12th Summit of Pikes Peak – The Flag Photo

I really didn’t want to go.
I mean really.   I didn’t.  I’ve summited Pikes Peak 11 times (9 so far
this year), and honestly I was “done” at about the 8th summit.  Not done forever, but I felt accomplished and
didn’t feel like I needed to hike again this year.  Then some compelling reasons came up and the
weather was unusually pleasant for this time of year so I went again.  However, last time I missed a great photo op
(due to clouds) and felt like I just HAD to summit again if the weather

The picture I wanted was specific.  It required being above treeline before the
sunrise.  That means hiking about 9 miles
in the dark and another mile in the dawns early light.  Added to this is the fact I might not even
get the photo.  I needed a specific
sunrise, and while Colorado has over 300 days of sunshine a year and there’s a
75% chance there will be no clouds on any given day, there’s still a
possibility there will be clouds in the morning blocking the sunrise (like last

Did I mention the time change?  I know from experience I can hike the
required 10 miles in about 3 ½ hours.
Starting at 2am that was more than perfect to be well above treeline before
the time change, but with clocks rolling back an hour this week and the sunrise
changing for this time of year I wasn’t quite sure of the exact time it would
rise (no, those online sunrise/sunset indicators don’t count in this instance,
since I’d be above treeline, miles above the city itself).

So I made some calculations and thought setting my alarm for
1:40am sounded like a good idea.  It
usually takes me an hour to get up, get ready, and make it to the trailhead
(even with prepping the night before), so this should give me 20 extra minutes
to get where I needed to be.  Just trust
me here, the math works.

I woke up and didn’t want to go.  I looked outside, knowing there would be no moon
because I watched it set while driving home the night before.  I was looking to see if there were clouds.  There weren’t.  It was brisk and there were a lot of
stars.  OK, time to turn on the coffee.

I got dressed and added extra layers.  Forecasts projected weather in the high 20s
and very low 30s, with temperatures in the low 20s at the summit, not
accounting for wind.  I have Raynaud’s,
which means I’m extra susceptible to frostbite and extreme changes in
temperature.  I put on two pairs of socks
(one knee-highs), shorts, two pairs of pants (including thermals), a workout
top, thermal sweater, and North Face Jacket (thanks Thomas).  And two pairs of gloves.  And a scarf for good measure.

I drove to Manitou.
Slowly.  I was actually going
about 5mph below the speed limit (which for me is VERY slow).  The temperature gauge in my truck kept
dropping.  It started out at 43, went
down to 33, then up again to 36.
Wonderful.  It was going to be

I drove through Manitou Springs and was greeted by a rather
large buck


And a raccoon.  The
raccoon was expected:  I’ve seen him and
his pal a few times here as he favors this trash can.  I backed up my truck to get a picture (no one
else was on the road at 2am) and he scuttled away (hence the hasty backside


I drove up the hill by the Cog Railway and was a bit
disappointed to notice there weren’t ANY other cars in the parking lot.  Hmmmm.
I got out of my truck.  It was more
than brisk.  I took my time paying the
$10 parking fee at the meter.

You’d think by this point I was 100% committed to hiking
Pikes Peak today.  I mean, I’d eaten a
big bowl of chili (with extra cheese) last night to gain calories, and this
morning had a full spoonful of peanut butter/Nutella in preparation (adding
Nutella actually helped make the peanut butter a bit more palatable this
time:  I ate the whole thing).  I’d woken up at 1:40 in the morning, drove 30
miles to the trailhead, and was wearing triple layers of clothes.   Yes,
you’d think by this point I’d be certain I was hiking this morning, but I wasn’t.  Even after paying the $10 parking fee.  I slowly walked back to my car and added
layers.  It was cold.  I hate being cold.  

I’m not sure why I chose to start hiking, but I did.  It was probably because I didn’t want to lose
out on the opportunity to get that picture I wanted (because I really didn’t want
to take this 26 mile hike in the cold).

I started at 2:43am.
At MM ½  I began taking off
layers.  I was getting overheated.  Fast.  I
could actually feel beads of sweat rolling down my breastbone.  This was something new.  It was cold out, but I was overheating.  I contributed it to the fact I was wearing
Thomas’ North Face Jacket.  It was
surprisingly lightweight, but quite a heater!
I may be stealing it again in the future.

At MM2 I started putting layers back on.  This change in temperature was to be
expected.  The temperature often shifts
on this hike, and is usually pretty cold from MM2-MM5.  

I hiked on in the darkness.
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s “fun” to hike alone in the dark because
it’s not.  It’s scary.  Yes, I’ve done it before, and I was doing it
again, but only because I had a goal in mind.
I REALLY wanted that picture.  I
had no desire to hike alone in the dark, but saw it as a necessary evil to
reach what I was hoping would be a fruitful end result.  It was a gamble I was willing to take.

On a positive note there was no wind.  I didn’t see anyone at Barr Camp, but I didn’t
really expect to as there weren’t any cars in the parking lot.  I also didn’t expect to see or hear anyone, so
all noises I heard were not expected to be human.  

While I was still a bit uneasy about the hike (the whole
alone in the dark thing) I was feeling pretty good about my physical
stamina.  I wasn’t freezing and while I
wasn’t going for a personal best I was hiking at a pretty quick pace.  

