11th Summit of Pikes Peak

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I had no intention of hiking Pikes Peak again this year.  I’ve already hiked it 10 times, and my last hike was my best one (I hope your last one is your best one).  But a couple of days ago my mom told me Granny loved wildflowers, and we should plant some in her honor.  I just happened to have about ¼ a pound of Rocky Mountain Wildflower seeds sitting around at home.  These were nowhere near enough to scatter and make a huge difference on a roadway, but they were perfect for lining a portion of the trail along Pikes Peak.  The best time to disperse seeds is either October or April, and since there is no way I’m hiking Pikes Peak in April under several feet of snow I decided to go this week.

The weather Friday looked perfect!  All forecasts indicated it would be in the 80s in Colorado Springs and 42 at the summit. That’s GREAT weather!  Especially for the end of October.  There was also a picture I’ve always wanted to take but for some reason spaced out on the past two times I’ve summited, so I planned a Friday hike.

Up at 2 am I started the coffee and got a spoonful of peanut butter as a snack.  I ended up finishing the coffee on the way buy only had about half the spoonful of peanut butter.  I just wasn’t hungry.  

I made it in good time to the trailhead but there were 4 cop cars and a fire truck at the entrance to the parking lot.  Nothing seemed to be going on (no accident/bystanders/victims) so I was a bit intrigued.  One of the cops moved his cruiser and waived me on.  There were 2 other cars in the parking lot.  It was a nice 53 degrees.  I saw a hatchback enter the parking lot as I began my hike at 2:58am.

Today I was in no hurry to summit.  That doesn’t mean I hiked slow, but I wasn’t pushing myself as I was still sore from the hike earlier this week.  I saw no one the entire hike up the mountain.  I didn’t trip once (something that often happens in the dark because of all the loose rocks and roots).  I didn’t see any animals except a rather large rabbit.  I did hear what sounded like a large bird flapping in a tree but didn’t see anything when I shined my flashlight in its direction.  When you hike at night eventually you get pretty good at identifying creatures in the dark by the sounds they make.  I could tell it was a bird (not an owl because I wouldn’t have heard an owl) and its size by the sound it made.  I can also tell if it’s a rabbit or a raccoon even before seeing the animal as different sized animals make different sounds.  

There was no one visible at Barr Camp as I passed it in the dark.  No tents set up on the outskirts of the camp either.  The cars must have belonged to someone staying at the A-frame.

I made it to the A-frame at 6:19am.  It was still dark.  No one was about but the tarp was in place so I assumed someone was sleeping in the A-frame. I passed and walked about 100 yards before waking the kids up for school (I call them to make sure they’re awake. They usually are…).  

As I reached treeline I could immediately tell I wasn’t going to get the picture I’d wanted to get. It required a good sunrise and despite the fact it was supposed to be 80 degrees and clear there were lots and lots of clouds on the horizon.  I wasn’t going to see a sun this sunrise.  It was still beautiful:

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I now had 3 miles to go to reach the summit and seriously considered turning back.  I had no real reason to summit as this was a last minute trip and I wasn’t going to get what I wanted out of the rest of the uphill part of this hike (picture).  I went back and forth for a few minutes in my mind and eventually decided to keep at it. Hey, maybe those clouds would miraculously go away in the next hour?  While it was highly unlikely I kept hoping and watching east.  

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Here’s where my mood turned sour.  I was sore and tired from the hike earlier this week, and while I’d made fantastic time this far it was obvious I was slowing down.  I don’t know why that depressed me but it did.  I could tell I was hiking “slow”.  I was upset I wasn’t going to get that picture.  That meant I’d need to at least TRY to hike again this year, and because of the type of picture it is I’m going to have to get up at 2am and hike for 10 miles in the dark to get it.  Despite what I’m sure you’re all thinking, I don’t actually enjoy hiking in the dark alone.  It’s quite scary.  I’m not a fan of the dark.  I don’t get the mail after dark or go on night walks by myself.  I’ve been known to run from room to room when the lights are off.  Hiking in the dark isn’t something in my comfort zone:  I just do it despite being afraid because I like the end result.  

