2004-06-22

Reflecting on Hiking Pikes Peak

We got up very early in the morning for the hike: 3:45 AM. We wanted to get on the trail earlier than the rest of the group to make sure we had extra time to complete the hike. Our babysitter showed up at 3:50 -- right on time!

We got in our cars and drove over to the massage school. We left the minivan to be driven up to the top by one of the non-hikers, that way there would be more room to drive people down.

Then we drove down to Route 24. Up past Manitou Springs. Around through Woodland Park. Then South again on 67 towards Cripple Creek. Up until this point, it was rainy and mostly cloudy. But we started to see some sky through breaks in the clouds, as the sun rose. About 5 miles down 67, we turned left toward the mountain. We drove up to Craigs campground.

They have a self-service board for day parking. It cost $4. I filled out the envelope, and put it in the marked post. We put the receipt on the dashboard, and drove up about another 1/2 mile to the trailhead parking area. There was a one person already parked and getting ready to hike. He was not part of the group we were hiking with. As we were gearing up, another car pulled up to park. Also not with the group.

We got on the trail about 5:30 AM. We were quickly passed by the first person. It was good that Yael knew where we were going, as the trail forks a short way up. The harder way to the left turns out to be a dead end. And we learned later that park of the massage group wound up taking the wrong trail for about a half mile. We went to the right and crossed the stream. There was a cut little bridge made of a tree cut in half, with the flat sides up and together. We hiked up the gentle, slightly rocky path, through the trees. Starting at 10,000 feet, we were already in an area that consisted of only pine trees.

The air was damp and cool. You could see fog or clouds swirling on the rock formations that jutted high up to our left. I decided to stay in my short sleeve shirt, and endure the cold. That way I would not heat up too much. I knew from past hiking that I can lose a lot of water when I heat up. I figured I would get plenty hot as the trail steepened, and when we got into the sunlight.

I had packed extra liquid because I was sure I would need it. I had managed to go through my full camelbak 70oz/2L just hiking for less than 2 hours on previous days. So in my pack I had my 2L water bladder from my camelbak, a 1L water bottle on the side, a 1L bottled water and 2 1 pint Gatorades. I also had about 10 trail bars, a zip-lock of mixed nuts and 2 apples. I also had a light sweatshirt, a windbreaker, extra socks (in a ziplock), waterproof pants that were purchased just for the trip and long johns. I also took along SPF45 sunblock, which I applied at the trailhead and left behind in the car. Yael has a small SPF30 with her if we needed later. I wore a baseball style cap.

The trail started getting a little steeper and rockery after a short while. The trees thinned just a little. At this time we were passed by the people who drove up right after us. It was a gentleman with his two boys. His accent matched where he said he was from: Australia. But the boys didn't. Seems they live in Boulder. They slowly passed us as the trail became a bit steeper. At this point we began taking small breaks to catch our breath. Even though we live at 7,000 feet, going above 10,000 feet is enough to feel the difference.

I was not all that winded yet. We were staying at a pace where I was just starting to feel like I was just barely beginning to feel a little short of breath. I also didn't heat up much at all. I felt just a tiny bit hot where the backpack rested on my back. The hike became rockier and steeper. We had some other guys pass us. They had a GPS, and said we were at 11,500. We knew that the massage group was suppose to start about an hour behind us. We debated how long it would be before they passed us. We thought they might pass around 7AM or so. But we also hoped to get above the tree line before they passed us.

Just before 8AM, we finally hiked into sunlight. The trees were mostly thin, and short at this point. We were slowly getting above the tree line. At about 8:35 we finally were definitely above the tree line. We saw a large group behind us for a while. At 9:05, a large part of the massage group caught up with us. Then they continued on ahead of us. It seems it was a good plan for us to start earlier. It turns out the group took even longer to get on the trail. It took them some time to get to the trailhead. Then there was a line to use the one bathroom before they started.

We were now passing into areas with small snow patches. The air was getting colder and thinner. The wind was picking up a little. Finally at 9:35 we entered an area of easier hiking. By 9:45 it was a gentle slope, and we were able to keep hiking without having to stop to catch our breath. Even though we had hiked hard, and were now in sunlight, I was not getting hot. Between the wind and dropping air temperature, I was staying a cool. Maybe a bit too cool. I few times I switched the hiking pole to my left hand so I could put my other hand in my pocket. After a while I gave up, and put on the light knitted gloves that Yael was smart enough to pack for us. I was very glad for those gloves. Eventually I put on my sweatshirt too.

