Pike's Peak or Bust! has become my personal slogan since we've been in
the Colorado Springs area. I am determined to hike up the mountain on the
Barr Trail from Manitou Springs to the summit, an elevation gain
of over 7,400 feet.
Hike up the mountain, you ask?
Yes. It wouldn't be in the best interest of my Granny Knees to hike
down the trail, which is 'way more popular, but I can go uphill until the
cows come home. Or longer.
Beginning of the Barr Trail at the base of
Pike's Peak in Manitou Springs
I can count on one hand the number of 14,000+ foot mountains in the
continental United States that I can
climb and then get a ride back down.
Pike's Peak is one of them. There's a
paved-turned-dirt/gravel road that goes to the top and also a cog railway that
does the same.
and hikers have several choices -- going up and back down on foot (~26 miles total),
climbing up and riding back down in a vehicle or the cog, or
riding up one way or the other and hoofing it back down.
Jim is game to drop me off at the Barr Trail trailhead in Manitou Springs (picture
above, elev. 6,700 feet),
drive up to the Summit House (elev. 14,110 feet), and run down the Barr Trail
until he meets me. Then we'd hike the rest of the way to the summit together
and I'd ride back down in the truck with him.
By then it'd probably be too late in the
day for Jim to run down, but we've also considered that. It would
probably take him about four hours to run down, with some stops.
In good weather conditions, I estimate it will take me about eight hours to
hike up the mountain, including stops for photos, etc. If I have to wait out a
storm (I've had to do that before, about a mile from the summit) it could take
longer. I don't know if I'd take Cody with me or not.
There's only one problem: too much snow in the upper elevations right
Rats. The rangers tell us we'd need ice picks and crampons to make it
through the ice and snow the last couple miles to the summit. We don't have
ice picks and crampons, and I don't need that extra challenge anyway.
I've considered another option while we're here: hiking about seven
miles up to Barr Camp (10,200 feet elevation) on the Barr Trail, then taking the Elk Park Trail about six miles to its
juncture with the Pike's Peak Highway at just under 12,000 feet elevation. Jim could drive to that trailhead about
fourteen miles up the mountain, then run over to meet me.
The Elk Park trailhead parking area is
just above the arrow on this colorful map
section of the Pike's Peak Hwy. The old brochure
used to feature this map.
I've done that before but Jim hasn't. Locating that pull-off is a major
trick if you've never done it before. In fact, it's a major trick if you
have done it before. You have to know exactly where you're turning left and
even then, it looks like you're driving off the side of the mountain until you
can see the little dirt road over your hood!
It's like making a left turn right here (next photo), without being able to see the side
road. This isn't the exact spot; I'm using it for illustrative purposes:
You can spot the turnoff more easily coming down the mountain but the turn is too
sharp to make in our truck. I guess Jim could back in if no one is
following closely . . . but it'd still be impossible to see where he's
You don't want to drive off a cliff at 11,900 feet!
I've also run down from the top about seven miles to Barr Camp and back up.
But I've never hiked all the way up or run all the way down before. It's just
one of those "Bucket List" things I want to do while I'm still at least
There's something that's bugging me with this entry -- is it Pike's
Peak or Pikes Peak??
I've been accused many times of being the grammar/punctuation police but I
know my grammar and punctuation are not always proper. For example, I love to
use occasional sentences without a subject and verb, for emphasis. It's called
literary license. But this Pike's business has me scratching my head. It seems
so obvious to me.
Pike's Peak in the distance; even in
late spring it can be difficult to summit on foot.
This mountain is named after a real person, Lt. Zebulon Pike, who was the
first Anglo to find it (in late November, 1806). He saw it while surveying part
of the newly-acquired Louisiana Purchase; unfortunately, he
wasn't able to reach the summit then due to a blizzard.
When something is named after a person, it is proper to use an apostrophe.
However, all of the printed promotional literature I've collected about Pike's
Peak and the Pike's Peak Region, and most of the websites I've found in an
internet search (OK, just the first batch of 20 sites), call it Pikes Peak
without the possessive apostrophe.
