Eagles Peak is a trail accessed through the Air Force Academy. It’s a 3.6 mile up and back trial that has an elevation gain of 2100 feet in 1.3 miles. As I was driving in I got to take a detour through the USAFA housing development (they’re working on the roads) and I saw a turkey this time in the same place I saw one last time. He gobbled at me as I took this picture.
The trail begins at the visitors center. I parked my truck in the lot, crossed the street, and followed the service road past some power lines to the trailhead. I want to note the beginning of the service road stated “authorized vehicles only” and when I got to the trailhead there were two unauthorized vehicles parked. Well, I’m assuming the Accord and Subaru weren’t authorized. Oh well, I got an extra half mile out of my hike and they didn’t, and it let me know there were at least 2 other groups of hikers on the trial. I passed them both coming down as I was going up relatively early in the trial. One was a man in his 50s, the other looked like a cadet with her two dogs.
Here’s a picture of the trail. It looks deceptively short and easy, but look at that elevation gain!
Oh, and the trail also looks easy to follow in this map. What it doesn’t show is how it follows a waterfall for most of the way, so when you’re looking at the trail thinking “There’s NO WAY the trial goes up that waterfall, it must follow this worn path to the left”, you’d be wrong. I was. Right where the ‘17’ is on this trial I ended up hiking up that ridge, only to notice my mistake once I got to the top and it was a dead end at a rock face. I had to retrace my steps and hike up the waterfall I didn’t think was a trail…
This hike is a steady uphill/up rock climb all the way to the top, except for a small meadow just before the final climb.
And what a climb it is! Like most trails in the area, it’s not well marked and hard to follow, but at least someone spray painted these blue dots that indicate what general direction you should follow.
As always, the view from the to was amazing! I love looking west towards Pikes Peak.
I was actually able to find the summit marker this time, which is an anomaly. Most summits don’t have them in the area at this elevation.
The hike back down was uneventful, if a bit slippery. Granite is really slippery when wet (remember the waterfall) and also when it’s crumbled up into pebbles. It is trickier hiking down in many areas than hiking up because it’s easier to slip and fall. Gravity isn’t on your side.
In any event, I made it down safely, hopped into my truck, and floored it to work, as I had several texts asking me for help (my team is in Brussels this week and I’ve been working odd hours while they’re overseas).
This was a challenging hike, but I made this hike a lot more
difficult than it needed to be, but not really on purpose. You see, I’d originally planned to hike
Eagles Peak this morning, but after talking with a friend at the gym decided to
try Blodgett Peak instead. I’m trying to
do as many USAFA hikes as possible before Thomas graduates, leaves ROTC, and I
no longer get a base pass. My friend has
hiked the ‘normal’ route and said it had only taken him about an hour. I’d already calculated this route for later
this week, so I just quickly changed my plans.
I was interested in this hike because while studying the
Pikes Peak Atlas I noticed there was a walking trail through the USAFA to the
peak, and because there was supposed to be wreckage from a WWII plane on the
trail. The aircraft was a C-49J
twin-engine transport, en route from Pueblo to Denver on 23rd Feb. 1943 in
overcast weather. It crashed at 1205 MT, instantly killing the pilot and
This trail isn’t a popular one. In fact, it isn’t even listed as a trail on
the USAFA map (but the peak is)
However, my Pikes Peak Atlas shows there’s a walking trail
to the wreckage site.
So as soon as I was done with my 10 miles at the gym I
hopped in my truck and set out to find the trailhead. There wasn’t any parking there (no room) and
I didn’t want to just park on the side of a USAFA road and leave my truck so I
did my best to fit where I could at the bottom of the dirt road hill and
crossed my fingers I was hidden enough not to get towed. It was a trailhead after all (if not a
The trail is labeled as ‘713’, and very well marked so it’s
easy to follow. First you cross a gate
And then you come to a creek crossing. I startled a few ducks upon my arrival.
While you aren’t supposed to cross when water is present I
was able to find a few boards placed just for this purpose.
The beginning of the hike was gradual and went through a
grassy meadow. I could pick out Blodgett
Peak and indeed the crash site from the beginning of the trail. But I wondered
how many people would even notice if they didn’t know what to look for?
