I don’t care how old you are, or how great of shape you’re in, Pikes Peak is a difficult hike. Strenuous. Probably the most difficult thing you will ever do in your entire life. It’s 26 grueling miles, 13 of which are uphill, 6 of which are above the treeline, exposed to the elements. It’s difficult in any condition, but Troop 2393 did it with 30lb packs!
A week before the trek I talked with the girls to let them know what they were getting into. I told them it was difficult, explained what would happen at each point in the hike, and told them they would want to give up. In fact, they’d beg me to give up. They’d curse me as well for making them continue. Did they want to summit? If so, I’d do my best to make sure they all summited. They did.
Since this was their first big hike we started out earlier than usual. I woke them up at 2am, we had our traditional muffins for breakfast they’d cooked the night before, and we were on the trail at 3:17am. The girls were really excited! We wore our headlamps around our necks instead of on our heads, and moths were attracted to us like flames. We were batting them away until the sun rose.
I knew this hike was going to be difficult almost immediately. About half a mile in the girls started complaining this was harder than they’d thought, and one of the girls was having difficulty breathing. We took many more breaks than I would have liked and for much longer periods to compensate. It took us 2 hours to go the first 2 miles (it usually takes about 45 minutes).
After the 3 mile mark everyone was back to “normal” (breathing was fine, etc.) but we still took it very slow. I was glad we’d started extra early!
We made it to Barr Camp and the girls collapsed by the stream. They were already exhausted! I tried to remind them this was difficult, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t listening…
It was 3 more miles to the A-frame, and we were in a bit of a hurry to make sure we were able to “claim” it. Otherwise we’d be sleeping in caves tonight (one of which leaks due to snow). I told myself I’d adjust the hike depending on the next 3 miles. There was a big chance we wouldn’t be summiting at all. Even with all the prep work it was much harder than they’d anticipated. Around mile 7 I had a girl pretend to faint. Yes, I’m sure she was pretending and looking for sympathy. However, she’s relatively new to the troop and didn’t realize that was the wrong game to play with me. I totally understood she felt she’d bitten off more than she could chew, but as far as I’m concerned you don’t joke around with safety. I let her know how I felt. She didn’t have any more issues after that.
Every 30 seconds or so I’d look over my shoulder to see how the girls were doing, and around mile 8 I had a girl actually faint. Right in the middle of the trail! She had been in the back of the line and none of the other girls had heard. Luckily we’d only gone about 30 feet or so. I told the girls to sit down, and ran to the one who’d fainted. Her skin was clammy and she was a bit cold. After gently tapping and nudging her a few times she woke up very confused. She didn’t remember falling. She must have done so gracefully because she wasn’t hurt at all, just confused. I’d been “pushing” water on the girls, so I knew she was hydrated, so that wasn’t the issue. Her body was just really tired. We took a long break until I was sure she was feeling better and we set off at a slower pace. I like to lead (so I’m the one who runs into that snake or slips on something), but I figured at this point we’d all take turns leading and I’d be in the back so I could watch the girls better.
It was a tough next mile, but the girls made it!!! Look at their excitement upon making it to the A-frame!
Here we took a REALLY long break. Over an hour. The girls relaxed, wrote their names on the walls to record their achievement, and consumed a lot of calories. Some girls refilled their water (filtered it), but everyone relaxed. We went over the journey so far, and the girls admitted it was harder than they’d anticipated, but (after their break) they all said they wanted to try to summit.
So we left all the gear we didn’t need in the A-frame, and set out with just the essentials to hike the remaining 3 miles to the peak.
I knew this was going to be challenging for them, so I tried to think of a game to keep their minds off the difficulty. Most of the girls had never seen a marmot before, so I asked them to count how many they saw. Some we may have counted twice and I’m sure there were some we missed, but we ended up counting between 40-50 marmots! They make a really annoying chirping sound…
After the first half mile the complaints began again. I had one girl adamant she no longer wanted to do this. She’d brought her cell phone, and wanted to call her mom to come get her (as if that were even a possibility at 12,500 feet 11 miles from the car). I’m 95% sure she was texting her mom at this time, telling her what an awful person I was. However, I’ve done this hike many times, and I know this behavior is “normal” at this point in the hike, so I encouraged her to continue. I knew there’d be more nasty comments to come, and I knew while only one (or two) girls would actually say they were tired, wanted to stop, couldn’t breathe, etc., everyone was thinking the same thing. This is the part of the hike where I get to be the “bad guy” in the nicest way possible, encouraging them to continue. Some of them said they really didn’t want to continue, but I knew how upset they’d be if they gave up, so I kept cheering them on. After all, if it was easy everyone would do it and there wouldn’t be bragging rights!
