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Ascent of Pikes Peak on 2014-07-26

Climber: Jeremy Swider

Others in Party:Sean Alter
Date:Saturday, July 26, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Pikes Peak
    Location:USA-Colorado
    Elevation:14110 ft / 4300 m

Ascent Trip Report

Sean Alter and I hiked to the summit of Pikes Peak and back down from Manitou Springs via the Barr Trail as an Ultimate Hike "Choose Your Own Adventure" hike to raise funds for CureSearch for Children's Cancer. For more info on creating a hiking/climbing adventure to raise funds for Children's Cancer Research, or to join a group "Ultimate Hike" event in the USA, please visit www.UltimateHike.org

Sean and I began our ascent at about 4:55am after my wife, Krista, dropped us off at the trailhead. The parking lot was quite full at this hour with hikers preparing to start their ascent. We got a slight head start on the crowd and were about 2 switchbacks ahead of the next hikers for the first half-hour. We were aided by the use of my headlamp in the dark. Amazingly, we could see the first glow of the dawn braking over the city of Colorado Springs after just a few minutes of climbing up the trail. Many of the hikers behind us eventually passed us up, as I have a passion for pausing to take photos every few minutes. We'd often see several of these hikers again when we'd catch up to them taking a rest or vice versa, and we had the privilege to talk with a few of them for more extended periods of time.

The hike was extremely scenic, with lovely views of nearby foothills, mountains, and rock formations. The first clear views of the summit occurred at around mile 4. We passed through several distinct types of forest ecosystems as climbed to higher altitudes. The trail was incredibly well maintained. We noticed almost no trash along the trail and none of the trail appeared to be overgrown with vegetation. In some places the trail was rutted in the center due to water run off and in a number of places it was rocky, requiring occasional steps up onto rocks or boulders of 1-2 feet in height, but this is to be expected on a mountain.

About half way up is the Barr Camp. We stopped here briefly to use the restrooms (outhouses) and to refill some water bottles at the stream. We used Sean's water filter for this purpose, but we had enough water with us and thanks to Krista's help at the summit, we didn't end up having to drink this stream water.

At around mile 9, about 3/4 of the way up this trail, we encountered timberline. The trees became scarce and stunted and eventually disappeared altogether. The slopes of the mountain were covered with large granite or gneiss boulders interspersed with various wildflowers, lichens, and small ground cover type vegetation.

This hike was the first time that either Sean or I had attempted to climb a "14er." Sean's highest previous hiking experience was at about 12,000 feet and mine was at about 8,500. Due to the fact that we didn't do much reading about high-altitude hiking before booking our trip details and flights, we flew in to Colorado from Minnesota the day before this hike, which really didn't give us the recommended 3 days + acclimation time to hike this high. We did train pretty hard for about 5-6 months prior to this in Minnesota, using H.I.I.T. (such as running up and down steep hills repeatedly, or running on a treadmill at 11-12 MPH for 1-2 minutes at a time,) longer runs and hikes, and weight training. However, I have to say that this hike was the most physically challenging thing that I've ever done, especially during the last two miles of the ascent. Up to that point, we seemed to have been keeping a pretty decent pace. We had both been experiencing what seemed to be a weird blood pressure pulsing in our heads during much of the hike. By the time we reached 13,000 feet, this was more of a pounding headache for both of us. My pace began to slow dramatically, and I felt like I had to pause to catch my breath at the end of every switchback. It sometimes became difficult for me to remain standing upright, as I was experiencing some dizziness. Every time I had to step up onto a 1 foot high rock I felt like I had to pause to catch my breath again. I'm very grateful that Sean was hiking this with me, as he repeatedly coached me and encouraged me with his words, reminding me that I could do this and that I needed to keep on moving and make strong, steady steps. There were moments where I was praying, asking God to help me continue to climb beyond my own ability or strength. Sean and I both experienced some moments of unusually strong emotions (apparently an effect of oxygen deprivation.) I was occasionally starting to tear up, thinking about Zachary (my wife's brother who lost his life to cancer, whose 30th birthday we were commemorating that day,) thinking about how I was looking forward to seeing Krista at the summit. I realized quickly, however, that I couldn't afford the oxygen to sob, so I had to get it together. When we reached the "16 Golden Stairs" - 16 pairs of switchbacks that mark the end of the trail to the summit, I found it helpful to try and count how many switchbacks we had done, and think about how many were left. This gave my mind something to focus on and made it clearer to me when we'd be done with the ascent. I was very glad to spot Krista waiting for us at the summit when we had about 3 switchbacks to go. We made it to the top at about noon. Even the hikers from Colorado seemed to be having a tough time with the elevation on the last mile of the trail, with the exception of the trail runners who were probably preparing for the marathon and half-marathon that are run on this trail in August. They had amazing stamina. Some of them we encountered multiple times because they were running loops of the top 1,000 feet or so!