At 10:10 we reached Devil's Playground. The sign says the area is named that because of the way lightning jumps around the rocks. This is the point where he trail we took from the West side of the mountain meets up with the Eastern trail, Barr Trail, at the car road, Pikes Peak Highway. This was supposed to be a meeting place for the different groups of the massage school. There was one person there with a radio. Everyone went on. And I don't blame them: the wind was really strong by this time. Standing around was cold. The trail follows along side the road for the most part for the rest of the hike. Occasionally the trail veered to the left and the road to the right.

At 10:45 we got our first view of the summit. At times it was hard to tell where the trail was. It would lead through a large open space with rocks. Sometimes you could see the cairns that helped mark the trail. It wasn't too big a deal to eventually find the trail again. You just kept trudging towards the summit. By this time the cold and lack of oxygen -- and wind! -- were definitely taking a toll on me. I was feeling lightheaded and was not getting warm. So I added my windbreaker. That helped a huge amount to keeping warm in the wind. I decided not to put up the hood yet, as I still didn't want to overheat. I was amazed at how the clouds were whipping over the peak.

At 11:45 the whole summit came into view along the road. And the road was the place to hike. The trail went off into the boulders and got very, very steep. And Yael said she didn't think she could make the steepness. I figured if we stayed on the road, it would be possible to be picked up by car if things got too tough. If we were in the boulders and things got too tough it could be very hard to solve. But it turns out the road is not the place to be. A ranger drove up and told us we couldn't hike along the road. Yael asked if she could be driven to the top. The ranger said she would be back.
Yael kept hiking along the road and was less than a 1/2 mile on the road from the top when she got her ride.

It was about 12:15 PM, when I headed over by myself to the steep boulder field. Normally hiking up a boulder field sounds like fun to me. But I was surprised at how much the thin air was affecting me. And I was getting a bit weary. But I knew I should be able to make it. So I pushed to catch up to the group of people from the massage school that were a bit ahead of me.

I was not alone in needing to stop about every minute to catch my breath. All the other people were doing that too. But it seemed like every time I got near the group, that was when they left. I felt a little snubbed. But considering the effort and condition, I understood wanting to move on to get to the top. So I put in a bit more energy and passed the bunch of them. I actually managed to come up with an interesting pace: I got myself into a mode were I just took a step and took a micro-rest, then took another step, and another micro-rest. I only needed to take a full breather every few minutes this way,

As I neared the top, someone waved to me: it was Yael. This was the point where I bottomed out on my water in my camelbak. While I had shared a Gatorade with Yael on the trail much earlier, I was really surprised at how little liquid I needed. I guess it was because I stayed so cool. It means I didn't have to lug the extra 2 liters of water and the extra pint of Gatorade. But it always makes sense to have extra water. I know I can be sensitive to being dehydrated.

A few more minutes and I summited at about 12:50pm. Then I just sat down for about 5 minutes. That put me at the summit about 10 minutes ahead of schedule :) -- the massage group was supposed to meet at the top at 1:00 PM. The others trickled in over the next 10 minutes.

Then we went into the summit house. Finally out of the wind! I spent a few minute meeting people in the group. The group decided it was time for pictures. On the ay out we bought some fudge and I quickly pressed a penny on my way out. My souvenir of the hike. That and I picked up a half dozen small stones to show my kids.

We took the group picture. Well pictures. Just about everyone must have had a camera along. It took over 5 minutes to go though the most of the cameras. And this was with the 3 non-hikers taking pictures. Finally it was time to head down. I was the driver for our minivan. I quickly switched to my sneakers that I had left in the minivan. It seems there were more people than they anticipated on the hike. Our minivan seats 7. We had 10 people. There was a large group in a pickup truck. And I hear 2 people hitched a ride and wound up regretting the way the driver took some guardrail-less turns on two-wheels.

I had forgotten how long the road down was. And besides being weary, I was tired. Not only had I gotten up before 4AM, but I was short on sleep from the work week. I could have used a nap. But I was also still a little pumped up from the hike.

At the bottom of the mountain, we went down to 8 people in the minivan. Yael and another passenger went off to get a ride back with others to the Craigs to pickup the cars left behind. I dropped the rest of the group at the Barr Trailhead parking, right by where the Cog Railway starts.

Then a quick ride home. A quick shower. Then I took the kids with me back to the massage school for a multi-celebration.

I did it! I hiked pikes peak! And I'm psyched to do it again! This time I'll know to plan more for the cold.

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