Since a lot of the trail was covered in snow and we had to get creative to continue climbing. We looked like we really knew what we were doing, and had several first timers follow us on the hike. It’s really cool to have things like this happen!
The changing point to the hike came about a mile and a half from the summit. At this point the “complainers” realized I wasn’t giving in, and this is also where a lot of the trail was covered in snow. The girls had to be very careful and work together to navigate the trail. I guess for them this is when it became fun!
Make no mistake, they were still sore and tired, but from here on out they trudged on without my constant encouragement and even seemed to enjoy the experience.
The small streams on the trail were fun to navigate as well. The girls asked me to take this picture for fun!
Once we made it to the Cirque (just under a mile from the summit) the trail became unnavigable. No worries: I did this hike last week. All we needed to do was head towards the “16 Golden Stairs” sign and then head straight up to the summit. It was difficult, but the girls seemed to have fun! We had another first timer follow us on this route as well.
The final push to the summit was really hard, but not one of the girls complained even once! It was as if a switch had been turned on, they all realized how close they were, and they WANTED to summit. It wasn’t easy: we had to scramble on the rocks and make our own trail.
About halfway to the top from where the rock scrambling started someone shouted “Look! Bighorn Sheep!” Indeed, there were 3 bighorn sheep traversing the ridge next to us! They were robust, confident animals. We watched them until they were out of sight (about 5 minutes). As an added bonus it was a nice break! The girls commented on how they made rock climbing look easy!
After about 20 more minutes of losing our footing, cheering each other on, and mini-rockslides we made it to the summit!
We tried to stay a good distance apart from each other to minimize rock slide injuries, so the girls who made it first waited for everyone to get to the top before all holding hands and crossing the cog tracks together. This was their idea: I love these ladies!!!
The girls were all smiles, enthusiastic, and PROUD of themselves! They were glad they’d continued on, and celebrating their personal and physical victories.
We immediately went inside the summit house and got donuts and fudge. The girls commented how only hikers who’d summited should be allowed such luxuries… They’d EARNED it!
After a break of about 15 minutes we went outside for pictures.
Emily truly wanted a picture with me to show she’d hiked Pikes Peak. Her smile was all the thanks I needed!
You expend a LOT of energy just breathing at 14,000+ feet, so it’s dangerous to spend too much time at the top. Adding to that it was starting to get cold and the girls wanted dinner.
After the fun of last week getting down the mountain we decided this time to go down the same way we’d gone up. I explained to the girls how to keep their center of gravity low while navigating, and we began our decent.
It was slow going the first half mile or so for safety reasons, but after that we practically skipped back to the A-frame, high fiving ourselves the entire way. The girls were a bit upset we hadn’t “glissaded” so we found a safe place to do so. On purpose.
Dinner was terrible. We had Mountain House backpacking meals, and I’m not sure if it was the altitude or how they were prepared, but the consistency was either way too watery or not watery enough. They tasted OK, so the girls with extra watery meals added their ramen and were fine with that. Apparently it was an improvement for the ramen!
Samantha and Olivia were in charge of the fire. Check out what an awesome job they did! One match!
I’m REALLY GLAD we were the first ones there because there was serious competition! At least three other groups were interested in sleeping in the frame that night, but luckily had brought back-up tents as well. We made several friends at the A-frame, and invited them to join us in our fire.
Although this was the warmest night I’ve ever spent at the A-frame the girls all said they had trouble sleeping because it was so cold. We all set our alarms to watch the sunrise, but due to the fires in the area it was difficult to appreciate, so we all went back to bed.
At 7:30am we got up and quickly dressed. We were running out of food and needed to get back down the mountain. We ate our cheerios as we descended. While better than the hike up, the hike down was still a challenge. It was hot, the girls were tired and very sore. We had blisters on top of blisters, and needed frequent breaks.
We stopped about 6 times each mile to rest, and every 3 miles we took an extended break and took off our packs. However, at the 1.5 mile mark the girls got their second wind, asked if we could stop taking breaks, and booked it the rest of the way down. They were exhausted and excited to be done with the hike! I told them to pose for this picture describing how their bodies were aching at this point… They have blisters on top of blisters, and I know every muscle in their bodies ache, but they should be proud!!!
Pictures of the journey can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/Girl-Scout-Troop-2393-130509316441/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10153424760671442
Pikes Peak Summit Sticker can be bought here