I passed a scary/lonely looking Tesla Plant (owned by CS
Utilities) and continued the trail behind building. Here the trial was very well marked and
followed a paved road for about 1/8 of a mile.
I’m pretty good at following topo maps, so I was sure I’d be
able to navigate this trail easily. So
far everything was working just as planned.
While the trail was well marked with ‘713’ signs before the
Tesla Plant. Once I passed the Tesla Plant
the land stopped being owned by the USAFA and began being US forest service
land. This is also where the great signage
stopped. I wouldn’t see one more sign indicating which trail/road I was on for
the rest of the hike, and this was a serious safety hazard.
I was about halfway into the hike, just expecting to make it
to a forest service road when the trail stopped abruptly. I was confused and looked around for a bit to
try and find the trail. I went back and
forth, and realized there had been a rock slide, and the trail had been taken
out. No big deal, except I wasn’t
exactly sure how much of the trial had been taken out, since I couldn’t see a
corresponding trial anywhere ahead.
I’d been following the service road for a little bit of
time, and I knew I was supposed to be on it eventually, so I made my way down
the 75 feet or so on the slope towards the road (it was going to be ‘fun’
getting back up).
OK, so I was ON the service road, but I wasn’t sure where I
was on it. I looked back to my map and
decided to hike east to the end to see if I could find a trail. I followed it to the end and I couldn’t. So I hiked back west, pretty sure in my assumption
I’d eventually see either the walking trail to the left of the original 713
trail intersecting with the trail I was on.
Either way I’d eventually know where I was.
Except that didn’t happen.
I hiked and hiked and hiked, and eventually came to the
Northfield Storage Tank, which wasn’t on either of my maps. I was fairly sure I was on the right road,
but there were no signs indicating which road I was on or where I was on that
road. I looked at my map several times, but it just wasn’t there anywhere on
I thought about spending some time admiring the storage
area, but wanted to get on with my hike, so I continued.
The road alternated between a gravel trail and being
seriously poorly paved. I wondered how
vehicles made it on this path: It’s one
direction was up, and I continued to climb.
I never did see where the trail intersected the road, or a path to the
left that would take me up Blodgett Peak.
Eventually I realized just by looking around I was way too far east, but
I knew I’d been diligent about looking for the correct trail. I was sure I hadn’t missed it. So I decided to just ‘give up’ looking for
the USAFA trail to Blodgett Peak and just try again some other time from the
way I was supposed to use.
However, never one to give up a good chance to get some
exercise, I continued the path for about 2 miles, then hiked back down the way
I’d came. This was quite a workout for
my calves! It was a beautiful day and I’d enjoyed the
hike even though I hadn’t found what I was looking for. It was getting hot, so I decided to take a
walk around the storage tank just to get some shade for a bit before heading
That’s when I saw it.
A cairn. “Oh! Are you serious?” I
said to myself.
Yep, serious. This
was obviously the trail I’d been looking for.
I was a bit upset none of this was listed on my detailed
map, but decided at this point is wasn’t very important. I did some mental calculations. I’d been hiking for 2.5 hours (probably 5-6
miles or so, as it was directly uphill) and I’d already done 10 miles that
morning at the gym before hitting the trail.
I hadn’t had any breakfast (or coffee).
I had plenty of water, but only a package of fruit snacks and a ‘fun
size’ Twix in my pack (besides my survival stuff, of course). By looking at my map I had another mile or
two to the summit, and it was ALL UPHILL.
But this was what I’d hiked for, so I decided to go for it
and reserved the right to turn back at any time if I felt the need.
The hike was indeed straight up, and besides the rock arrow
I’d seen at the beginning of the trail, there was no trail to follow. Or, if there was, this is what the trail
looked like (yes, I was supposed to proceed, where this usually means ‘wrong
This was probably why it wasn’t on the USAFA map. You really had to know where you were
going. I kept my eyes on the peak and
just headed towards it. You can see a lot of visible damage from the Waldo
Canyon Fire in these pictures.
I was so excited when I came upon the plane wreck! Not because of the wreck itself (which was
tragic), but because it meant I was exactly where I needed to be on the
trail. There was no trail down to the
wreckage, so I hiked down about 25 feet from the top to get there.
