Sixth Summit of Pikes Peak

Last night Nathan came over to spend the night before our
big hike the next morning. 
Sure, he
could have just met us at the trailhead, but he’d of had to pay for parking ($10
per vehicle) and besides, I wanted to be sure he was prepared for the
   He seemed truly confused when he arrived at
7:30pm and Liam, Lana, and Mr. Rasmussen were there.
 His look was quite comical.   We had
to explain a Girl Scout meeting had just ended.

I had a bunch of food out for the boys to make snacks (trail
mix, peanuts, popcorn, cheese-its, beef jerky, etc.), and asked them to each
make a snack bag to take with them.  
packed as light as I could.
  I took into
account exactly how much food/water I’d consumed on the last hike and tried to
bring the bare minimum to reduce pack weight.
I debated back and forth on whether or not to bring my windbreaker and
decided I’d never been upset I’d brought a jacket, and set it out with my pole.

I prepped them on the hike, asked them what they wanted for
breakfast (Thomas wanted to get up early to make eggs), and when they wanted to
I set out all my gear and went to
bed around 9pm with the boys chatting in the living room watching movies. We
decided on waking up at 2:15am and getting to the trail as soon as
  That ended up being a really
good idea.

We began our hike at 3:20am. 
The parking lot already had quite a few cars, which we assumed were from
people staying at Barr Camp.
   I was wearing a headlamp and took the
  Thomas had forgotten his
flashlight (well, he said Nathan forgot it, but it was really Thomas’
responsibility to make sure he had it).
 Nathan had a small flashlight so he took up
the rear.

There were more bugs than normal on this hike, all flying
into my headlamp (which means my face). 
My mind started to wander and I came up with a new theory.  I’ll summarize:  You know how many of the
people who saw bats a long time ago were miners in caves?
  Well, those miners probably wore headlamps,
which attracted bugs.
  Bats are attracted
to bugs as a food source, so maybe the old wives tale about bats being
attracted to your hair comes from early miners’ experiences with bats trying to
catch bugs by the light of their headlamps.
I may research this theory at some point…

About a mile into the trail I saw someone hiking towards us
with a green and red headlamp. 
As he got
closer I noticed he was wearing bear bells.
I wondered to myself if he had just done the Incline or if he’d been a
night hiker when he said “you’ve got a lot of hikers ahead of you” and passed
  Hmmmm.  I guess those cars were from early birds who
got an earlier start than we did.
Unusual because we’re usually one of the first ones on the trail at 4am,
and it wasn’t even 3:30 when we’d started.

Small tangent:  The hiker was wearing bear bells, but I saw
him before I heard him. Well before I heard him, and it was dark and
  I’m not sure how effective they
actually are in practice.
  Maybe they
give off a sound bears can hear better than humans?
  At any rate, it’s the first time I’ve seen a
hiker in our area hike with bells.

As we hiked in the dark the summit light was quite
more intense than I’ve ever seen
it before.
  At times I mistook it for the
moon, but I noticed there was no moon.
It must have set early or have been hidden behind the trees.   

We took off our jackets about 15 minutes into the hike
because it was warm. 
Every now and then
we’d get a current of air that would pass us.
Sometimes it was cold air, others it was warm.  With it came a change in scents as well.  We could smell the pine trees, the scent of
vanilla, and smoke from the Hayden Pass Fire in Fremont.

As the sun began to rise we could see Pikes Peak (and the
summit house). 
There was a dusting of
snow on the mountain from a storm the day before.

Around MM4 it got briskly cold and we all put on our jackets
I wished I’d brought gloves, and
by Barr Camp I’d lost all feeling in my fingers.
  We made it there at 6:20am, which meant it’d
taken us 3 hours to hike a little over 6 miles.
2mph is an average hiking speed. 
Not great, but not bad either.

I told the boys to make sure they ate something to keep up
their energy. 
Nathan informed me he hadn’t
brought along any food.
  I groaned
inwardly and offered him my trail mix.
He could have anything but the mangoes… they’re a vice of mine.

We set out again to hike towards the A-frame.  We met a lot of hikers along the trail.  One man told us this was his 4th
14ner in the past week!
  Wow!  That’s commitment!  We stopped and talked with a few hikers who
said they were from Canada.
they were with a group of 75 hikers, all from Canada.
  Their post is in Colorado Springs and they
make this a yearly activity.
  For most of
them it was their first time, but a few had summited before.

