Seventh Summit of Pikes Peak

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This was a last minute trip.
It wasn’t until about 10pm the night before I realized hiking the 26
miles up and down Pikes Peak would even be a possibility.  When I discovered I had some time in my
schedule I immediately went online to check the weather forecast.  As usual, each forecast was different, but
they all agreed there would be storms and possibly snow in the afternoon.  One even predicted thunderstorms starting at
10am, but most stated there would be “fall like weather”.

I’ve missed several opportunities to hike the mountain this
summer because I listened to weather forecasts that turned out to be false, or
materialized later in the afternoon than forecasted (meaning I’d have already
hiked and been home before the storms started).

I asked Rebecca her opinion and she said yes I should go!  She also said she’d look for me if I didn’t
come back tomorrow night.  And by ‘look
for me’ she meant drive to the trailhead and yell.  So I packed up my gear, prepped coffee just
in case, and decided to “decide” in the morning.

My alarm went off at 2am and I looked out my front window to
evaluate Pikes Peak and my chances for a successful hike.  I couldn’t see the light from the summit
house, or, more importantly, Pikes Peak at all; It was covered in low lying
clouds.    

So I went outside.  It
felt warm (low 60s).  I went back and
forth in my head on whether or not to attempt the hike for about 5 minutes
(seriously, which is a long time for someone who usually makes quick
decisions).  In the end I decided to
go:  I could always turn back if the
weather got difficult, and I’ve never regretted taking a hike when I didn’t
feel like hiking.  I made sure I had my
ski gloves and set out on my way with the rest of the gear I’d packed the night
before.

I didn’t get to the trailhead until after 3am.  There were only 2 cars in the parking
lot.   The dashboard of the car read 63
degrees outside.  I figured the cars
belonged to backpackers at Barr Camp, paid my $10 parking fee, and started
hiking at 3:12am.  

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I usually check the time as we hit different landmarks/mile
markers, but never actually write them down.
I’ve got a pretty good idea of how long each segment should take, but this
time I wanted to keep close track of my progress.  

I love hiking Pikes Peak.
I’m super appreciative of hiking buddies and I’m glad to hike with
anyone who’d like to hike with me (quick caveat:  they must be in good health, have no heart or
lung problems, and WANT to hike the peak), but I find when I hike with others
we take a lot of unnecessary and sometimes lengthy breaks.  These breaks are probably necessary for them,
but I’ve always wondered how quickly I could hike the peak if I only stopped
when I was tired.  So this time I was
keeping a trail log on my phone.

I started hiking to the sound of crickets.  The first three miles of the hike are the
most difficult and require you to ‘power’ through them.  The redeeming factor to this stretch of the
trail are the city lights.  You can see
Manitou and Colorado Springs glowing in the distance.  I’ve tried dozens of times to get a good
picture, but have come to the realization the only way to enjoy the view is to
actually be there.  

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Strangely I wasn’t able to see the summit house light.  It’s a very bright light I can usually see
from my house, and I’ve always seen while hiking the peak in the morning.  I’d thought I’d have been able to see it
through the clouds, but I couldn’t.  I
hit MM1 at 3:31am, MM2 at 3:53am, and MM3 at 4:14am.  I’d hiked the first 3 miles in 61 minutes and
had taken several stops for pictures (none of which came out really well).  That’s great time!  These are the hardest miles of the hike, so I
consider hiking 3mph basically climbing up stairs a win!

At this point I began noticing the sound of crickets had
silenced.  In fact, I couldn’t hear any
bugs or the sound of the creek I knew I was paralleling.  I made a mental memo of it and kept hiking.  

Side note:
headlamps are NOT useful when you hear a noise in the woods.  Your head automatically turns towards the
sound, but you have to swivel it side to side to look for creatures (or beady
eyes).  A flashlight is much better
suited for this purpose.  

Around MM4 I saw a large reflective rectangle in the
distance and was intrigued.  I wasn’t sure
exactly what it was until I was right upon it, when I realized it was a sign
noting miles to the top.  This is not a
permanent fixture, and was probably put there for the race this past weekend.  I saw them every mile to the top, and
seriously hope the person responsible for putting them there ensures they are
properly disposed of.

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MM4 came at 4:36am, MM5 at 4:57am, and MM6 at 5:21am.  Even though the trail was evening out and
getting easier to hike I was gradually hiking a bit slower.  Totally ok, but funny to note.  

All along the hike I kept waiting for the sun to rise and for
it to get lighter outside but it just wasn’t happening.  I thought to myself I was glad I’d hiked this
trail many times before.  It’s a very well-marked
trail, but in the dark with just a headlamp it’s easy to lose the trail when you
come upon a bare section not lined with some sort of foliage.  I kept thinking “I could see how someone
could get lost here, and here, and here”.
I was also noting the lack of animal noises.  Usually I hear a lot of rustling and chirping
from birds, run into spider or caterpillar webs, and hear small creatures
scurrying in the dark.  I saw two rabbits
quietly sitting on the trail before me at different points, but that was
all.  No other sounds.  