We spent about 30 minutes at the summit and in the gift shop/visitor center. Krista had driven up with water and other food and supplies. However, instead of taking on more stuff, I mostly got rid of as many things in my pack as I could spare, as I felt that I had over-packed too much for the ascent. Due to our slow finish on the ascent, Krista had been waiting for us at the top for about 90 minutes. She was experiencing some serious altitude sickness as well, and she had a rough time with the drive down because of this. We had to get moving, as more clouds were starting to form over the peak and it looked like there could be storms soon.

I took an Aleve (Naproxen) pain reliever at the summit. That combined with the lighter pack and the fact that going downhill felt MUCH easier on my heart and lungs that going up helped my condition and mood to improve dramatically. I found myself talking to the hikers who were climbing up, encouraging them and reminding them that they could do it. (On the ascent I had stopped talking altogether on the last 1,000 feet, as I simply wasn't able to.) Sean however, wasn't enjoying the start of the descent as much. During our training workouts in Minnesota, he would always run up the hills about twice as fast as I would, however, he was always much more wary of the downhill portions than I was. The elevation was starting to give him a really bad headache, and he was become irritable (a symptom of oxygen deprivation) and annoyed that we were stepping aside to make way for the uphill hikers on this single-track portion of the trail.

When we were part way down the exposed portion of the mountain, a cold, driving rain started falling on us, soon followed by thunder booming both in front of us and behind us. We tried to pick up our pace and get as far down the mountain as we could, but it soon became clear that it might not be a good idea to try and beat this storm to the timberline. We saw a fellow hiker with his dog taking shelter in a small "cave" that had been formed by some very large boulders. We found another such "cave" a short distance later and decided to take refuge in there. We rested, ate, took photos, and waited out the storm from this shelter for about 45 minutes. Sean felt much better after this break. Then blue skies opened up again over Pike's Peak and we were able to continue. I was able to appreciate the beauty of this section of the trail and take more photos on this descent than I was able to on the way up.

The vast majority of hikers that we had seen on the ascent were catching rides at the top and not hiking back down. We only encountered a few other people who were doing the whole Barr trail up and down in one day like we were. This made much of the descent a quiet and peaceful experience, as we didn't encounter nearly as many hikers as we did on the way up. This hike differed from other 20+ mile hikes that we had done in that, instead of feeling more and more fatigued at the end, we actually felt stronger and stronger as we descended to lower altitudes with more oxygen in the air. We talked to Krista on the phone and found out that she was already parked at the trailhead in Manitou Springs waiting for us, so we ran the last 1.5 miles or so of this trail to finish with a round trip time just under 14 hours. This was definitely the best, and most challenging, hiking experience I've ever had.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:7400 ft / 2255 m
    Distance:25 mi / 40.2 km
    Route:Barr Trail
    Trailhead:6710 ft / 2045 m
    Grade/Class:Class 1, 11% avg gra
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Nights Spent:0 nights away from roads
    Weather:Thunderstorm, Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Clear start, with thunderstorms after noon and gentle rain on and off
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:7 Hours 5 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:6 Hours 54 Minutes



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