No apostrophe on summit sign
To my great amusement, Wikipedia does use the apostrophe.
Wikipedia! Go figure.
Anyway, if you're from around the area and never use the apostrophe, that's
my rationale for using it.
BETTER THAN NOT GOING UP AT ALL
In the interest of scratching my itch to get to the top of Pike's Peak NOW
(since it's been several yeas),
I talked Jim into driving up the highway today in our truck. A ride up and back
on the cog railway is $33 per adult. Driving up in your own vehicle is $12 per adult.
That option gave us more flexibility to come and go
as we pleased than riding the train and Cody could go, too.
The current Pike's Peak Highway was built in 1915, although folks were using
a primitive carriage road to get to the top for almost thirty years before that.
The 19-mile long highway cost a whopping quarter million dollars to build, a
substantial sum in those days. (Heck, that's a substantial chunk of change even now, 95
I marked the road on this colorful highway sign in bright
orange to show it even better.
According to the glossy color brochure* we got at the toll booth the last time we went up
in the early 2000s, the highway is among the most costly 19 miles of
roadway in the world to maintain. It is operated in the Pike National Forest by
the City of Colorado Springs, not the Forest Service. No local, state, or
federal tax money is used to operate, maintain, or improve the highway.
That's what the tolls are for.
(*Today we received only a cheap imitation of that nice brochure, just a
black-&-white photocopy on dull printer paper, with less text and fewer
photos and graphics. The brochure must be a victim of the recession.)
If this is June 1, imagine how deep it is on
February 1! (See van in distance for perspective.)
Not only is there a substantial amount of snow removal required to keep
a road open on a mountain this lofty, there is also continual
maintenance and repair required because of the runoff from melting snow
in the spring. And then there are the frequent summer thunderstorms that
bring more snow, hail, sleet, and rain to cause additional problems.
Today crews were grading and repairing the road in two places in the
upper three miles of the highway but we weren't delayed in either
direction (next photo).
It's hard to believe the road is open most days of the year, even in the
I'd love to be able to drive to the top in the winter. As beautiful as
the views were today of the long chain of snow-capped mountains forming
the Continental Divide to the west, I think the winter views from the
summit would be totally awesome!!
The highway begins off US 24 in the town of Cascade (below)
Ute Pass has served as a passage from
the mountains to the high plains for at least 10,000 years.
at an elevation of 7,400 feet and climbs at an
average grade of 6.7% to
14,110 feet at the summit, a gain of 6,710 feet in nineteen miles. In some
places the grade is a little over 10%.
Note that the gain to hike up the mountain from the Barr Trail trailhead in
Manitou Springs to the summit is 700 feet more than that.
Both Jim and I have previously driven to the summit of Pike's Peak at least four or
five times each. It's
a pretty easy road to drive up, with 6½ miles of
pavement (above) that morph into another 12½ miles
of dirt and gravel road as you get higher. You may find it easier to use a
lower gear on steeper parts of the climb to keep your engine cooler (works
while running and hiking, too!).
Coming down is trickier, absolutely requiring driving in a low gear
to avoid frying your brakes. There is a mandatory brake check at Glen Cove Inn
(elev. 11,425 feet) six miles from the top:
A ranger (wo)mans the little shack in the middle of the road and stops you
on the way down. If your brakes are too hot, you'll have to wait for about half an hour to
let them cool down. We've never had this problem so I don't think they just
pull people over in hopes they'll buy something in the restaurant or gift shop
WARNING: BUNDLE UP
We arrived at the entrance station around 9 this morning and immediately
noticed the sign that said it was only 30°F. at
the top -- with a 16°F. wind chill. Yikes!
Now we're pretty wise to the ways of high
mountains but we weren't prepared for that. It was already 68°F. at
7,400 feet but we'd see the temperature steadily drop as we climbed steadily
higher and higher. Jim had a sweatshirt to put on at our first stop six miles
up at Crystal Dam and Reservoir. I needed my lightweight fleece jacket when I
got out to take pictures:
No ice on the lake now, but plenty cold
and windy in the bright sunshine.