Well, I did hear a bear once, or what I thought was a
bear.  It startled me in the quiet.  I didn’t stop, but kept on hiking.  You see, I was actually really, really scared
to be hiking out there by myself.  I wasn’t
afraid of anyone attacking me:  there
were only two cars in the parking lot, and honestly, anyone who’d made it this
far out didn’t have the intention of hurting someone at 5 in the morning.  They’d be sleeping.  No one was crazy enough to be hiking in the
dark (ha-ha) so it wasn’t likely someone was ‘lying in wait’ for someone like
me to hike along.  

No, I wasn’t worried about another human being, or even a
bear, but possibly a Mountain Lion.  I
kept noting how unusually quiet it was, and figured I’d be able to hear just
about anything except a predator (meaning a Mountain Lion, as those would be
the only predators in this part of the forest).
I mentally prepared myself to use my hiking stick to defend myself and ‘go
for the eyes’ if attacked.  

So I scanned my headlamp left and right as I hiked, looking
for eyes in the shadows.  When I heard
the growl I was seriously scared.  It
made me jump a bit, but I didn’t see anything.
I thought it had to be a bear, as it was a rather loud noise and a
Mountain Lion would have just attacked from behind. It happened again and you’ll
probably never believe me, but I realized it was my stomach!  Honestly!
I didn’t feel hungry at all (my core was aching right about now), and in
fact I couldn’t actually feel my stomach.
The second time I heard the growl my tummy moved at the same time, and I
audibly noted the hilarity of the situation and sighed in relief. I kept
hiking.

Usually by MM3 or MM4 it’s fully light outside, but I passed MM6
and Barr Camp at 5:23am to an eerie darkness.
Apparently there aren’t any lights at Barr Camp, something I’d never had
the opportunity to notice until now.  Through
my headlamp I saw the railings and porch swing by the river indicating the entrance
to the camp, but opted not to stop because it just felt wrong.  The fog around the campsite added to my
unease.  Everyone was obviously still
sleeping, and I felt like an intruder.  

Just after reaching Barr Camp a very light snow began
falling.  I could see it through my
headlamp.  It was more of a light mist of
snow, but snow just the same.  I reached
the yellow ‘summit sign’ that lets you choose between the Bottomless Pit and
Pikes Peak at 5:46am, and it wasn’t until 6:01am when I was able to turn off my
headlamp.  

A realization hit me:
I had just hiked for 9 miles. In the dark.  

Through the forest.

By myself.  Scared.
There was no moon to guide me, as it was lost in the cloud cover
above.  I’d survived one of the scariest
things I’ve ever done, and was seriously proud of myself for sticking to it and
continuing to hike in the dark!  Rock on
sister!  Let’s do this!

I reached the A-Frame at 6:22am and took my first ‘rest’ of
the hike.  Kind of.  You see, I call my kids to wake them up in
the mornings for school between 6:20 and 6:25am, so now seemed like the perfect
time.  Yes, I had cell service (I have it
at just about every point on the trail, even at the summit, although I can’t
usually post to facebook or Instagram while on the trail).  I called Emily, wished her a wonderful day,
and took a look around.  The tarp was
pulled closed over the A-frame, and when I peeked through the gap in the
curtains I thought I saw a jacket hanging from the window, so I quietly turned
around and started hiking again.

There were a couple of squirrels chattering, so I took a
video (I say chipmunk in the video, but knew they were squirrels:  It wasn’t worth a second video).

Before reaching the trail I saw two bucks!  They stood there and let me get a picture.

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It was then I realized the squirrels weren’t chattering at
me, but at the deer:

I’d turned off my headlamp about 20 minutes ago, but it was
now that the sun actually began to rise. There is no way to describe or take a
photo of the sunrise from Barr Trail to do it justice, but here are a few
attempts:

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It was about now the snow began falling harder, the wind
began to pick up and the temperature began to drop.  I was now hiking into the clouds.  

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I switched my cotton gloves for my ski gloves and trekked
on.  I reached the ‘2 miles to the summit’
sign at 7:05am, and the Cirque (about a mile from the summit) at 7:32am.  I was above treeline, and still hiking at
about 2 mph!  That’s entirely amazing, as
it often times takes an hour to go a mile on this part of the trek.

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I was now hiking in snow, and saw prints I’d never seen
before.  They were really small rodent
footprints, bigger than a mouse but much smaller than a marmot.  Then I saw one!  I’d never seen one before, but I was pretty
sure this was a Pika and the owner of the paw prints.   I
tried to get my camera out for a picture, but by this time my fingers were
frozen and I wasn’t quick enough:  The
Pika ran away before I could get a picture of him, so I took a picture of his
prints.  

