Overnight Hiking Pike's Peak

A long walk with that much weight.

On the weekend of September 24-26 1999 I was inspired to hike Pikes Peak, one of Colorado's 14ers (meaning a mountain higher than 14,000 feet). Pikes Peak is measured at 14,110 feet.

The First Day

We got up at 4am or so and gradually got ready for the very short car ride over to the parking lot from Jeremy's parent's house. Landed in the parking lot while it was still dark, roughly 5:30 am. It's been a long time since I was standing outside ready to do something at that hour. There was enough light coming off Colorado Springs that we decided to head out of the parking lot and give it a go. The trail immediately starts up some steep switchbacks that had all of us out of breath, well all of us except the dog who was quite happy to run on ahead with anyone who was faster than us (and with a 40 pound pack it's hard not to be slower than most of the day hikers carrying a fanny pack). The switchbacks kept up for several miles, higher and higher as we got a better view of the city below us (it's strange to think of such a tall mountain so close to a major urban area).

We finally broke for lunch about 10:30am. It was a warm summerish day, ideally suited to hiking. Also hard to believe that it was the last weekend in September. We ate lunch (mmmm, canned tuna salad and crackers) and sat in the sun for a bit. Jeff lit up a cigarette. The dog actually calmed down and sat for a while, guess the saddle bags were finally catching up to it.

Resumed hiking. Up, and up, and up, and up. It's amazing how much up there is on this trail (actually the most gain for any of the trails in Colorado, 7,400 feet).

Ahh, A Rest

Eventually we reached Barr Camp, 7 miles from the cars. Barr Camp is run by a couple of people (three were working when we stopped) who rough it without the benefits of modern living that most people enjoy on a daily basis. Lights and stoves are run off propane, heat is from a wood stove, water is from a pump and a small running stream. The people are friendly and you'll meet other hikers and bikers who needed a break from the relentless uphill. Barr Camp also has a scale. Jeremy and I of course got into a "my pack is heavier than yours" discussion and headed inside to see who was right. Jeremy's packed weighed in a 35 pounds and mine at 37 pounds. Doesn't sound like a lot, does it? Try strapping a couple of big bowling balls to your back and hike for 7 miles... And to know that you had another 6 to go...

We relaxed at Barr Camp for almost half and hour before deciding to push on. It was now 2:30pm and another 3 miles of hiking to get to A-Frame, where we planned to spend the night, time to get moving. Starting up the trail again was slow going. Not too long after, as Jeff limped himself to a rest stop a quick huddle ensued. Jeff opted to take the dog, and himself, back to Barr Camp for the night. At some point during the rest his hip had frozen up, and walking was painful to him. Figuring he had better odds with some sleep, a huge spaghetti dinner, and a downhill trek tomorrow Jeff turned around and left us a band of three. The remaining three forged on ahead.

The trail turned from a meandering path to one of steep uphill and switchbacks. There was a spur to the trail to see some sights, but would take us in the wrong direction and that wasn't something we were willing to do at that point. It was also becoming obvious to us that we were in the shadow of the mountain and didn't know how much daylight would be left.

We made numerous stops up the switchbacks, usually for rest. Eventually it was decided that I would try to head on up and see if I could find the A-frame where we'd be camping for the night. I left Kate and Jeremy and did my best to pick up the pace. We weren't that far off, so I quickly stowed my pack in some bushes (really the odds of someone taking it up there were slim (paranoia sure, because who wants to try and run off with a 40-lb pack up there when there's only one trail and you'd have to go up for me to not see you?) and headed back down the trail with a considerably lightened load.

I heard some noise on the trail and looked up just in time to see the most hyperactive black-lab puppy I have ever seen in my life, with two weary looking men following behind. I know that dogs generally have a lot of energy but this was nuts, this dog was tiny! Figuring how far those little legs had run that day was much farther than I walk in a long time I asked the two guys who had carried the dog that far. "Nobody" came the reply "he's been like that all day now." They trudged off uphill while I began to work my way down to Kate and Jeremy again. They were a lot closer than I'd though, and a good thing too as we were all starting to realize just how good dinner was going to taste.

A-Frame

At the A-Frame Jeremy began to spread out his sleeping bag while Kate and I worked to set up the tent. In near gale-force winds. While exhausted. At timberline. It was quite and adventure and the first time I'd ever used all of the stakes to try and hold the tent down. And this was on the lee side of a rock, somewhat sheltered! We grabbed my pack, worked our way into the A-Frame, and fired up my little stove to cook the soup for dinner (at least I wouldn't have to carry that weight the next day...) Mmmmmm, cheddar potato soup and Starburst for dinner.

That Night

After dinner we headed off for the tent (Jeremy opted to sleep in the A-Frame, I figured I'd carried the tent, I was gonna sleep in it!) It was still daylight but as tired as we were it didn't look to be a problem to fall asleep quickly. Until we realized that the wind probably wasn't going to stop. What followed was probably the single worst night's sleep I'd ever had in my life. More than once I thought the tent was leaving the ground entirely. I also had to go to the bathroom but didn't figure Kate's chances were good if I removed my weight from the tent while that wind was going like it was. So we suffered. And napped. And tossed and turned. And finally decided to just move the whole thing into the A-Frame at about 2am. We literally pulled the poles out of their corner pockets, collapsing the tent in on itself, pulled up all the stakes, and just picked the whole thing up and carried it into the A-Frame, which oddly enough never moved during the entire night (at one point I woke up with the tent folded over far enough to touch my nose, and I was on the far side from the wind).

Final Day (The Ascent!)

The next morning we packed up and got moving, feeling the straps on the packs bite into our shoulders. Almost immediately from leaving A-Frame we were above timberline. Small pockets of shrub, small animals, some birds, and a couple of marmots accompanied us on our way up. Then more and more hikers as we got up higher and were able to look down at the trail. A lot of hikers. Apparently this was going to be a popular day, which made sense considering how nice the weather was for this time of year.

Summit

It was pretty uneventful getting to the summit, just a lot of uphill. There was some talk of the "13 Golden Stairs", "12 Golden Stairs", "18 Golden Stairs" (it became obvious soon that nobody knew just how many were out there) that are the final switchbacks to the top. We did finally make it up there (and of course I lost count of just how many Golden Stairs there were, but I do know it seemed like a lot of them) and got to fully enjoy the view. We hung out in the gift shop hoping for either a ride back down or for Jeremy's dad to come fetch us (he's part of the volunteer fire department and as such gets free entrance to the park). Turns out Jeremy's dad was the ticket and we all piled into his truck, grateful to be heading back down and get home to take a shower.

Overall I had a really good time but I think next time I'd try to day-hike it rather than carrying all the overnight stuff (which just made us slower and slower as the day wore on). I'm also quite thankful that REI makes such a sturdy tent. At more than one point during that night I was just waiting to hear the shredding sound of the tent falling apart but I never did.


Comments

jill says: That is by far the BEST hiking story I've ever read!!!! It sounded intense!

Rob says: Great story, thanks for sharing. I'm curious on how you would rate your physical fitness level, as I'm planning an overnight trip and I'm trying to get an idea on how tough it will be.

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