I don’t care how old you are, or how great of shape you’re in, Pikes Peak is a difficult hike. Strenuous. Probably the most difficult thing you will ever do in your entire life. It’s 26 grueling miles, 13 of which are uphill, 6 of which are above the treeline, exposed to the elements. It’s difficult in any condition, but Troop 2393 did it with 30lb packs!
A week before the trek I talked with the girls to let them know what they were getting into. I told them it was difficult, explained what would happen at each point in the hike, and told them they would want to give up. In fact, they’d beg me to give up. They’d curse me as well for making them continue. Did they want to summit? If so, I’d do my best to make sure they all summited. They did.
Since this was their first big hike we started out earlier than usual. I woke them up at 2am, we had our traditional muffins for breakfast they’d cooked the night before, and we were on the trail at 3:17am. The girls were really excited! We wore our headlamps around our necks instead of on our heads, and moths were attracted to us like flames. We were batting them away until the sun rose.
I knew this hike was going to be difficult almost immediately. About half a mile in the girls started complaining this was harder than they’d thought, and one of the girls was having difficulty breathing. We took many more breaks than I would have liked and for much longer periods to compensate. It took us 2 hours to go the first 2 miles (it usually takes about 45 minutes).
After the 3 mile mark everyone was back to “normal” (breathing was fine, etc.) but we still took it very slow. I was glad we’d started extra early!
We made it to Barr Camp and the girls collapsed by the stream. They were already exhausted! I tried to remind them this was difficult, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t listening…
It was 3 more miles to the A-frame, and we were in a bit of a hurry to make sure we were able to “claim” it. Otherwise we’d be sleeping in caves tonight (one of which leaks due to snow). I told myself I’d adjust the hike depending on the next 3 miles. There was a big chance we wouldn’t be summiting at all. Even with all the prep work it was much harder than they’d anticipated. Around mile 7 I had a girl pretend to faint. Yes, I’m sure she was pretending and looking for sympathy. However, she’s relatively new to the troop and didn’t realize that was the wrong game to play with me. I totally understood she felt she’d bitten off more than she could chew, but as far as I’m concerned you don’t joke around with safety. I let her know how I felt. She didn’t have any more issues after that.
Every 30 seconds or so I’d look over my shoulder to see how the girls were doing, and around mile 8 I had a girl actually faint. Right in the middle of the trail! She had been in the back of the line and none of the other girls had heard. Luckily we’d only gone about 30 feet or so. I told the girls to sit down, and ran to the one who’d fainted. Her skin was clammy and she was a bit cold. After gently tapping and nudging her a few times she woke up very confused. She didn’t remember falling. She must have done so gracefully because she wasn’t hurt at all, just confused. I’d been “pushing” water on the girls, so I knew she was hydrated, so that wasn’t the issue. Her body was just really tired. We took a long break until I was sure she was feeling better and we set off at a slower pace. I like to lead (so I’m the one who runs into that snake or slips on something), but I figured at this point we’d all take turns leading and I’d be in the back so I could watch the girls better.
It was a tough next mile, but the girls made it!!! Look at their excitement upon making it to the A-frame!
Here we took a REALLY long break. Over an hour. The girls relaxed, wrote their names on the walls to record their achievement, and consumed a lot of calories. Some girls refilled their water (filtered it), but everyone relaxed. We went over the journey so far, and the girls admitted it was harder than they’d anticipated, but (after their break) they all said they wanted to try to summit.
So we left all the gear we didn’t need in the A-frame, and set out with just the essentials to hike the remaining 3 miles to the peak.
I knew this was going to be challenging for them, so I tried to think of a game to keep their minds off the difficulty. Most of the girls had never seen a marmot before, so I asked them to count how many they saw. Some we may have counted twice and I’m sure there were some we missed, but we ended up counting between 40-50 marmots! They make a really annoying chirping sound…
After the first half mile the complaints began again. I had one girl adamant she no longer wanted to do this. She’d brought her cell phone, and wanted to call her mom to come get her (as if that were even a possibility at 12,500 feet 11 miles from the car). I’m 95% sure she was texting her mom at this time, telling her what an awful person I was. However, I’ve done this hike many times, and I know this behavior is “normal” at this point in the hike, so I encouraged her to continue. I knew there’d be more nasty comments to come, and I knew while only one (or two) girls would actually say they were tired, wanted to stop, couldn’t breathe, etc., everyone was thinking the same thing. This is the part of the hike where I get to be the “bad guy” in the nicest way possible, encouraging them to continue. Some of them said they really didn’t want to continue, but I knew how upset they’d be if they gave up, so I kept cheering them on. After all, if it was easy everyone would do it and there wouldn’t be bragging rights!
Since a lot of the trail was covered in snow and we had to get creative to continue climbing. We looked like we really knew what we were doing, and had several first timers follow us on the hike. It’s really cool to have things like this happen!
The changing point to the hike came about a mile and a half from the summit. At this point the “complainers” realized I wasn’t giving in, and this is also where a lot of the trail was covered in snow. The girls had to be very careful and work together to navigate the trail. I guess for them this is when it became fun!
Make no mistake, they were still sore and tired, but from here on out they trudged on without my constant encouragement and even seemed to enjoy the experience.
The small streams on the trail were fun to navigate as well. The girls asked me to take this picture for fun!
Once we made it to the Cirque (just under a mile from the summit) the trail became unnavigable. No worries: I did this hike last week. All we needed to do was head towards the “16 Golden Stairs” sign and then head straight up to the summit. It was difficult, but the girls seemed to have fun! We had another first timer follow us on this route as well.
The final push to the summit was really hard, but not one of the girls complained even once! It was as if a switch had been turned on, they all realized how close they were, and they WANTED to summit. It wasn’t easy: we had to scramble on the rocks and make our own trail.
About halfway to the top from where the rock scrambling started someone shouted “Look! Bighorn Sheep!” Indeed, there were 3 bighorn sheep traversing the ridge next to us! They were robust, confident animals. We watched them until they were out of sight (about 5 minutes). As an added bonus it was a nice break! The girls commented on how they made rock climbing look easy!
After about 20 more minutes of losing our footing, cheering each other on, and mini-rockslides we made it to the summit!
We tried to stay a good distance apart from each other to minimize rock slide injuries, so the girls who made it first waited for everyone to get to the top before all holding hands and crossing the cog tracks together. This was their idea: I love these ladies!!!
The girls were all smiles, enthusiastic, and PROUD of themselves! They were glad they’d continued on, and celebrating their personal and physical victories.
We immediately went inside the summit house and got donuts and fudge. The girls commented how only hikers who’d summited should be allowed such luxuries… They’d EARNED it!
After a break of about 15 minutes we went outside for pictures.
Emily truly wanted a picture with me to show she’d hiked Pikes Peak. Her smile was all the thanks I needed!
You expend a LOT of energy just breathing at 14,000+ feet, so it’s dangerous to spend too much time at the top. Adding to that it was starting to get cold and the girls wanted dinner.
After the fun of last week getting down the mountain we decided this time to go down the same way we’d gone up. I explained to the girls how to keep their center of gravity low while navigating, and we began our decent.
It was slow going the first half mile or so for safety reasons, but after that we practically skipped back to the A-frame, high fiving ourselves the entire way. The girls were a bit upset we hadn’t “glissaded” so we found a safe place to do so. On purpose.
Dinner was terrible. We had Mountain House backpacking meals, and I’m not sure if it was the altitude or how they were prepared, but the consistency was either way too watery or not watery enough. They tasted OK, so the girls with extra watery meals added their ramen and were fine with that. Apparently it was an improvement for the ramen!
Samantha and Olivia were in charge of the fire. Check out what an awesome job they did! One match!
I’m REALLY GLAD we were the first ones there because there was serious competition! At least three other groups were interested in sleeping in the frame that night, but luckily had brought back-up tents as well. We made several friends at the A-frame, and invited them to join us in our fire.
Although this was the warmest night I’ve ever spent at the A-frame the girls all said they had trouble sleeping because it was so cold. We all set our alarms to watch the sunrise, but due to the fires in the area it was difficult to appreciate, so we all went back to bed.
At 7:30am we got up and quickly dressed. We were running out of food and needed to get back down the mountain. We ate our cheerios as we descended. While better than the hike up, the hike down was still a challenge. It was hot, the girls were tired and very sore. We had blisters on top of blisters, and needed frequent breaks.
We stopped about 6 times each mile to rest, and every 3 miles we took an extended break and took off our packs. However, at the 1.5 mile mark the girls got their second wind, asked if we could stop taking breaks, and booked it the rest of the way down. They were exhausted and excited to be done with the hike! I told them to pose for this picture describing how their bodies were aching at this point… They have blisters on top of blisters, and I know every muscle in their bodies ache, but they should be proud!!!
Pikes Peak is an INTENSE hike, made even more so by backpacking. We are all tired and extremely sore, but proud of our accomplishment!
I grow as a person every time we Girl Scouts get together!
Thank you Girl Scout Troop 931 for teaching me about teamwork, patience, FUN, goals, perseverance, and awesomeness!!! Oh, and for those interested, YES they did help rescue someone on this trip too: a hiker with a broken ankle about a quarter mile from the summit. Troop 931 ROCKS!!!
This wasn’t our first rodeo (we did the same hike last summer and saved some hikers. You can read that story here: http://lauramclark.tumblr.com/post/95826650834/girl-scout-troop-931-backpacking-pikes-peak-and ) so we started before the sunrise to get an early start on the hike. The weather changes frequently on the mountain, and we knew it would start out cold, get really hot, then back to cold again as we made it past the tree line. Here are the girls, all ready to go in their “warm” clothes. We just layer for hikes like these. Also notice how happy and fresh they look.
Along the way we saw different flowers than last time (since we were hiking two months earlier in the season). I love seeing columbines growing in nature!
This is a really tough hike. About 6 miles in there’s a place called Barr Camp where a lot of hikers stay the night. Our overnight spot was still another 3 miles up the trail. Here’s Kayla passed out as we took a lunch break. Poor girl! This was a much harder hike than she’d anticipated. She was doing great though!
Notice this sign posted as you leave Barr Camp. Unfortunately, too many hikers either don’t see this sign, or don’t take it seriously.
About half a mile past Barr Camp we split into two teams. Jordan, Ruth Ann, and Tristina were hiking fast, so they went on up ahead and were to meet Kayla and I at the “A-frame”. Kayla was exhausted by this point, but kept on going. We all knew it would be easier if we separated, and we wanted to make sure we had a spot to sleep tonight since it’s first come (so getting there first was our best option).
Kayla and I made it to the A-Frame about 2 hours after the other girls. They had already set up camp and rested by the time we got there.
Kayla immediately unpacked her sleeping bag, and fell asleep.
The other girls had already rested, so by this point they were ready to talk. I walked around the campsite to get some pictures.
The A-Frame isn’t very big, and we didn’t want to put our things on the ground because there were a lot of critters around, so we weren’t as “tidy” as we could have been.
Jordan and Tristina got to work sanitizing water and making dinner. The site has a running creek year long, so this time we decided not to hike with as much water (conserving weight), and we planned to filter water at the top. The girls boiled the water, then placed the container of water in the stream to cool down before drinking it. I just have to say, as I was talking this picture I kept thinking to myself what awesome ladies these girls are! They were totally able to do everything themselves on this trip, and they did so without complaining. They have skills and they were having fun!
I mentioned earlier we weren’t very tidy in the A-Frame. However, we are Girl Scouts, so we do leave places cleaner than we find them. We brought trash bags to haul trash down the mountain (yes, even stuff that wasn’t ours), but we realized there was so much trash we couldn’t bring it all down. This was odd/not cool because we’d camped in the same spot less than a year before and totally cleared it of all trash. We decided to make the best of the situation and just burned as much as possible. Since there isn’t any wood to burn at the site (you have to haul it up from down the mountain) this had the added benefit of keeping us warm.
Have I mentioned the view at night from tree line is absolutely amazing! If winter didn’t exist on the peak I could live there. Enough said.
The sunrise is equally beautiful. We set our alarm just so we could watch the morning glow.
After a breakfast of Mountain House eggs and bacon (gross by the way, we’re never doing that again), we were off to climb the peak!
About half a mile in we decided we’d split up again. Kayla was having a lot of difficulty with this hike, and we were at the part where you have to keep going or you’ll never get started again. This is a very mental hike, and you have to know how to psych yourself up to continue.
Even though it’s July there is still a lot of snow on the peak. These drifts are much larger in person than they look from Colorado Springs. They are about the size of a football field, and they are very slippery! We saw many people fall because they were over confident. Kayla fell on each one (there were 7 or 8), hard, but she kept going!
The 16 Golden Stairs are anything but. This is the hardest part of the hike, and it took us about 1.5 hours to do (even though it’s only about ¼ of a mile). We kept stopping every 2 or 3 feet because Kayla really didn’t want to continue. However, I wasn’t going to let her give up. She told me at the beginning of this hike she was doing it for her dad (who passed away the week before), and I wanted to help her reach her goal.
There were a lot of tears and frustrated words said (never towards another person), but Kayla kept going.
I’m very, very, very proud to say she made it!!! Many (ok, most) grown men cannot complete this hike. It was hard, it hurt, and she was tired, but she kept putting one foot in front of the other and made it to the top.
She was exhausted when we got there (we both were). As soon as she crossed the cog tracks she stopped, raised her hands, looked up, and started talking to her dad in heaven. I couldn’t help it, I started to cry.
All of the work to get to the top was totally worth it! When she was done she turned to me, gave me a big hug, and said “Thank you Ms. Laura for helping me get to the top. I’m sorry I yelled at you!”. I cried some more.
Then we walked the 20 or so feet to the Summit House and Kayla fell asleep for the next 45 minutes.
We met the other girls there, got some donuts, drinks, and fudge, and told about our separate climbs.
Jordan, Ruth Ann, and Tristina told me they had helped rescue a man who had broken his ankle about a quarter mile from the top. He wasn’t a hiker, so he wasn’t prepared. He had driven to the peak and was hiking down to take selfies when he tripped (yes, he had a selfie stick).
They tried to give him an ice pack, but it exploded so they did the next best thing: They used their ace bandage to wrap his ankle, then got a ziplock bag and filled it with ice.
Then the girls helped him up and he hopped on one foot (his good one) to the top with one of his arms around each of the girls shoulders. He thanked them profusely when they arrived, and promised to get in touch when he made it home.
I woke Kayla up after 45 minutes because her body needed a rest: You burn just as many calories sitting at 14,000+ feet as you do running at sea level, so she needed to move down the mountain so her body could rest properly. We also needed to finish our hike: it was only half over!
As Alison Levine says: “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory”.
We posed for a few pictures (we were too tired when we got there at first to take any), and were on our way down.
This is where the real teamwork began. Kayla was very tired from this hike. We all were. I run 5-10 miles a day, Jordan is captain of the Ice Hockey team, Tristina runs cross country, and Ruth Ann runs as well, so we were more conditioned for this hike (don’t get me wrong, we were still aching).
Kayla however wasn’t conditioned, and was exhausted. She wanted to stop and rest every 15 feet or so, and that just wasn’t possible if we wanted to make it down the mountain.
So the girls helped to keep her motivated. They held her hand as she navigated tough rocky areas and the slippery slopes of snow. They let her hold onto their backpacks for support, and held her hand to help keep up her momentum.
They also kept praising her progress and success!
When we got just about to the tree line we started seeing marmots. 3 or 4 were chirping to each other, and some stayed still long enough for us to get pictures!
I love this one: you can see the Garden of the Gods below!
At tree line Kayla remembered we forgot to take a picture of her celebrating at the peak, so we took one now:
She did it! Great job Kayla! She looks filthy but proud of her accomplishments! She probably lost 5-10 pounds as well from the beginning (did I mention this is an intense 26+ mile hike? We did a mountain marathon in less than 36 hours)
My girls call me Leader Laura. I have been privileged to be the Leader of Girl Scout Troop 931 in Colorado Springs since 2007, where I have seen these girls learn, grow, and mature into self confident young adults. These girls take cookie sales very seriously: They set high goals, achieve them, and enjoy their success by planning activities and adventures paid for from the profits of the sale.
Troop 931 has sold tens of thousands of boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, and used the proceeds to perform community service and go on some amazing trips. This year a few of the girls in the troop were interested in backpacking to the top of Pikes Peak. This 14,115 ft. mountain towers over Colorado Springs, and is a constant source of pride for our community.
The hike to the top isn’t for the faint of heart. The Barr Trail to Pikes Peak is the most difficult hike in the area. It is an advanced trail that gains 7,800 feet in altitude in 12.5 miles, not to mention the 12.5 miles back down to your vehicle.
Colorado weather is dangerously unpredictable. It can be extremely hot hiking the beginning of the trail, and the average temperature at the summit in the summer is forty degrees below the temperature at the base of the trail. Electrical storms and rain are daily events, and it is possible to encounter snow and ice even in the summer months.
Three girls in the troop were interested and able to go on the hike: Jordan, Rebecca, and Tristina, all who have been Girl Scouts since elementary school. All of these girls take honors classes, Jordan is active in Ice Hockey, Rebecca is captain of her High School Color Guard, and Tristina is in cross country and cheer.
In addition to being physically fit and enthusiastic about the hike, the girls train for the Girl Scout “Reach for the Peak” outdoor skills competition every year, where they compete in events such as emergency first aid, campsite set up, emergency survival, knots, lashing, outdoor cooking, etc., so they had the skills and training necessary to take such an adventurous trip.
We all met at my house Friday night. The theory being they would be able to go to bed as soon as possible Friday night and get up early for the hike the next morning. We put together our food for the trip (lots of nuts, dried fruit, cereal, breakfast bars, Ramen, freeze dried meals and water), and distributed necessary gear amongst the girls (tents, camp stove, water filter, emergency first aid and fire starting supplies). Then the girls used the computer to check the most recent weather forecast and trail conditions (50% chance of storms after 11am), printed a detailed description of the hike with landmarks and places to filter water along the way, and planned to get up at 3am to leave by 3:30am to get an early start on the trail.
Saturday morning we had a quick breakfast of coffee, cinnamon rolls, and sausage. The girls were excited and awake at 3am, even though they did not go to bed early as planned (they are all good friends, so I figured they’d be up talking most of the night, and they were). All 6 of us piled into my truck (the three scouts Jordan, Rebecca, and Tristina, Thomas (a brother and a Boy Scout who wanted to hike too), Liane the Troop co-leader, and I) and headed to the trailhead.
Barr Trail is located in Manitou Springs, close to the Cog Railway that travels up Pikes Peak. It was still dark as we parked at the base of the trail, along with many other hikers looking to get a head start on the trek. At 4:30am we donned our backpacks, head lamps and good attitudes, took a picture for posterity, and began hiking.
The girls had researched the trail, so we knew the first few miles would be a difficult uphill climb, but after about the third mile it would even out for a bit. At around 6.5 miles we would come upon Barr Camp, where many hikers choose to spend the night either before or after hiking the peak. There would be water to filter at Barr Camp, and emergency supplies to purchase if needed. Our research told us there would be a cabin about a mile past Barr Camp that sleeps 6, available on a first come basis, and a popular spot to stay in the summer months. After reaching the cabin the hike would get more difficult, especially once we made it past the timberline. The last 3 miles was supposed to be the most complicated, due to lack of oxygen and stress from the hike. It was recommended to summit and be back below the tree line before 1pm to avoid summer thunderstorms. It normally takes about 8 hours to summit (without backpacking gear).
It became obvious about half a mile into the trail the group wanted to hike much faster than Liane. We were worried we wouldn’t make it to the summit before the required time unless we hiked at a faster pace, but we wanted to stay together. Liane had quite a heavy pack, and after some discussion we decided to separate and meet at the cabin a mile past Barr Camp: She never planned on summiting, the trail was heavy with hikers, and we all felt confident she would be safe hiking “by herself”. So it was decided Thomas and I would continue the hike with the girls, Liane would hike on her own, and we would communicate every so often through texting.
The first three miles were indeed aggressive, but we pressed on knowing the trail would eventually get easier. It was dark when we started out, and along the way we had views of the night lights of Colorado Springs, hundreds of twinkling stars, and the bright lights that were Venus and Jupiter shining just to the left of the crescent moon. I took pictures with my camera, knowing they would never represent the true beauty of the night.
We stopped many times for a few seconds here and there to admire the view. At about the 3-4 mile mark the sun came up and we started seeing really cool red and white mushrooms. The girls identified them as Amanita muscaria, more commonly known as fly agaric. These mushrooms are poisonous to the touch, so we became concerned when we found some had been uprooted. We followed a stream for a while, and the girls took turns identifying several trees, mushrooms, and flowers (to get ready for the plant identification part of the Reach for the Peak competition in 2 weeks).
Around the 4 mile mark the trail indeed became a bit easier to hike, but only for about a mile. Then the incline picked up once again, and the five of us started stopping more frequently to rest. We were all hungry despite breakfast, and broke into our snacks earlier than anticipated. We were glad we packed plenty of food: it began to look like we were going to need all the calories we could get!
Tired but feeling accomplished with the hike so far, we arrived at Barr Camp at about 8am. Barr Camp has a nice stream running through the area, and we noted several places we could camp if the cabin a mile up was occupied when we arrived. It was at the cabin we planned to take a longer rest before tackling the second half of the hike. We knew the hike would get a bit easier from there, so we didn’t rest, but continued on up the trail.
We expected a gradual climb to the cabin. After about a mile we were discouraged by how steep the climb was becoming, and in our lack of locating our designated spot to rest. We went back to our notes, verifying the cabin’s location. We started wondering: Had we missed it? Was it hidden? We were getting pretty tired by this point, so we stopped to take a rest and have a snack (peaches!).
A hiker passed us, and we asked her if we were close to the cabin. “You mean the A-frame? That’s at least another mile” she answered. We were taken aback. She had to be mistaken. She indicated she had hiked most of the way to the summit on another occasion, but had to turn back because of a storm. However she did remember seeing the A-frame at Timberline, and obviously we were a ways away from that yet. We looked around, and indeed we were still in a heavily wooded area, nowhere near the timberline.
This changed things a bit. By this time we were at least 2 miles past Barr Camp (with our gear), and about a mile from where we had planned to meet Liane (the cabin I will now refer to as “A-frame”). We were pretty tired at this point. The group discussed the options we now faced: We could go back and meet Liane at Barr Camp, or continue with our hike and plan to sleep at the A-frame no matter what, knowing Liane wouldn’t go that far. We knew if we hiked back to Barr Camp we would not be summiting, and that once Liane found out how far away the A-frame was from Barr Camp she would stay at Barr Camp. Jordan indicated Liane had her own tent, sleeping bag, food, and stove in her pack, so we all decided to continue with our hike and text Liane to let her know our decision.
On we hiked. The mile more we had to hike to get to the A-frame took us quite a while. We were tired and sore, but with the knowledge the A-frame was located at the Timberline felt like we were on a mission.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, we saw about 15 people scattered on rocks, looking down at the A-frame below. It was beautiful. A small wooden platform covered on three sides with an open view of Colorado Springs below. It was situated in a small valley, with a stream running through the area and 3 or 4 obvious campsites directly nearby. This meant we would have a place to camp, even if the A-frame was occupied. The girls took off their packs, and despite their fatigue immediately began to inspect the site.
There were belongings already in the A-frame, but no one seemed to be around. It looked like the sleeping bags inside had been left by previous backpackers (they were old and worn), and the shelter was littered with trash. There was a fire pit directly in front of the cabin, so we would be able to have a campfire at night if it wasn’t too windy. A quick inspection of the area indicated there was no firewood so I made a mental note to try and collect some on our way back down.
The girls seemed to have a new sense of energy. At 9:30am we left our sleeping bags and tents in the A-frame (we would be ok without these supplies if they were stolen, but we figured they wouldn’t be), put on our packs with the rest of our supplies, and headed up the trail to finish our journey. We were at 11,500 ft in elevation at the A-frame, and needed to get to 14,115 ft. It was 3 miles to the summit, and more difficult than we could have imagined. The hike just kept getting harder and harder, the air thinner and thinner, and just when we thought we were at the summit, we would round a corner and see what looked like miles and miles of trail still ahead. The air was much colder here, and without the trees the wind was brutal. We could see storm clouds quickly curling over the mountain above us and forming into thunderheads. We put on our hats, jackets, and gloves, and trudged on.
Every hiker we passed on their way down would congratulate us, smile and say we had about half an hour to go. Every. Single. One. Despite the fact we kept advancing on the trail, for about 2 hours every hiker would tell us we had half an hour to go. It was maddening, but we made a joke out of it to help pass the time. At this point we could hear the horn of the Cog Railway, indicating passengers should board the train to head back down. To us it was a sign we were getting close. We saw several mountain bikers riding down the mountain, and commented on their bravery/foolishness.
When we had about a mile left on the trail, the hike was no longer “fun”. It was here we would hike 5 or 6 yards and need to stop and rest for a minute (or five) to catch our breath. I felt like I was a coach pushing the girls to “keep going” because we were “almost there!” They became each others’ cheerleaders, taking turns saying “We got this!” and “We can do it!” We reminded each other if this was an easy hike, everyone would do it, and that its difficulty built character. And awesomeness. On we trudged.
It was brutal. No one wanted to give up, but neither did we want to keep going (resting felt wonderful, and it was so hard to start hiking again). At long last we saw a sign indicating the “16 Golden Stairs”. We had no idea what those were, but they didn’t sound good. They ended up being switchbacks that were more like rock climbing than actual stairs, and vicious on our already aching legs. Rebecca announced this hike brought new meaning to the term “thunder thighs”. We all laughed, and kept climbing.
After the last “stair” we stopped to catch our breath (again), and saw we were about 200 yards from the summit. Although we would have loved to have run, skipped, or jogged those last yards, it just wasn’t possible. We lumbered the last few feet, and almost cried tears of joy as we crossed the cog train tracks and stepped onto the deck.
I asked the girls “Do you want to take pictures now or after we rest?” “Now!” was their answer because once they sat down, they didn’t think they would get up again. We took some pictures at the summit sign, walked in the door of the gift shop, and almost fell upon the nearest empty booth to the triumphant arm pumping cries of “We made it!” and “We did it!”. The girls were elated. We all were! It was 12:30pm, and it was snowing. We made it from Barr Trail up Pikes Peak in 8 hours, with full gear.
During our 45 minute reprieve at the summit we spent most of our time resting and commenting on how difficult the hike was and how awesome we were. The Summit House consists of a restaurant, gift shop, and deck area. It was extremely crowded with tourists milling about, waiting in lines to buy souvenirs indicating they had “made it to the top”. There were two guys in the booth next to us who had just hiked up as well, but were waiting to take the train down the mountain. The girls told them about some of our other Girl Scout adventures (our trip to Alaska, learning how to surf in Texas, heading to Wyoming for Frontier days, rafting, spelunking, rock climbing, etc.). They were impressed we were Girl Scouts, and one even indicated his 11 year old niece was “getting bored with dance”, and would love to do some of the adventurous things we did. He didn’t know “older girls” could be Girl Scouts too. I gave him information on joining a troop.
I text Liane, and she had just reached Barr Camp. She indeed decided upon hearing it was 3.5 miles past Barr Camp to the A-frame to stay at Barr Camp for the night. She already had an adventurous 6.5 mile hike up to Barr Camp and was equipped with plenty of food, water, and supplies. We would meet her in the morning at the campground.
We ate lunch (Ramen!), used the restroom, filled all of our empty water bottles, enjoyed a cappuccino, and bought some fudge to celebrate for dessert later that night. Then it was time to head back down to our campsite (hopefully before a storm hit).
Now that we were rested we took a few more pictures as we made our way back to the trail. I don’t know if it was our rest or the fact that the storm seemed to be coming over the mountain so quickly, but the hike down was much faster than the hike up. We could practically run down the trail without needing to rest (we walked). We heard a chirp-like barking sound, and were delighted to discover it was a Marmot perched on a nearby rock. The girls posed for pictures (it’s an inside joke for the troop: We love Marmots because the Troop won the “Marmot Award” five years in a row in the Reach for the Peak outdoor skills competition).
The hike from the A-frame to the summit took us 3 hours. We made it back down in about 45 minutes, stopping along the way to gather some precious firewood. There wasn’t much, but we collected what we could, knowing the night would be cold. We correctly informed hikers still ascending of the actual time to the top, and as we got closer and closer to Timberline became fearful for hikers beginning the hardest part of their trek with night coming.
As we descended I kept hoping no one would be there to greet us at the A-frame. It is a first come camping situation, and barely big enough for the six of us to set up our sleeping bags. I hoped our leaving sleeping bags inside the shelter would “claim” it for us, but was unsure as to the protocol for such a situation.
Then I heard voices. It seemed there were people at the site already, so I braced myself for the best way to handle the situation. I mentally told myself confident and positive was best.
As we rounded the corner and crossed the stream I saw what appeared to be a man wearing cotton sweats and a t-shirt crouched down beside the fire pit. Inside the pit were 2 branches that had obviously just taken off a nearby pine tree, complete with short green needles and sap oozing from the branches. He was holding a match under one of the green pine needles, trying to get it to catch.
I smiled warmly and shouted “Hello! We’re the ones sharing the site with you tonight. It looks like you could use some help. Do you mind if we help you start the fire?”
“Y-y-y-es, if you think you c-c-c-an do it” he stammered. “I’m f-f-f-reezing over here, and c-c-c-an’t get it lit.”
“Ok, give us 10 minutes. Ladies, start the fire.”
The girls dropped their gear near the A-frame and separated into two groups: One to start on the fire, the other to look for more of the scarce firewood (we hadn’t found very much, and would obviously need more). Thomas helped the girls gather wood, and found some tinder and kindling under a nearby tree.
I wanted to get to know our fellow campers better, so I began asking questions. Right away it was obvious something was wrong. He started babbling. It seem he had a gallon of water open and spill inside his pack 2 miles down the trail, but he kept hiking until he reached the A-frame. His clothes were soaked, and due to the cold water, powerful wind and dropping temperatures, he was having a bad reaction. In addition he had a terrible headache. His friend had one too, and was throwing up near the shelter.
I saw this as a dreadful situation but a wonderful teaching opportunity. “Girls” I said, “what do you think is going on here?”
They quickly assessed the situation. The young man was obviously suffering from hypothermia: His clothes were soaked, he had goose bumps all over his skin, he could barely walk, and he was chattering and stammering. He also had a mild case of altitude sickness, and his friend more severe.
The girls knew what to do: get the young man out of his wet clothes and into a dry sleeping bag. Did anyone have spare clothes he could wear? The wet injured party did. Apparently he was in shock as well, as he had been wearing his wet clothes even though he had dry ones in his pack. The girls got the fire started, and treated one boy for altitude sickness, while I continued to ask the young man questions to keep him awake as he was warming himself up in his sleeping bag near the fire.
They were in more trouble than I had thought. It seems they drove 8 hours from eastern Kansas (where they lived at 1000 ft elevation) the night before and arrived early that morning to hike the peak. Neither he nor his friend (the one throwing up) had made it to the peak. They were in High School, and had three other friends hiking with them, but got separated along the way. At one point between Barr Camp and the A-frame they were so exhausted they slept beside the trail for a few hours (another sign of altitude sickness).
These two young men took a wrong turn but ended up finally finding the A-frame, so they figured they were ok because they made it where they were supposed to end up. They had left their dinner (hamburgers) in the car, but at least they had water to drink (from the creek!). At this point I was seriously wondering who had authorized this trip for these boys when one of the missing three showed up. He had indeed also gotten lost, and was suffering from a pretty bad headache. The girls treated him as well, and then began bandaging their own blisters.
It was now starting to get dark. These boys had no food and no tents, but they were getting along pretty well with the girls. Well, the two who were awake with headaches and hypothermia were talking with the girls; the other boy had passed out inside a sleeping bag, and we all figured that was the best thing for him at the moment. The girls set up a bag near him in case he needed to vomit again anytime soon.
Troop 931 made the decision to share the A-frame and what food and filtered water we had with the boys. Our new friends had been hiking all day with no food, and would need to eat something if they planned to hike down the mountain the next day. The girls talked them out of hiking to the summit and taking the train down in the morning. We got our freeze dried food, and brought out the backpacking stove to heat some water. Just as we were finishing dinner their other two friends showed up.
These “friends” were actually an adult male and female who were “supervising” the boys on the trip, but none of the party of 5 were related. They had 5 apples and 5 brats in their bag, which was better than nothing but nowhere near enough in our opinion. They also had a 2 man tent, which the two went to set up at a site nearby. They seemed amused when the boys told them they left their food and gear in the car, and thanked the girls for treating the boys.
About half an hour later the woman cheerfully came back to the A-frame. She had heard the girls were Girl Scouts, and wondered if they could help them start their fire. They had a lighter and had been trying for half an hour, but couldn’t get it going. At this point I need to mention the girls didn’t really pack much in the way of fire building materials. We hadn’t expected a fire ring, and only brought a few supplies in case of an emergency. The man was eager to help the Girl Scouts with the fire: “Just tell me what I can do to help and I’ll do it!” he said, then asked them how to keep it going.
The girls quickly got the couple’s fire started as well. As we were sitting there, I heard the woman say she didn’t know Girl Scouts did outdoor stuff, or that you could even be a Girl Scout in High School. She thought Girl Scouts was just about selling cookies. She also said she was “definitely buying lots of Girl Scout cookies” the next time she saw girls selling, and sincerely thanked the girls over and over again for their help.
Back we went to the A-frame. The girls re-assed the boys conditions, and noticed the ones who were awake were improving. The other boy was still sleeping, but didn’t have a fever. The girls decided to practice some Yoga to stretch their sore muscles from the climb and to prepare for the descent tomorrow. We shared the fudge and celebrated our success as we watched the sun set and stars come out. Together we pointed out landmarks and reflected on how awesome the whole experience had been. We had to be the luckiest people alive to have this view at night.
Just after the sun went down, two soldiers from a nearby Army base came up to the A-frame. The two had decided over breakfast to hike the peak, and headed out that afternoon. They wanted to know how far it was to the summit. We strongly encouraged them to hike in the morning. It was snowing on the peak, not to mention at least a 3 hour climb through difficult trail to get there. “Well, we aren’t really convinced we can’t make it tonight” one of them said. They didn’t seem to believe us, and kind of smirked when we told them of the difficulty. We wished them luck and warmly let them know they were welcome to set up a tent anywhere nearby if they’d like.
One hour later they were back from their attempt and setting up their tent (they had gone a little ways, began to believe us, and decided to turn back). However, they couldn’t start their fire. The girls were happy to help yet again!
Back in the A-frame things were starting to get fun. The new friends were discussing books, High School classes and sports, and college prospects. It was now about 10pm, and starting to get windy. We put our fire out, and with one side completely open to the elements it immediately got very cold inside the A-frame. This was not good for the boy still chilly but recovering in the sleeping bag, or anyone else for that matter: It was supposed to be in the 20s on the peak that night. The girls used their knot tying skills to attach a tarp over the opening, which kept out most of the wind, but unfortunately took away the view of the city below, and also the light. The girls took the notorious water jug and attached a flashlight to the top, making the small light into a wonderful lantern, and brought out a deck of cards.
The group of teenage girls and boys were getting along pretty well. At this point, I thought they were getting along a little too well. Realizing I was the only real adult in this whole situation, and that most of their parents would be upset with the kids “sleeping together” no matter the extenuating circumstances, I decided to put my foot down with sleeping arrangements. The girls had their sleeping bags set up where their heads were facing one wall of the cabin, the boys on the other. I was in the middle. While I was really tired, I knew I should stay awake while the teenagers were awake, so I listened to them talk and have a really fun time comparing Kansas to Colorado until 2am, when they finally got to sleep. By this time I was freezing, and unable to sleep myself, so I listened to the wind howling outside the shelter. 4am came, and along with it, some pretty powerful wind gusts. One gust tore the rivet off the tarp, and with a loud and obnoxious crumpling and flapping sound started flailing noisily in the wind. I am proud to say the knots the girls tied remained in place, even though the tarp had torn. The tarp was replaced, and luckily that seemed to be the worst of the wind for the night.
The girls set the alarm for 6am so we could watch the sunrise, eat breakfast, pack up and go. The two boys with headaches were doing much better, and wanted to pose for pictures with the girls. The boy who had pretty severe altitude sickness was better but still miserable (he would be until he descended the mountain), and planned to sleep for a few more hours. We briefed the adults on what to do for altitude sickness, gave them some supplies, and told them if the boys ended up getting sick in the near future to research Giardia. They were very appreciative, thanked the girls over and over again, and let them know if it hadn’t been for them, they “probably wouldn’t have made it through the night.”
The A-frame had been filthy when we arrived, so being Girl Scouts we decided to clean it up before we left. Since it is quite a hike to reach the shelter from both the top and bottom of the trail, it is unlikely others would come to clean up the mess. Luckily we had brought some trash bags along in our packs (in case of intense rain they work well as ponchos). We filled the bags with empty water bottles, dirty plates and utensils, empty fuel canisters, socks, and other “trash” and decided to carry the bags from the shelter 9.5 miles down the mountain.
It took us about an hour to hike down to Barr Camp, where Liane was waiting for us, ready to go. She had a fabulous time talking with dozens of hikers she met along the trail, and a peaceful night sleeping in a tent by the stream, watching a campfire of her own. We had quite a few stories to share with her on the way down. We couldn’t believe how many unprepared hikers we encountered. They all agreed “someone should write a book about this trip, or make it into a movie!”
We had 2 more miles to hike when Thomas yelled back to us “Come quick! Ms Liane fell down!” We rushed back up the trail to see that she had indeed taken a pretty hard fall, and was lying face down in the dirt. She had lost her footing and was off balance due to the pack she was carrying (which gave momentum to her fall) and fell face forward down the trail. We were all afraid she had broken something, but she assured us she had just fallen quite hard, landed on her nose (ouch!), hand, and knee, and while she was shaken up, nothing seemed to be broken. Bruised pretty badly, but not broken. Liane was a brave and excellent role model through the whole experience. She handled the fall like a champ, didn’t complain, kept positive, and after cleaning her cuts we were on our way back down the trail, a little more cautious this time.
We made it to the parking lot at 11:30am, took a celebratory picture by the Barr Trail Sign, and headed home. We were all exhausted, dirty, and smelly, but so proud of our accomplishments!
The whole way home we would look at Pikes Peak and say ‘We were just there!” and “We climbed that!” Every time we look at Pikes Peak we will think of the adventures we had this weekend, and how we conquered the mountain.