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I kept the camera in my hand, and kept looking for another
Pika for a ‘Pika-ture’ (yes, I actually said this out loud).

That last mile was grueling only because it was so cold and
the wind whipped the ice and snow into my face.
It wasn’t bad enough to take refuge or turn around, but it was seriously
annoying.  I saw this cairn about 50 feet
from the summit and thought it looked cool.
I still had the camera in my hand so I snapped a quick photo.

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I reached the summit of Pikes Peak at 8:05am.  It had taken me 5 hours and 7 minutes to
reach the top!  That was absolutely
amazing!  I was hiking at an average
speed of over 2.5mph: UPHILL!  I knew
from reading Backpacker Magazine the
average hiking speed of any trek usually sits around 2mph, so I considered this
a serious win!

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I reached the summit at the exact same time a cog pulled
up.  Several workers jumped out of the
cog as it stopped, dressed in working overalls, shovels in their hands.  They quickly began clearing the walkway.  

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The men were exceedingly nice, and asked about my hike up
and if I’d seen any animals?  We
discussed what I’d seen and the animals they’d seen on their way up (mainly
deer as well).  I (sadly) noticed the
Summit House was closed, so I asked one of the men shoveling when it would
open.  He didn’t know.  “Maybe in half an hour, maybe not at all
today because of the snow”.  

Great.  I was quickly turning
into a popsicle and decided to just head back down immediately.  This ended up being a very wise choice.

I waved goodbye to the men shoveling, and as soon as I began
hiking back down they jumped back into the cog and were on their way back down
themselves.   It was cold.
I mean VERY COLD.  The wind didn’t
help.  I was guessing it was about 20
degrees before wind chill.  Hiking kept
me warm; stopping froze my sweat and my muscles.  

About 50 yards into the descent I saw another Pika, and
luckily still had my camera in my hand.
Here’s what they look like: Bigger than a mouse, but smaller than a
chinchilla.

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I didn’t see any hikers until I was just about at the
A-frame, and surmised by the color of the jacket the man was wearing he was the
one who’d spent the night.  I tried to
warn him of the rapidly deteriorating conditions after treeline, but he didn’t
seem to think I was serious.  When I
reached the A-frame again the tarp was pulled back and no one was inside, so I
was pretty sure he was in fact the overnight occupant.

Between the A-frame and Barr Camp I saw about 10 other
hikers and stopped to talk with them all.
They all wanted to know about the conditions ahead, as they couldn’t see
the mountain from that point of the trail.
Once again I told them it was snowing, cold, the wind was howling, and
it just kept getting worse.  I advised
them all to head back, but every single one of them “had a ticket back down on
the train” and needed to be there to catch a ride back down.  I told them all the summit house might not
open, so if they were relying on it for warmth/shelter be advised it might not
be there.  The cog might also not be
operating.  They continued their hike
anyway, one of them in shorts and a t-shirt.
He told me it was a “good thing he’d brought a jacket”.  I did a face palm and told myself I’d warned
them.  I honestly don’t believe any of
them made it up to the top.  It did
indeed get much worse as the day kept on, and they were at least 4 hours behind
my summit when I saw them (they had 4 hours at best until they reached the
summit).  When I told my kids this after
arriving home they said it was probably because I don’t look like a “hiker” and
that I make hiking look easy.  I’m
guessing they probably thought if I could do it so could they.  Hmmmm…. I digress.  

I was back at Barr Camp at 10:28am and saw my last set of
hikers:  6 women in their early 60s, very
fit, with a LOT of makeup on (maybe it was permanent?).  They seemed to listen to me, and while they
continued ahead, verbally made a pact to turn around if at any time one of them
didn’t feel safe.  They also regretted
not beginning their hike at 4am like they’d originally intended.  High five to them for keeping their options
open!

I was back at my car at 12:18pm.  I’d hiked 26 miles in 9 hours 6 minutes, and
felt absolutely amazing!  I didn’t take
any breaks besides 3 minutes to call my kids and what was probably 3 minutes at
the summit, and it was at this point I realized I hadn’t eaten anything all day
either.  I’d brought a lot of snacks, but
hadn’t opened any of them.  All I’d had
to eat today had been the coffee I’d sipped on the way to the trail.  Now I was starving, and ready to eat.  But first I needed to head to work for a few
hours, pick up Thomas from school, search for a gyroscope, pick up Emily from
softball…  

Trail Log:

3:12amTrailhead

3:31am MM1

3:53am MM2

4:14am MM3

4:36am MM 4

4:57am MM5

5:21am MM6

5:23am Barr Camp

5:46am Summit sign/ Bottomless Pit

6:22am A-Frame

7:05am 2 Miles to go

7:32am Cirque (1 mile to go)

8:05am Summit

10:28am Barr Camp

Trailhead at 12:18pm

Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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