I talked to every single person we passed (or who passed us),
and made sure to tell them this was my 4
time hiking Pikes Peak
this month.
  Thomas corrected me and said
in the past 5 weeks (apparently month sounded like July only, and since it was
the 15
th that statement wasn’t true).  He then asked me why I was bragging so
  I admitted that yes, I was
bragging, but that wasn’t the only reason I mentioned my hiking success:
  I wanted to give the hikers something to
remember me by.
  If something happened to
us and we got lost or hurt, etc. they would remember our group by my statement just
as I remember the hiker who’d hiked 4-14ners was wearing a blue shirt and
orange hiking shoes.
  He’d given me something
to remember him by, and if asked, I’d be able to recall where I saw him on the
trail and at what time.
  It’s a survival
technique for hikers.
  The boys didn’t
seem too impressed with my reasoning.

At about mile 8 we saw a really cool Sphinx Moth.  It was very big, and looked like it’d just
emerged because it was fanning its wings as if it were drying them out.
  It was also walking up the trunk of the tree
while doing so.
  Very cool!

We made it the 3 miles to the A-frame at 7:50am, which meant
we were now hiking at 1.5mph. 
That’s not
a fast pace.
  As long as we kept moving
forward we’d be fine.
  The boys wanted a
break and I let them have one.
wanted a 2 hour break, to which I said that was unreasonable.
  We stayed at the A-frame for about 20 minutes
(way too long for me, not nearly enough time for him).
  You’d think Thomas would have wanted to sit
for his break, but instead he was throwing snowballs.

The area looked really cool. 
Yesterday’s storm had brought hail mixed with snow and it had frozen
  It was all very pretty. 

This part of the hike took what felt like forever but I’d
told myself to be patient and let the boys have as many breaks as they
We didn’t see as many marmots as
I’ve gotten used to seeing (maybe 2 or 3) and even though there was a dusting
of snow I couldn’t hear the usual running water below the rocks or see the
small streams that usually followed the trail.
We stopped for a bit at the Cirque and enjoyed the view.  They also ate the rest of my trail mix
(Thomas had run out before making it to the A-frame and was now sharing with

Thomas and I summited at 10:40am, just as a train was
I gave Thomas money to run
ahead and buy donuts while I waited for Nathan.
He wasn’t far behind us (probably 30 steps or so), but once that train
unloaded the food line would be horrendous.
Thomas also bought a Gatorade, Nachos, and French fries.

As I waited for Nathan a man walked up to me and asked if I
was with the Canada group. 
He was giving
the hikers from Canada water and snacks when they summited.

“No, but I passed a bunch of them on the way up” I
This seemed to tick him off
royally, and he walked away in a huff and proceeded to ignore me for the rest
of my wait.
  I honestly hadn’t meant to
offend him.
  Canadians.  Eh.

We sat at a booth outside (they run the heaters inside the
summit house so hot it’s unbearable) and people watched for about 20
There are always a
disproportionate number of Mennonites at the summit.
  Pikes Peak must be on the “top 10 list of
things for Mennonites to do” because they always seem to be therein large
numbers. They never make eye contact or say much, and you can tell they make
their own clothes.
  They never look

I reminded the boys to fill up their water bottles at the
drinking fountain, used the restroom, and we were on our way. It’s not a good
idea to spend too much time at the summit: 
It’s hard to breathe so your body is working very hard even if you’re
  We also needed to get down
before afternoon storms hit. So we took some pictures and began our

Unfathomably, Nathan was hiking slower down than he had on
the way up! 
It was maddening so I put
him at the front of the group.
  He walked
a little faster, but not much.

The miles had me thinking: 
I get frustrated with hiking slow, and with slow hikers in general.  I know it’s not a competition to get to the top,
but to me everything tends to be.
trained for a hike like this, and not many people are.
  I don’t need to take breaks or slow
  I just keep going.  Whoever I hike with is going to be slower
than I am.
  I need to take this into consideration
and just be happy I’m on the trail.
is what I’d told myself before even setting out today, yet here I was
internally grumbling because I was with a slow hiker(s).
  I understood at the time it wasn’t fair for
me to be upset with him, yet I was having a hard time letting go of the
frustration I was feeling at our hiking speed.