Check out that beautiful mountain!
It was much colder on top, though. I took
photos from inside the truck as we climbed toward the top and didn't get out
again until we reached the Summit House. Even knowing it would be cold didn't
prepare us for the wind chill we found up there! Thank goodness it was sunny.
How cold was it? So cold we didn't even
notice the thin air at 14,110 feet!
This is a fairly light snow year (or early melt?) in the Rockies. We didn't
see as much snow as I expected, which makes me wonder if I could have hiked to
the summit today. There was still some snow in shady areas above 10,500 feet
but the rocks near the top were mostly clear. Of course, there was the usual
big pile of now-dirty snow that had been plowed to make room for vehicles in
the parking lot (above). The rime ice on another pile was interesting.
FLORA & FAUNA
I've never seen much wildlife from either the Barr Trail, Elk Park Trail, or
the highway. There are numerous animals that live on the mountain, however
-- cottontails, prairie dogs, raccoons, coyotes, black bears, and mountain
lions at the lower altitudes (foothills and Montane forests, up to about 9,500
feet), elk and mule deer in the sub alpine zone (9,500 to 11,500 feet), marmots
and bighorn sheep in the alpine zone above the tree line (11,500 and above).
Due to the wide variety of habitats, about 225 species of birds live on the
Two miles up the highway, still at a
relatively low elevation
What's more obvious is the change in the trees and other plants as you
travel up or down the mountain. Ponderosa pine, juniper, cottonwood and
mountain mahogany are found in the foothills, bristlecone pine, Engelmann
spruce, aspen, and Douglas fir in the sub alpine zone,
and alpine flowers, cushion grasses, and lichens above tree line. Today I didn't
see any flowers, grasses, or lichens from the road at any elevation, or at the
summit, but they are probably visible from the trails.
The views going up the road are simply
Scenic Crystal Reservoir has great views
of Pike's Peak from the lower part of the highway.
especially after you get above tree line:
You can see far into the
valleys below and look down at several fishing lakes:
The lakes are still partially frozen at the
My favorite views up and down the mountain were looking west
toward the Continental Divide. For as far as I could see north to south, there
was a long line of snow-capped mountains (see middle of photo directly above
and the one below).
I loved that incredible scene.
View west from the summit; Continental Divide in the
We walked around the large deck and on either
side of the Summit House to check out the views in all directions:
From the summit on clear days it's possible to see four states, the
Continental Divide, the cities of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Manitou
Springs, the historic gold camps of Cripple Creek and Victor, and several
nearby red rock parks.
These scenic vistas inspired Katherine Lee Bates to pen the words to the
song, "America the Beautiful" the day she stood at the top of
Pike's Peak. This handsome monument at the summit was erected to commemorate
the 100th anniversary of the song:
When we parked at the summit we saw this van with several bikes and folks
who were going to ride them down the mountain. Brr! Cyclists and hikers/runners
aren't allowed on the road but tour groups like this can ride down. It wasn't
difficult to pass them as we descended.
We checked out the Manitou & Pike's Peak
Railway cog train that
was parked at the top. I suppose it'd fun to ride it up and down the mountain
some day and see some different views than you find on the road or trail . .
There's even an apostrophe in Pike's . .
. although their website has it both ways.
We've both been up and down the Barr Trail at the summit and remember the
trailhead being on the other side or end of the railway tracks, but we didn't
see a sign for it.
"I know the trailhead is around here
somewhere," Jim seems to be saying. "Is it to my right? left?"
No wonder he's cold -- he's in shorts!!
(Or as he says, "I'm on vacation.")
Maybe that's where the trail
It was so dang cold and windy outside that we escaped inside the Summit
for a few minutes to use the restrooms and warm up. There was quite a crowd
inside, however. It was too early for lunch and too cold to hang around
outside, so about twenty minutes after our arrival at the summit we decided to
head back down again.