Nothing about the site looked stable (once again, probably
why it wasn’t listed on the USAFA map) so I didn’t stay long. The plane was in at least 4 large pieces. Due to the drastic angle of the slope I
couldn’t get any good pictures.
There was a sign of dedication and an American Flag.
I didn’t know if I should be smiling or not, but here’s a
selfie anyway for proof of life.
I didn’t stay long at the crash site (it didn’t feel
safe). I continued onward and saw a lot
of strawberry and raspberry plants.
Those raspberry stems were a bugger!
They kept breaking off and getting into my shoes. I’d have to stop to get the stickers
About halfway up this ridge I began to see Pikes Peak over
the burn scar and got really excited for the summit.
The last ¼ of a mile or so was exhausting. I’m not sure if it was because I’d just
driven in from a lower elevation in New Mexico last night, because I hadn’t hit
the gym for 3 days prior and just climbed thousands of stair cases instead (my
calves were screaming at this point), because there was no trail and I had to
climb over boulders, or because I was hungry, but it was very difficult. I
considered it good training for future 14er hikes.
It was tough but I made it!
I sat on a rock, enjoyed my fun sized Twix (which seriously helped btw)
and looked around. Check out some summit
OK, you may think the hard part was over, but it was really
just beginning. If I thought no trail
and climbing up was difficult, imagine climbing down without a trail, on
terrain it was difficult to find my footing climbing up. I was sliding down scree and small chunks of
gravel the entire time. At one point I
slipped a bit and broke the lens of my camera (no worries though, it was just
the lens cover, and it’s why I have one and plenty of extras back at home).
Just after taking the above picture I stopped to look around
and freaked out. While I was extremely careful
while scrambling back down the rocks at the top of the peak to watch where I
was going and to make sure I was heading towards the right ridge, as I looked
around now I began to second guess myself. There were now several ridges, none of which
looked familiar, but of course I was heading down and not up. I took a minute to really study where I was
and concluded I needed to head further west.
This ended up being a great idea.
I was beyond ecstatic to see this burnt tree with two pine cones
together, as I remembered it from the hike up.
Then I saw this ladybug and a few butterflies and all was
I’d thought I’d paid quite a bit of attention while hiking,
but this proved you really need to top every few minutes or so and just look
around. It helps for the way back
down. Also, the wind rushing through the
trees sounds remarkably like a loud stream/waterfall, and when you know there’s
water below you it can be deceiving. I
had to make sure I was on the correct path a few times, but in the end I made
it out (with a few minor scratches… I had to get by a few difficult trees).
I made it back to the storage tank safely and was pleased
with my success. Not only had I made it
to see the plane wreckage, I’d successfully summited difficult rocky terrain and
made it back down a difficult ‘trail’ using only my intuition and a poorly
defined topo map. This was progress!
Just before the meadow I saw a bunch of exposed wires
jutting out of the hillside. Hmmm.
I saw a few more wildflowers on the hike down, made it to my
truck (woohoo! Still there!), and looked at the time. It was almost 12:30pm! My 2 hour hike had
turned into a 5 hour hike, and I didn’t mind in the least. Now to head home and enjoy some lunch!
Please don’t mind the hot mess that is my hair in these photos: I came straight from my shower at the gym and forgot my hairbrush on the hike.
I’ve been trying to do this hike for a while now, but the
directions I’ve been finding on the web have been wrong (imagine that). The two sites with directions state the
trailhead is 3.9 miles from the initial checkpoint. So I’ve done that several times, even driing
as much as a mile in either direction, and I’ve been unsuccessful in finding
the trailhead. But after purchasing the
Pikes Peak Atlas earlier this week, and talking with a friend at the Humane Society
who’s done the hike, today I was able to successfully find the trailhead!
OK, so it’s not 3.9 miles from the checkpoint as indicated,
but more like 5.5. In any event, if you
take the USAFA southgate entrance and make a left on Stadium drive, the turnoff
will be before the next checkpoint. In
fact, it will be about 20 feet before the next checkpoint, on your left. Follow the dirt road and the trailhead will
be clearly marked. My advice is to
bring with you a sturdy hiking pole, water, waterproof hiking boots, and a
sense of adventure.
I saw some wild turkeys on the drive up…
To be honest, there isn’t much information about this hike
online, so I’ll detail it here. Please note these are “early season” conditions, and it had snowed/rained for the past 3 or 4 days, so I’m sure the water levels were higher than normal.
Yes, the trailhead is clearly marked, in multiple
It’s hard to get lost for the
first half mile or so, but after that it’s anyone’s game. I saw
two other vehicles in the parking lot when I got there, so I surmised I’d end
up meeting two different hiking parties. I also forgot my map in the car. Well, I didn’t really forget it, as I remembered when I was about 10 yards from my truck, but I didn’t feel like going back to get it. In any event, I’d taken a picture of the trail at the trailhead. How difficult could this be?
I saw several scruffy looking rabbits along the trail.
The trail goes straight up for about 90% of the hike.
Here’s the indication you’ve left the USAFA
And as soon as you get to the top of this hill there’s a
great view, and this is where you’re leaving the easily marked area of the trail.
Check out this really cool water collection pool in the side
of the mountain! I’m sure it’s a
waterfall of it’s own earlier in the season.
The first ¾ of the hike is up through a lot of loose
granite, over creeks and yes, up waterfalls.
The trail actually goes up the waterfall. For anyone who’s ever climbed up granite, you
know it’s very slippery when wet. This
was indeed the case here.
The trail is difficult to find in places, but I reasoned
since I was hiking towards a reservoir, as long as I followed the water I’d
eventually find it, right? That ended up
being a good assumption. Also a friend
of mine told me she’d recently done this hike and kept thinking it couldn’t be
right to keep crossing the waterfalls, but that was indeed how it was done
(Thanks Paige for the advice!). I was
lucky it was still early in the season and the leaves hadn’t emerged yet. Otherwise it would have been really difficult
to see through the brush to find the eventual trail.
The trail went back and forth over a steady stream of
water. I was really glad I’d brought my
waterproof hiking shoes, and wondered how I was going to hike down these slopes
(up wasn’t easy, but I had footholds).
Where there were crossings over the stream they weren’t very
elaborate: Just a couple of
strategically placed logs. This is where
a hiking pole comes in handy!
Check out these baby aspens!
I love the intense green color of the trunks.
Most of the trail us rocky granite. You can tell it’s covered in snow during the
wintertime, and I’m assuming well traveled.
Because of this there are multiple trails to the same destination, all
paralleling each other. All are
As soon as I made it to the top of the waterfalls it was as
if I was in a different world! The
temperature dropped 20 degrees and there was snow everywhere. Water was dripping like rain from the trees
as the snow melted in the morning sun. This is where I saw my first group of
hikers. They looked like cadets, and there
were 5 of them, so I figured they could indeed have been the owners of both
vehicles, but at least one.
And there were tons of animal tracks…
After about ¼ of a mile hiking through the cold I came upon
a clearing that still had snow, but it was much warmer and quickly melting.
The reservoir was beautiful!
As I approached I saw a fisherman, and surmised he was the owner of the
second vehicle. We exchanged greetings
and I snapped a few pictures.
I could hear the sounds of gunfire (expected on base) and
the drumming of woodpeckers. I saw
several fish jumping in the reservoir. I
didn’t stay long as I actually had quite a bit of work to do today. And I was getting cold. My Raynauds was really kicking in (and
unexpectedly). My finders were red and
beginning to turn white. I knew I needed
to get to a lower elevation to arm up.
The way back down was indeed more challenging than up, as I
was hiking down slippery slopes with little footing. When hiking up it’s much easier to find a
place to put your foot, but when going back down everything just slips.
And much of the trail was covered with small creeks of
Just as I made it to my truck I heard a very loud rumbling
and saw the Thunderbirds soar by! So
cool! This was totally unexpected and
awesome, so instead of taking the second hike I’d planned for today I stood
there at the trailhead for half an hour just watching them practice.
I had a very unique view of their flight, as
everyone else in the Springs was watching them looking west, and because of the
hike I’d just completed I was watching from the east. I love living in Colorado
One of my favorite parts about this experience was seeing the cadets watch the flyover from on top of the buildings.