My First Winter 14er – Pikes Peak 14,115, Devils Playground 13,070, Little Pikes Peak 13,363

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I know this trip report won’t sound like a big deal to most serious 14er hikers, but I have Raynaud’s, which means my body completely shuts down in the cold.  My fingers and toes turn white, they lose function, and I can’t walk, talk or use my hands or feet.  No, foot/hand warmers don’t work.  Neither does layering.  The fact I was able to complete a winter 14er, even an easy one in an easy year, was a huge accomplishment for me.  Here’s the trip report:

Devil’s Playground – 13,070

Little Pikes Peak 13,363

Pikes Peak 14,115

Elevation Gain 4300’

RT 14 miles, 7.5 hours

Starting from Crags Campground

Brought microspikes but didn’t use them (I probably should have though).  They will be useful in the next few days.

I’ve been trying to do this hike for months, but the weather forecast is always terrible in the winter at the top of Pikes Peak (today said 55mph wind gusts and -10* wind chill).  However, last weekend I used a new jacket my mom got me, and while I was hiking I was actually hot and had to take it off, so I figured even though the weather was terrible it was a great chance to see what this jacket could do!

Also, I’d just picked up a pair of men’s work gloves (fleece) at Walmart for $6 that indicated they worked even in the worst of weather.  I was seriously skeptical but willing to try anything:  my fingers are always the first to lose function, and I can never get them warmed up again until I go back down in altitude (kind of like altitude sickness for my extremities).

My goal was to hike to Devil’s Playground, and possibly hike up Little Pikes Peak.  I was thinking I’d check a couple of 13ers off my list (I know they aren’t ranked, etc.)  I had no intention of hiking Pikes Peak today.  I’ve hiked it 12 times (from Barr Trail) and had no need to do it again.  I just wanted to see what this jacket and pair of gloves could do.

I used the Crags Trailhead.  The gates were open but the 3 mile dirt road was covered in a layer of packed down snow.

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I arrived at 6:45am and was the only one in the parking lot.  The bathrooms were locked (presumably for winter) so I got my gear together and started at 7am. It was 21*.

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The trail was very well marked (I love that!).  It was also easy to follow, even with the snow.  It looked like someone had tried to cross country ski in the area.  I’m pretty sure it didn’t end well.

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I took trail #664A for what seemed like forever before making it to treeline.  I mean forever!  The entire trail was covered in about 3-6 inches of packed snow (more in the drifts) and while I could hear the wind the trees blocked it from reaching me.  It was slow going because the snow was a bit slippery and I had to watch each foot placement in the rocky areas.  I had microspikes but didn’t use them because I didn’t think they’d make me any faster/more secure.

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Here’s a photo of the trail as soon as you get above treeline: It’s straight up a mild, well maintained, snow covered drainage/gulley.  This is where the temperature dropped and the wind picked up.  It didn’t stop until I reached this point again on my way back down.

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I continued hiking around some large rock formations and then areas of heavy snow.

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The snow was beautiful, and had a sound.  I’d say it sounded like glitter, but since that’s not possible I’ll instead say it sounded like very small chards of glass bouncing off the floor.  But to me it had the sound of glitter.

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I wasn’t cold yet, but I wasn’t at a high elevation either.  I was at 11,500 feet.  Eventually I got to the Pikes Peak Highway.  I crossed the road and this is where the wind really picked up.  I could see it blowing from the west, up and over the ridge.

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It was phenomenal to watch!  I could see the wind as it ascended the basin, and follow it as it blew up and over the ridge.  I knew when to brace myself for impact, which was important because it knocked me over a few times.

A scarf was necessary. The only place I was cold was where my skin was exposed (woot!  High five for the jacket and gloves!).  I had to tuck my scarf into my jacket because the wind kept causing it to unravel.  Wind was probably 25mph here.

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Devil’s Playground was dry of snow except for when the wind blew… It was about 15* here (without wind).

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The trail following the Pikes Peak Highway was easy to follow because of the snow drifts.  I either avoided them or sank into them and trudged on.  I was miserable due to the wind, but I was doing this!!!  Still not cold!

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The highway was completely devoid of snow, and curiously there was someone with a plow going up and down the road.  They stopped twice to watch me, presumably because I was CRAZY to be out hiking in this WIND.  I figured they weren’t taking any chances with icy roads either in all this wind.  This also told me they were opening up the summit house today.  Woot!

The pictures just don’t do this wind justice.  It was intense and insane (and mostly invisible).

Here’s where the wind became intense for the first time.  Gusts were about 55mph and sustained.  I’d stand there for 30 seconds waiting for the ice intensity to pass.  The wind made it cold, but not so cold I needed to stop.

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Here’s a view of Pikes Peak (center) and Little Pikes Peak (right).  Little Pikes Peak was the reason I was taking this hike.  There’s no path to the summit, so I’d have to just find a route and follow it.  Here’s where I made my first mistake.

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I was coming from the North, and could only see one side of the mountain.  I picked a route that looked hikeable and followed it.  I stopped to breathe for a bit and take in my surroundings and realized I’d almost hiked to a place I couldn’t hike down from!  The snow was heavy, and I’d have to say if there’s any avalanche danger (yes, I know it’s small) it’d be here.  This snow was loose and I was in a precarious position, jumping from rock to rock:   If I missed one I’d be sliding for quite a ways!  I quickly hiked back the way I’d come and decided to scout out a better route up.