Once again my mind turned to thought:   Was I burning as many calories hiking slow
as I was fast?
  I didn’t think so.  Hiking
26 miles in 11 hours had to burn more calories than hiking 26 miles in 16
hours, even though it was the same distance. 
I’d need to look it up and do the math problem when I got home.  I was pretty sure the net calorie burn would
be more while hiking fast even though hiking slower would mean I’d be hiking for
a longer period of time.
  I felt I was
cheating myself out of burning calories and wasting time doing so.

I made it a point of talking to every group/person we saw
hiking up as we were hiking down. 
I didn’t
mention my previous summits, but did give them realistic expectations about timing
and difficulty of the hike to the peak, and made sure they all had enough
  It’s an intense hike.  That mountain kills people, and I wanted to
be sure they knew what they were in for.

We made it back down to the A-frame at 1pm.  It had taken us over 2 hours to go 3 miles.  Downhill. 
I was used to practically jogging this part of the trail, and here we
were hiking slower down than we had up!
And now the boys wanted another break. 

We took one and looked at the weather.  There seemed to be a storm rolling in.  The clouds were building quickly, and you
never quite know if it will storm or pass you by.
  After about 20 minutes I encouraged them to
get moving again, and against their wishes they did.

The pace didn’t improve. 
I asked Nathan if he wanted pain killers, to which he replied “yes but I
just ran out of water so I can’t drink them down.”

Ugh!  We still had 9
miles to go!
  He’d neglected to fill up
his water bottle at the top.
  So had
Thomas (he had enough to make it down on his own and didn’t refill).
  Once again I shared with Nathan.  I mentioned it would take us 9 hours at this
pace to make it back to the car, and that seemed to get him hiking a little

At 3pm we made it to Barr Camp.  The boys crashed by the creek. 

They were hungry and ate the nachos Thomas
had bought at the summit.
  I hadn’t
packed more food because honestly I’d thought we’d have been back at the car by
  Two weeks ago when I went hiking
with Tristina we’d started an hour later in the morning, and even with my
injury had made it back to the car by 3pm.

Here we were with over 6 miles still to hike and it was
already 3pm. 
When the boys asked me how
much longer it was going to take I told them it would depend on them.
  They were hiking slow and taking very long breaks.  No one else on the trail was taking breaks,
let alone sitting down for 15-20 minutes at a time.
  I wondered what bad habits the Boy Scout
leaders had let them get into at Philmont, and told them they needed to start
really hiking in order to make it back at a reasonable hour.
  Besides, we couldn’t eat until we made it
  Yes, I was hungry and cranky.  I wasn’t mean, but I’d honestly expected with
our early start to have been much closer to home at this point

This seemed to get them going.  Nathan picked up his pace, and besides Thomas
“crashing” at MM4 we made pretty good progress.
In fact, I’d wished we’d hiked this fast he entire trip!  Food seemed to be an appropriate motivation

We found some wild strawberries along the way (I encouraged
the boys to try some), and lots of Pinedrops (which Thomas seemed to think were
mushrooms because of a book at Grammies house. 
I assured them they were not). 

I took a picture of the boys once we made it back to the
trailhead at 6pm. 
They were exhausted
but glad to have made it!
immediately went to the back of the truck, looking for the cooler of
  They apparently forgot to bring
that as well.
  It was sitting on the
counter when we got home.

We saw an ambulance in the parking lot when we arrived at
the trailhead. 
It turns out two people
at Barr Camp had called in for help due to exhaustion. We must have passed them
at some point, but hadn’t recalled anyone who looked like they may be in need
of help anytime soon.
 One could walk out
but the other had to be carried out on a litter.
  Had they not read the sign?!?!?!?  They were 6.5 miles in on a trail that wasn’t
passable by vehicle and wanted help because they were tired?

Both boys immediately fell asleep as soon as I started the
Once we got home and for the next
few hours the boys sat on the couch and ate (watermelon, pizza, etc.).
  I ended up going to bed before Nathan left
(they and Rebecca were deep into band stories when I fell asleep).


Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

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