I’d ben hiking with my good camera instead of my hand held.  It was heavy, cumbersome, and now unnecessary.  In addition, I hadn’t seen any wildlife on this hike.  My 11th hike on Pikes Peak and I’ve yet to see a bear. That was upsetting in itself.  The lack of the sunrise I’d anticipated meant I was going to have to hike in the dark again, risking the cold weather, shadows, and my fears.

This type of thinking on my part wasn’t typical and I became cognizant it must be due to low blood sugar. I hadn’t eaten anything yet and I’d hiked about 12 miles at this point.  My stomach began to tighten.  I told myself food was just going to have to wait until I reached the summit because I wasn’t making good time.  

Check out the ice coming out of the mountain.  Ah, geology at work, even without snow.  

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I summited at 7:54am. Not my best time, but not bad.  I was hiking about 15 minutes behind my usual pace.  Much to my surprise there was a man in a bright blue winter coat standing in front of the old summit house with his back to me.  He was probably in his mid 20s, hunching out of the wind putting his pack together.  I said hello and sat in the shelter of the window next to him to block the wind (as the summit house still wasn’t open).  

I assumed he’d come up the back way from the Crags (a mere 6 miles and starting at about 10,000 feet, so it’s a much easier route to summit Pikes Peak).  Eager to get started again he asked me if it’d been windy on my ascent.   I told him no, it just started getting windy as I reached the summit.  He told me to “enjoy my time” (mountaineering talk for the time spent on the summit before hiking back down), and was on his way, presumably the same way he came because he didn’t take the Barr Trail down.  I

wished I’d engaged him in more information about his trip. He obviously knew what he was doing. I found myself wanting to know more details.   Not for romantic reasons but personal:  Which route was he hiking?  What other hikes are available to me, how long do they take to hike, and are they worth it?  He only had on a daypack, so he wasn’t backpacking… oh well.

I’d worn 2 pairs of gloves after reaching treeline, but took one pair off to eat.  I had about 12 pieces of dried mango and my fingers were quickly turning numb.  The wind was picking up and it was getting COLD quick.  I put on my extra pair of gloves, took a picture facing southwest of the Junkins Fire, and started hiking down. I’d only spent 5 minutes at the summit.

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This is where the wind became intense.  Forecasts stated 20-25mph wind gusts, but these were sustained winds of at least 40mph. I was blown sideways several times. The wind made it miserably cold, and to top off my bad mood my right shoelace became untiled about 20 yards into my decent.  Great. I had no use of my fingers at this point because they were frozen solid.  I made a pathetic attempt that took way too long to tie the laces.  I did a miserable job but it would be functional for a bit (hopefully I’d de-thaw soon and try again).  About 100 yards later they became untied once more.  I decided I wasn’t going to get far with this and just tucked the laces into my shoe so at least I wasn’t going to trip on them.  This lack of support was going to slow me down.

My mind once again took a negative turn.  I pulsed my fingers to keep them from getting frostbite (I have Raynauds) and thought about the hike this time.  Why had it been so negative?  I was upset about so many things I couldn’t control.  I hadn’t seen any wildlife besides that rabbit.  Not a bear, deer, marmot, pika, bird, or bighorn sheep. Nothing.  What bad luck was this???

I knew my bad mood was self-caused but I couldn’t stop it.  I’d thought it was due to low blood sugar levels, and indeed, eating did help quite a bit until the wind picked up, then the negativity returned.  I’ve never regretted a hike up Pikes Peak.  I may not have wanted to start out, but I’ve always been happy I went.  

But this darn wind wasn’t letting up!  Although my hair was in a bun it was hitting me in the face, as was the strap on my pack. The strap actually hurt.  And I was cold.  

The wind didn’t stop until I made it past the A-frame, where it abruptly ceased and warmed up at least 20 degrees.  Wow. That mountain is brutal!  I didn’t stop at the A-frame as I could see its inhabitants waking up and starting their day, preparing their hike to the summit.

As I dethawed I began seeing people.  All asked me what it was like on the summit, to which I replied “very windy, and very cold”. They looked confused (forecasts predicted 42 degrees and light wind) but thanked me for the information.  My mood brightened as I warmed up.  I just needed to change my focus.  No, I didn’t get the picture I’d wanted, but hadn’t I started this hike for Granny?  Wasn’t scattering seeds for her the real reason I was taking this trip?  Not to summit or see wild animals.  

Ok.  That was it.  From here on out this hike was going to be about Granny and I was going to think positive. I took some “better” pictures of the downed trees along the trail.  This is seriously insane and goes on for miles!

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Just after MM6.5 I heard the sound of running water and my mind immediately cleared.  I don’t know what it is about running water that has such a calming effect, but as I heard it I took a deep breath and smiled.  This is why I hike.

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Some of the trees were even happy to see me…

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My mind cleared and I mentally planned where I’d scatter the seeds.  I know enough about wildflowers to know they don’t grow just anywhere. Yes, I could have scattered seeds on the peak but it wouldn’t have done any good:  they wouldn’t grow there because the growing season is too short. You can’t just plant seeds and expect them to grow.  I needed seeds indigenous to the area not only so they would sprout, but also so they wouldn’t become an invasive species.  The seeds I chose were specific to regions of the Rocky Mountains between 6000-9000 feet.  In other words, they should grow here without harming the environment, and hopefully will contribute some happiness to hikers. Personally, I know I love seeing wildflowers while on a trail.  

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With that in mind I decided to spread some seeds near the aspen grove at Barr Camp where there was already a bench for weary hikers to sit and enjoy the view of the peak. These wildflowers will probably grow here.  I hope they do, but because I wasn’t 100% certain they’d take I only planted a few tablespoons and saved the rest for another area.   I also re-tied my shoe.  While I was doing so I noticed someone sleeping in a sleeping bag about 40 feet from the trail.  Stay warm my friend!

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This is the area (below) I picked to scatter wildflower seeds in Granny’s name.  I chose it for several reasons.  Between MM3-3.5 is a well traveled area of the Barr Trail.  I know wildflowers grow here because I’ve seen them in the past.  There’s a lot more grass than flowers, but the potential for wildflowers is great. I’d like to see more grow here.  

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The hillside is facing the sun and has a great
view:

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I plan on hiking back next year (probably in
July) to see if they take.  I’ll know if they do because I only scattered
them on one side of the trail and I know what grew here before (mainly brown
eyed Susan’s, wild roses, vetch, and columbine).

The last 3 miles of the trail seemed really
slow.  I was tired and sore but my mood was elevated, and while there were
a lot of unexpected clouds the weather was warm but not too hot.  It
certainly didn’t feel like 80 degrees, but the clouds blocking the direct sun
probably contributed to the good weather.  Did I mention it’s October in
Colorado?  The mountain mahogany seeds were fun to watch!

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I saw this guy too.  This interestingly
enough is apparently a popular landmark on the Barr Trail.  I’ve never
seen it until today, but last week someone on the trail asked me how far they
were from him and I couldn’t answer because I knew nothing about it.  

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I made it back to my truck at 12:27pm.  9
hours 29 minutes.  Not my best time, but honestly not bad!

When I got home Emily
and I planted more wildflower seeds in front of our house and on the side by
the maple tree.  We hope to get a lot of flowers, and bring them inside to
enjoy them during the summer. We’ll be reminded of Granny every year! (Side
note, we still plan to scatter more seeds on a grander scale, but wanted to do
something immediately while we had the chance).  

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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