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I found a much drier route to the south and made it to the summit of Little Pikes Peak after falling through and hitting just a few small boulders hidden in the snow (no big deal, I kind of expected this to happen).  Here’s a summit selfie of me trying to smile (my lips were frozen).  Moral of this story… summit Little Pikes Peak from the South!  That side had snow, but no where near as much as the north side (I know, common sense…)

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I sat on the summit and looked at Pikes Peak.  It was much closer than I’d assumed.  It couldn’t be much more than a mile or a mile and a half away.  I was intrigued.  For some reason I really wanted to summit from this route.  I’ve summited 35 peaks solo, but Pikes was my first summit and I did it with a group and on another route.  I kind of wanted to be able to say I’d summited this peak solo as well.  And I’d never done a winter 14er (several winter 13ers, but no 14er in winter).  The only problem was I could tell the toughest weather was ahead of me.  I knew the temperature would drop as I ascended, and that wind blowing snow looked insane!  I was already cold (but not as cold as I’d anticipated).  I hate regrets, so I decided to go for it:  I could always turn back if it got too difficult, right?

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I stashed my trekking pole and began the final push to the summit.  I was right, this was the most difficult part of the hike:  The temperature dropped and the wind picked up.  Here’s what it looks like just as the wind and snow hits you at -10* and 55mph…

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Unfortunately, the wind didn’t come in gusts:  it just kept coming.  I’d brace myself, look for a cairn, note its position, put my head down and trudge towards it with the wind blasting me from the front.  It was miserable and slow going but I had a plan.  And while I should have been a popsicle in this weather I wasn’t!  This was doable!

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The cairns were extremely helpful since the route was covered in snow.  I knew others must have hiked this trail in the past few days, but as I looked back at my tracks they were quickly covered by snow blown by wind just seconds after I’d passed.  This meant I had to watch every step forward because I was kind of ‘breaking trail’ and didn’t know the best route.  The rocks were slippery and again there were times I’d misjudge and my shin would get bruised from falling through snow and hitting rock.  I thought about but didn’t use my microspikes yet again.

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The wind didn’t stop, but as I gained the final pitch the ice and snow was taken out of the mix.  This was a nice surprise!  I summited at 11am.  I still couldn’t feel my lips but was able to force an awkward smile for a summit selfie!

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The summit was disappointingly dry for winter, but I’m pretty sure that’s normal for a summit (due to wind).  Almost no one was there (3 cars in the parking lot?) so I walked across the parking lot and into the summit house.  I briefly thought to myself it was cheating to go inside and get warm, but my water had frozen on the hike and I wanted a drink from the water fountain.  The pipes had frozen in the summit house as well so I bought a Gatorade and immediately started feeling overheated.  This was not good.  It was way too hot in there and I was getting a headache.  I had to get back down that mountain.  I remarked to the cashier how I was shocked they were open today. Her reply told me she’s obviously had other plans besides work today and was surprised as well.

I met a group of three guys from Texas who’d driven to the top.  They were impressed to hear I’d hiked up in this weather, and confused when I told them I was heading back down: “That’s the only way to get back to my truck”…

I bundled back up and headed outside.  My path back down looked amazing.

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The wind was constant during the hike back down, but the jacket and gloves had done their job:  I still had full function of my fingers!  Success!

The hike back down seemed much longer than the hike up.  I kept thinking to myself it was crazy I’d hiked all this way straight up!  I like elevation gain and tend to forget how much uphill I do on the way up until I’m on the way back down…

I marveled at the south side of Pikes Peak, and totally understand why they want to make this area into a ski area:  It would totally work (if we forget about destroying tundra and wildlife).

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Just before making it back to the trailhead I noticed prints that looked like bear tracks.  They were obviously not fresh, but I was pretty sure that’s what I was seeing and they’d been created within the past few weeks or so.  Hmmm… it seems someone woke up early and hopefully went back to bed.  This doesn’t surprise me, due to our unseasonably warm winter and the fact I was hiking near a campground.

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The last 3 miles of the hike I was roasting.  I wanted to take off my jacket but was too stubborn to stop, so instead I took off my hat, gloves, and scarf while I was hiking and just carried the items.  I was curiously pleased I was so warm in 30* weather I was taking off accessories.  I made it back down at 2:30pm, making this a 7.5 hour hike.  Slow for me, but I blame the wind…

All in all today’s adventure was a total success!  The weather was brutal but having the right gear made all the difference.  I wasn’t nearly as miserable as I’d anticipated I’d be.  I learned a lot about my abilities, did a reality check on things I already knew but ‘forgot’, and can now say I’ve hiked a winter 14er!  Woot!

Pikes Peak Summit Sticker can be bought here

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.

One thought on “My First Winter 14er – Pikes Peak 14,115, Devils Playground 13,070, Little Pikes Peak 13,363”

  1. Read articles on raynaud’s and realized the dangers of this disease.You overcome so many adversities by your determination not to let pains,aches and cuts keep you from accomplishing your goals that you have set for yourself.

    Like

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