I would have to overcome. By the time we made it half way up to mountain to Barr Camp, my dad and I were both all too thankful for the extra stability that our new hiking poles were giving us. We enjoyed a peaceful lunch at Barr Camp with about a dozen other people, none of whom looked as if they were prepared to finish the long trek to the summit, and one particularly friendly squirrel. After eating, we settled back into our pace fairly quickly although I will admit that I was moving slower than usual for my dad and for my shoulder. After nine or ten miles of hiking, dad and I reached the A-frame (a shelter for climbers at the Timberline). Then, after exactly 23 more switchbacks, we were well above the timberline and fatigue was starting to set in but we were ready to face the final three miles of our climb. From this point, the trail had some rough spots to the summit and also gained 3,000 feet of elevation is just three miles.

Between one and two miles below the summit is a long traverse across the wide east face of Pikes Peak, and you can look up to see the Pikes Peak summit house, tantalizingly close. At one mile to go, the long traverse is done, and the trail climbs just below the ridge for a few hundred yards, then cuts back into the middle of the east face where the final challenge of the climb is waiting – the “16 Golden Stairs”. Each “stair” is a set of two switchbacks to the top of the peak, but only the first few involve a set of steep rock-stairs. After these initial few “stairs”, the route traverses a little more to the north, before the final push to the summit. The last mile was brutal and all that I wanted was to be finished, so I broke the number one rule of climbing and abandoned my dad as I charged the way to the top. I ended up summitting about half an hour before he did; looking back, I should have stayed with him and regret my decision to finish sooner. Eight hours after we started, my dad and I took a traditional photo at the summit and decided to take the COG Railway back to the base of the mountain. Overall, the hike was strenuous because of the long ascent up to high elevations. The trail itself is fairly smooth and non-technical. You have to be in good condition just to ascend the mountain. If you plan on being one of the 60,000 ambitious hikers who attempt to take on Pikes, give yourself a minimum of eight hours to reach the summit – this is considered to be a very brisk pace.

A Colorado sunrise as seen from Barr Trail.
A Colorado sunrise as seen from Barr Trail.

©Jenna Lowery

Directions from Breckenridge: This peak is located in El Paso County, approximately two hours from Summit. Although this drive is longer, Pikes is one of the most popular mountains in all of Colorado and is absolutely worth the trip for any serious groups looking to go hiking in Breckenridge.

Drive south on CO-9. Take US-24 E to US-24 Business exit/Manitou Ave. Continue on US-24 BUS E. Take Ruxton Ave to Hyrdro Street. Park along the side of the road (be sure to pay the meter) and head over to the start on the Incline.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *