10th Summit of Pikes Peak

The alarm sounded at 2am, but this time I was ready for it!  I jumped out of bed, looked out my window, and was excited to see the forecast for today matched what I saw outside: a perfect view of Pikes Peak!  And, a little oddly, a half-moon (the forecast called for no moon at night… whoops!)

I turned on the coffee, made a Nutella and peanut butter sandwich (only because last time I hiked without eating first I ended up regretting it later:  I wasn’t hungry.  I took two bites this time and threw the rest away).  I got dressed and ready to go.  

I don’t live close to the trailhead, so while I left at 2:20pm I arrived at 2:50pm.  There were 3 other cars in the parking lot, and one was a couple getting ready to hike.  As I paid the parking fee (still $10!  Woot!) and talked to them a bit.  If I pass someone on the trail I always try to strike up a conversation (for safety reasons…)  This was their 2nd 14ner and first time up Pikes Peak.  I wished them luck.  They started as I put the parking receipt on my dashboard.  I began at 2:55am but quickly caught up to them taking selfies in front of the lights of Manitou Springs.  I advised them the lights would get better between MM2-3, and since this was their first time on the trail to stay left if they got lost in the dark.  I then gladly forged ahead.  I’m not a fan of leap-frogging fellow hikers.

The night was clear and calm, brisk but not too cold: Perfect for hiking at night! Every once in a while I’d hear what sounded like coyotes in the distance, and I could smell a fire coming from somewhere each time a breeze rolled in.  The half-moon was directly above me, and I could see shooting stars as I hiked (meteor shower tonight!  I couldn’t have planned that any better).  

The coyote sound kept on, but I could tell it wasn’t coyotes.  It sounded like yapping, and came at intervals.  I deduced there must be hikers up ahead.  

At MM3 my deductions were confirmed.  There were two women in their 20s hiking ahead of me (car number 2).  Although they’d obviously set out at an early time they were in no hurry, chatting and giggling, having a great time together.  They commented that I was booking it up the mountain, and for some reason I replied “I hike this trail quite a bit, so I’m always trying to improve my time”.  

While indeed this is my 10th summit of Pikes Peak, I hadn’t set out to “beat my time”. I’m not sure why I said this, but once I’d said it I felt I should follow through.  My mouth has a way of running away from me at times, and the only way to rein it in is to do what I said I was going to do.

I wished them luck and forged ahead, this time at an accelerated pace, figuring my mom would be happy I wasn’t alone on the mountain (I’d seen 3 women and one man so far, so if anything happened I knew someone would eventually catch up to help).  

There weren’t any scary sounds tonight or shadows lurking in the dark, but at MM5 I suddenly came upon a rather large tree in my path.  This hadn’t been there the other times I’d hiked, and was a bit of surprise, but I figured trees must fall all the time in the forest and didn’t think too much of it.

I passed Barr Camp in silence.  There weren’t any campers on the outskirts, and I figured the last car I’d seen in the parking lot meant someone was sleeping at the A-frame.  Over the next 3 miles I crossed about a dozen felled trees and got to thinking:  I’d heard 94mph winds had hit Pikes Peak last week.  They must have done some damage on the lower elevations as well!

I was making really good time but wasn’t checking the time.  I kept my phone in my pocket and just trudged ahead, mentally calculating what time the sun was supposed to come up this time of year and comparing my time/position on the trail to previous hikes.  I figured I was about 20 minutes ahead of my best time.

Someone was obviously staying at the A-frame because the tarp/curtains were closed, (car # 3… yes, I like to know who’s on the mountain with me so I keep track as best I can) so I took my first sip of water of the hike, put on my ski gloves over my cotton ones as my fingers were getting cold, and kept going.  I wanted to see the sunrise from further up the peak this time. It took quite a while for the sun to rise (40 minutes or so from first light, about mile 10.5 up the trail), and before it did I saw a really cool night-horizon-rainbow (is there a scientific word for this?)

About 2 miles from the summit the sun finally rose.    Yes it was amazing.  No, my selfies were not.

From treeline until I summited I kept looking for hikers below me.  For some reason it became a personal challenge to summit before anyone else made it past treeline.  This was an irrational challenge with no scientific basis, but I succeeded and considered it a win!  At 7:43am I summited Pikes Peak.  That’s 4 hours 48 minutes, and pretty awesome!  The summit house was closed, so I sat in the corner of the building, huddled out of the really intense wind for a few minutes.

I’d wanted to buy the new “Pikes Peak Book” only available at the summit (funding the new summit house that was under construction), but there’s no set time for the summit house to open, and while I could see they were beginning to make the donuts inside I was slowly becoming a popsicle, so I decided to take a selfie proving I was there and head down the mountain. I’ll buy the book next time.

It felt like I’d been up there for 5 minutes, but when I checked my phone it indicated it’s been 25 minutes.  Time seriously has a way of getting ahead of you on the summit!  

It was really, really windy. I tried to put my hair back into a bun but with my Raynaud’s my fingers were useless.  I’m pretty sure I looked like a banshee, but didn’t intend to take anymore selfies so it was all good.

I actually saw someone about a mile down the mountain.  He looked really fit and was wearing an overnight backpack.  I surmised he’d stayed at the A-frame, talked with him a bit to find out this was the case, then wished him luck.  His 5 buddies were about 100 feet behind them.  They all looked to be in tremendous shape but extremely tired.  

I went another mile and a half before seeing anyone else:  it was the couple I’d seen in the beginning of the hike.  They’d made pretty good time!  They only had about an hour to go.  I gave them some advice on the 16 Golden Stairs and the false summit, then trudged on.  

I had the A-frame to myself so I had a quick snack.  I was finally defrosting so I took off my ski gloves and just kept on my cotton mittens. I took a picture of the A-frame and the ingenious way the inhabitants the night before had moved rocks to keep the heat in.  This was something I’ve never been strong enough to do, and seriously hope future inhabitants keep in place, as it’s simple genius if you’re strong enough to move the rocks!  We’d previously used out backpacks.  

I could hear the two women I’d passed earlier on in the hike chatting, so I took a “secret” route around to avoid them (sorry, I’m not one for small talk if I can avoid it), and trudged on.  

It was here in the daylight I realized what an impact the previous week’s wind had caused:  the damage was insane!  Felled trees everywhere for miles!  Granted, they were mostly Aspens whose time had come, but the trail was also littered with large pine trees 4 feet or more in diameter.  I moved what I could out of the trail as others had obviously done before me (I could see this in the light of day), and hoped the caretakers at Barr Camp took advantage of all this free firewood. Fast, before a forest fire took care of it for them.

I usually stop at Barr Camp to use the restroom, but I’d made such good time so far and I wasn’t in need of using the facilities so I just kept going.  I did stop really quick to compare the view from last month and today (almost a month apart to the day…)

I made it down the mountain and back to my car at 12:03pm.  I’d summited Pikes Peak and hiked back down again, 26 miles and over 16,000 feet in elevation change, in 9 hours 2 minutes. To qualify for the Pikes Peak Marathon you need to be able to do it in 10 hours.  I felt like a rockstar!  

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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