I was at about MM8 (no mile markers past 6.5 so I’m
guestimating here) when the realization came upon me I might actually miss the
sunrise.  It was starting to get light
and I was still over a mile from where I needed to be.  At this point in the hike that meant about 30
minutes away.  I could tell by the way
the sky was brightening the sunrise would be a good one.  I knew I was playing a game with the timing
of this, but I’d be darned if I was going to hike 8 miles in the dark only to miss
my photo op by 2 minutes because I wasn’t hiking fast enough.  I did not want to take this hike again this

I took my hiking up a notch and felt it in my gluteus

No one was at the A-frame (as expected) so I continued
on.  When the sun rose I was exactly
where I needed to be.  It took about 15
minutes to rise, and I used all of those minutes to take pictures.  I had an exact picture in mind and was going
to do my best to actually get that picture I hiked all this way for.  I had to take off one pair of gloves to make
it happen, and about 5 minutes into taking pictures my fingers froze.  I kept snapping pics.  After taking about 200 photos this one was my


I started to get emotional.
I got the picture I’d wanted, and I just realized I was hiking Pikes
Peak, America’s Mountain, on election day.
How awesome is that?  I felt very
patriotic, and a bit sad I was the only one experiencing this.  In my head I sung “America the Beautiful” and
the “Star Spangled Banner”.  I went over
the meaning of the words to the poems by Katherine Lee Bates and Francis Scott
Key.  Line by line.  Yes, I’m a dork, but I was enjoying myself.

As I continued to hike I slowed down a bit, since I’d
already gotten what I wanted.    You might ask why didn’t I turn around and go
back down the mountain, since I’d gotten the photo I’d come for?  I was the only one on this mountain.  I could just tell people I’d summited and no
one would know the difference, right?

Well, you see, I’m stubborn.
I was now about 2 miles from the summit (30-45 minutes).  I couldn’t get this close and turn back.  So I kept on.
As the sun rose it got warmer (surprisingly, as usually it gets colder
as I ascend).  There was still ice in the
granite.  Not worth taking a picture of
as it was more than but similar to last week.
I found myself more thirsty than normal, and in need of more breaks than
usual.  I attributed it to “booking it”
that mile and a half for the sunrise photo.
I kept reminding myself to “stop-stopping”.  

At 7:50am I summited.
I was the only one at the top of Pikes Peak.  I sat down in the window of the old Summit
House and reflected on the hike so far.
I was so glad I’d hiked today!  I
always am.  I’ve never regretted a hike
up Pikes Peak.  They are always challenging,
surprisingly different, and I always learn something about myself as I
hike.  As I munched on my snack of dried
mangoes I composed a caption for my picture.
I wanted to capture the experience and share it with everyone, but knew
I’d never be able to.  I’m pretty patriotic,
and this election means a lot to me personally (another post), so I wanted to
get it right.  I’d actually teared up on
this hike thinking about the awesomeness of it all.  Here’s the caption I came up with:

There’s something
emotional and powerfully patriotic about summiting Americas Mountain on
Election Day. Vote People. #bythedawnsearlylight
#12thsummit  #pikespeak  #coloradomakesitsownflag

It’s not safe to stay at the summit for very
long (due to altitude, etc.) so I packed up and got ready to go.  My fingers were starting to freeze again, but
I took a few more pictures.  I was trying
to “prove” I’d summited without taking selfies (I’m not a fan of selfies).  I liked this shadow idea, and will probably
try to perfect it next summer as I don’t really like any of these.  I feel no need to do so this year.  


I saw a couple of pikas as I hiked down, but they are pretty
elusive creatures.  I’d see one run past,
it would squeak, then quickly hide.
Thus, no photos.  

I made it down to the A-frame in pretty good time.  I wasn’t going for a record, so I sat on a
rock outside the shelter and edited my pictures a bit, then posted them to
facebook.  It wasn’t lost on me how
awesome a view I had or how blessed I was to be right here, right now.  I could see myself as if I were standing
behind myself, watching me on the rock with the view.  This is why I hike.

I regretfully started my decent again knowing I was dawdling.  I saw someone running up.  I couldn’t tell if it was a guy or a girl. It
looked like a girl but he/she had a mustache? I once again thought to myself “no
matter how intense you are, there’s always someone more committed than you.”  I refuse to run.  I didn’t see this runner again, which means I
made it down before he/she did (a win considering he/she was running and I wasn’t).

I saw about 7 more people total.  That’s very few people for this hike, but it was
a Tuesday in November, and also election day, so I guess it was

My mind wandered and I thought about the perfect length of
time between hiking Pikes Peak.  Two
weeks ago I’d hiked it on a Saturday and then a Friday, and on Friday I was
slower than normal (so 6 days in-between summits was too short).  This time it had been 11 days since my last
hike and I felt pretty good, but not 100%.
I’m thinking 2 weeks between hikes would give me enough time to recover
before hiking again.

I’m not gonna lie, I was looking for a bear this trip.  I always am, but never seem to see one.  I did get a little surprise however around
MM1.5 on the way back:  As I was scanning
I saw a butt.  Seriously.  I stopped, turned back around to confirm, and
yes, what I saw was a butt.  But not one
belonging to a person: one attached to a rather large mule deer with its back
towards me, munching on leaves.  I
laughed and continued on.  It actually
looked at first like it belonged to a person… No picture because it was on the
hillside over from me covered in scrub oak and wouldn’t have turned out.  

I made it back at 12:23pm, making my total time 9 hours 40
minutes.  Not bad, considering I took
lengthy breaks this time. I drove home, took a bath, and was just getting into
bed hoping to get a 2 hour nap before the kids got home from school when I got
called into work.  Immediately.  To check an important voice mail.  Lovely.

Happy Election Day!

Pikes Peak Summit Sticker can be bought here

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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