That's always fun! The road is wide enough that it's not the scary ride you
might think it is (not like the Million Dollar Highway or the Jeep roads near
Silverton, for example). Jim used both low gears and our engine brakes on the
truck to avoid using only the brake pedal.
Looking down toward a work crew
Continental Divide on the horizon
The ranger who checked the left front tire temperature at Glen Cove Inn
seemed quite pleased that it was only 155°F. He
commented that we "must have been up here before" and he'd like to ride down
with us because it'd be a safe ride without the brakes going out. He also noted
the hitch for the 5th wheel and knew Jim must be experienced with proper
braking in the mountains.
The ranger was a sociable guy who joked around
with us before sending us on our merry way. He obviously enjoys his job and
knows how to make it fun. That's pretty important, I think.
What the ranger didn't know was that we were stressed out
because the "check engine" light came on as soon as we began our
Oh, no, not again. That happened upon our arrival in Colorado
Springs last week and we had the service department at the local
Dodge dealer check it out -- it was a problem with the
oxygen sensor. The code indicated that resetting it would take
care of the problem. The service guy reset it but recommended
ordering a new sensor (it's under warranty) if the light came on
So here we are on a 14er and the doggone light is on again! Jim
shut off the engine several times at overlooks as we descended
(good photo ops for me) but the light stayed on the whole way
down the mountain.
We had no Verizon cell service to call the service department
until we were back in the Colorado Springs metro area. It was
lunchtime and we couldn't reach anyone. Jim turned the engine
off a couple more times at Subway, REI, Sam's Club, and WalMart.
By the time someone called back from the Dodge place, we'd been
down at 6,000-7,000 feet long enough that the engine light was
off and stayed off.
We didn't take the truck in. After Jim talked to one of the
service guys on the phone, they determined jointly that
apparently the problem was simply the lack of oxygen at 14,100
feet! I guess vehicles need oxygen to operate effectively, just
like people do.
TWO CRISES IN TWO DAYS
That was our second crisis in two days.
Yesterday we got a distress call, our first ever since we
started traveling for several months at a time, from one of our
neighbors. He said he heard "a voice and a barking dog" inside
our house in Virginia when he walked by a few minutes earlier.
He wondered if we'd come home early?
Now just imagine how you'd react if you were 2,000 miles from
home and suddenly concerned that someone had broken into your
house . . . it's a pretty helpless feeling. We are more
concerned about vandalism than theft when we're gone. Both Jim
and the neighbor called 911 promptly. Jim told the dispatcher
that he'd left his fire-EMS radio on so a potential burglar
might hear voices and think someone was home.
We hoped that's what the neighbor heard.
Climbing toward the summit of Pike's Peak
-- nowhere near Virginia!
We asked another neighbor who has our spare key to meet the
Sheriff's deputies at the house and let them in, which she did.
Long story short, there was no one in or near the house when the
deputies arrived, no signs of forced entry in any of the doors
or windows, and no signs anyone had been inside since we left a
month ago. Their only concern was the mini van in the garage
with its side doors and hood open; I told them we
deliberately left it that way. (We usually keep the side doors
open even when we're there so we aren't opening and closing them
so much, and Jim keeps the battery charged while we're
We thanked our neighbor profusely for promptly calling us when
he suspected something was amiss. Everyone on our rather remote
rural road has been good about keeping an eye on things when
we're off gallivanting around the country and we've never had
any problems. We were pretty stressed out for about an hour,
however, until the deputies called back and we talked with both
neighbors a second time. Hopefully, we can let this go and get a
good night's sleep!
These red rocks on the way up the Pike's
Peak Hwy. are reminiscent of ones
at the nearby Garden of the Gods Park in
Next entry: We intended to visit Miramont Castle and
Garden of the Gods today but put that off because of the engine
"problem." We've got just one more full day here in Colorado
Springs, so those are on the list of things to do tomorrow.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil