Pikes Peak – Sunrise and Fall Foliage

I woke up at 2am a bit confused.  Why was I getting up this early on my first
day off in over a week?
  Oh yeah,
  I rolled out of bed and looked
out my front window at Pikes Peak.
usual, the weather forecast for the peak was wrong.
  It was supposed to be a clear day, but I
couldn’t see the summit house light, which meant the peak was covered in clouds.

I went online to check my favorite Pikes
Peak weather forecast (because it’s the most accurate). 
It was last updated at 1:30am and said it
would be windy after 10 am with a 20% chance of snow before 10am.

I gave it some serious thought. I don’t
function well in the cold, but it’s almost October: this might be my last
chance to summit all year. 
And it wasn’t
really supposed to be cold, just windy.
I can’t decide I decide to go.
never regretted this decision, and always give myself the authority to turn
around if it becomes too dangerous to continue the hike.

My camelback was already packed with
water, sunscreen, gloves, and snacks. 
I made
some coffee, skipped on breakfast, and drove the 35 minutes to the
  There weren’t any other cars in
the parking lot.
  This made sense:
Manitou City Council just announced they were raising the fee to park at the
Barr Trailhead to $20 per day, effective immediately.
  Obviously people got the message and are
staying away.
  I feel sorry for the
caretakers at Barr Camp:
  They’re going
to lose out on a lot of revenue.
  But I

I began at 3:04am.  While I couldn’t see the peak, I could see
the crescent moon and several constellations in the night sky.
  The air was crisp and the stars
  I’m not a huge fan of hiking
at night without a full moon.
headlamp works wonders, but it doesn’t do much for depth perception.
  The first few miles of the trial are always
visually stunning at night on Barr Trail.
The lights of Manitou and Colorado Springs are mesmerizing.  Crickets sang as my mind wandered.

This will be my 9th summit of
Pikes Peak (7
th this year alone). 
I’ve always wanted to see a bear while hiking the Barr trail.  I know they’re out here, as I’ve seen pictures
of bears on the Incline.
  I also know
they’re a nuisance in the city, so at some point I should come across one.
  Around MM2 I turned the corner and was
shocked to see two eyes looking at me from about 6 feet in the air.
  I immediately thought that was strange
because the parking lot was empty.
one else should be on the mountain.
shook my head and looked again.
time the eyes were on the ground, shifting back and forth.

I was finally seeing a bear!  I
reached for my camera and thought sarcastically:
  “Great, the first time I see a bear on the
trail and it’s too dark to take a picture!
Oh well, I’ll just enjoy the experience.”  I moved my head again, and as I watched a
large pair of antlers came into focus.
   It wasn’t a bear but a very large buck
standing about 12 feet away from me.
head came up again and he stared me right in the eyes.
  He was much larger than me, so I decided to
just wait him out.
  He tilted his head down
and forward and I thought “OMG!
going to charge me!”
  He honestly looked
like he was contemplating the action.
Then he slowly walked a few steps into the brush.  As soon as I couldn’t see him anymore I heard
him rushing through the underbrush, quickly bounding away.

Well, that was a fun experience!  From that point on for the rest of the hike
in the dark the shadows played tricks on me.
Each shadow I saw was another creature lurking.  I didn’t see any more glowing eyes, but there
was a lot of rustling.

Did I mention the wind?  It was fantastic!  It felt like I was living an experience out
Sleepy Hollow.  There I was, the first night of fall, hiking
miles away from civilization, in the dark, with just my headlamp to guide
  I could hear the wind snaking its
way through the canyons for miles before it reached the nearby trees and I
could feel it encircle me.
  Aspen leaves
fell and swirled like snow in the glow of my headlamp.

I made the decision on this hike not to
hike for time, but to just enjoy the experience. 
It was still dark when I passed Barr Camp at
  For the first time ever I saw
the kitchen light was on and was reminded I was hungry.
  I’d skipped eating breakfast as I wasn’t
hungry at 2am, and I don’t get hungry while hiking, but at this point my
stomach was rumbling a bit.
  Maybe I
should re-think the skipping breakfast thing.

I passed in silence and continued my way
up the trail. 
The wind was pretty
strong, so I kept my head down and just kept walking forward.
  I’m really glad I’ve done this hike so many
times before: twice I walked off the trail by accident, but was able to realize
my mistake before walking more than 10 feet off the path. Once near the turnoff
for the bottomless pit, and another time about a mile from A-frame.
  I don’t recommend taking this hike for the
first time in the dark.

At about this point I realized the sun
was going to come up soon. If I hurried I’d be able to see it from the A-frame! 
I now regretted my decision not to hike at a quicker
  I was going to have to book it to
make it before the sun came up!
  So I
started hiking faster.
  I made it to the
A-frame at 6:43am, about 5 minutes before sunrise.
  No one else was there, so I sat on the ledge of
the structure and looked west.

The next 15 minutes were the most
visually stunning of my life. 
I’ve seen
a sunrise before, but not like this.
sat alone with the knowledge I was the only person on that mountain and watched
the sun rise like a fireball in the sky, inch by glorious inch over Colorado
Springs. The colors were amazing.
tried in vain to get a good picture/movie/selfie, and in the end just sat back
and enjoyed the experience.

This is why I hike!  This is why I got up at 2am to hike 26 miles
on a trial I’ve already conquered.
  I was
so glad I made the decision to get out of bed and go experience the

The wind started picking up and the
temperature started to drop. 
I put on my
heavy duty ski gloves and set out to tackle the summit.
  As I made it above treeline I noticed the summit
was covered in roiling, fast moving clouds.
The wind was intense, almost knocking me off my feet several times.  I was no longer in a hurry, but still anxious
to make it to the top.

I summited at 8:22am, the first hiker up
the mountain. 
The clouds were so thick I
couldn’t see much, let alone the view the summit is famous for.
  The summit house was open and there were a
few workers getting ready for the first cog of the day (9am).
  I felt like someone alone at a McDonalds at
4am, with just the workers there.
  I didn’t
talk with anyone as I warmed up and quickly headed back down, as I wanted to
leave before the cog arrived:
  I’m not a
fan of crowds.

About 5 minutes after I started my trek
down a large gust of wind blew all the clouds off the mountain. 
It was warm and sunny on the peak for the
rest of the day, and I was only about ¼ of a mile from the top, but I wasn’t
interested in summiting again today.
   The best part about that gust of wind was the
view it gave me of the mountains below. The aspen trees were changing from a
dark lime green to a bright mustard yellow, and from 13,000 feet up the view
was amazing!

I stopped at A-frame for a few minutes
to take some landscape photos, then was on my way again. 
Here’s where it really got interesting:  the fall colors were amazing!  I’ve lived in Colorado since 2007, and have
never seen such vivid greens, yellows, oranges, and reds on the trees.
  I took dozens of pictures/videos, intent on
sharing my experience with those who couldn’t make the 26 mile hike.

There’s a small bench outside of Barr
Camp, and this morning I realized what that bench is there for: 
The view of Pikes Peak behind a grove of aspens
is something I could sit and enjoy for hours.
I took a few pictures and continued on my way. 

Pikes Peak was only in view for a little bit, but beautiful.

Another sighting from along the trail:

I couldn’t help but think once again how
pleased I was with myself at taking this hike. 
It’s not like I HAD to take it, as I’ve hiked Pikes Peak many times
  But no matter how many times I
make the trek, it’s always different.
Today I experienced the most visually stunning sunrise I’ve ever seen,
as well as the changing aspen leaves in all their glory.

Life is good.   

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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