Tuesday, February 26

Pikes Peak in winter

I've been wanting to summit a winter 14er for a while so UltraRob and I hatched a plan and I found myself at the base of the Manitou Incline after work on friday night. Over 7000 feet above us, somewhere in the dark sky, lay the summit of Pikes Peak.

We shoved off just after 9pm, a long workday and workweek now behind us.
I was all smiles to be away from my job and heading out on at least a mini epic.
My pack was pretty light and I felt like the 2000 vertical feet of the incline went quickly.
Rob and I chatted away the night. Higher we climbed and further we walked, rarely leaving snow covered ground.
I let Rob lead through much of the night. He knew the way and I still don't have the world's best trail following skills although they're constantly improving.
Barr Camp came quickly along a well trampled path. Snow shoes were not needed yet.

The trail from here on out got far more deserted.
Rob put on his gaitors and me my overboots.
Up, up up we climbed, the trees beginning to become sparse and skragily. Eventually we donned snow shoes and wouldn't take them off for a long time. From before treeline to the summit the trail was gone. I'd find it now and then but mostly I'd just call back to Rob to make sure I was going in generally the right direction. The moonlit night became snowy around 3pm and from there on out to the summit the weather generally got worse. I finally noticed how fast the snow fell when I would stop and see how much snow had accumulated on my pack.
Dawn came and went with our mountain still teasing us from between our position and the summit. Every step became a challenge of finding some solid ground beneath varying large quantities of new snow and avoiding any wide, deeply drifted in depressions. I generally climbed straight up, tacking back and forth between rock outcroppings. Eventually Rob spotted a sign.
I climbed with renewed haste to reach it. Above this were supposed to be 16 steep switchbacks to the top. Instead all we found was more steep snow and rocks which might not have been half bad if it was consolidated at all instead of powdery and slippery. Here we both dug out our before needed axe's. My poles had been very helpful though and I reminded myself to make leashes for them in the future, lest I drop one to it's demise down a similar slope when I needed to climb with my hands. A bit tired for leading the way, Rob took over briefly to get around a steep rock section that was making me nervous. Falling was still not really an option here.
Eventually I calmed my nerves and put my head down and climbed. I got in a zone and didn't stop until a few steps from the top I realized there was a building in front of me. We made it, some 12 hours after starting out. The final 3 miles had taken us 6 hours in harsh conditions. I was happy all my toes and fingers were warm though with my puffy clothes still in reserve.
Soon Rob joined me on top and we wallowed through even deeper snow to the sign.
Don't we look warm? Haha. The wind had picked up in the morning and I was once again greatful for my goggles.
My first calendar winter 14er summit. Yay! We didn't stand around long. We needed to eat and drink and then get down quickly not knowing what the weather was going to do. This much snow was not in the last forecast I saw.
Walking back towards the cog tracks we heard a sound and then saw the cog railway plow. I think they were as surprised to see us as we were them. We sat in the doorway to the maintenance building as they shoveled. It didn't help as spindrift pummeled us between bites of food and sips of water and cocoa. We discussed how to get down quickly and Rob called his wife to let her know we were doing fine despite the weather. After a few minutes the plow was ready to leave and the guys shoveling told us we could hike down the tracks if we wanted. Not wanting to make Marni late to her evening party as we were already *way* behind schedule, plus the thought of a slow, careful downclimb in more bad weather, we didn't look a gift horse in the mouth.
We suited up and headed out. 9 miles and over 7000 feet below us lay our cars.
Weather gradually improved as we dropped elevation. Walking the tracks had it's pros and cons but it was fast and direct so we moved quickly.
The plowed in walls were quite tall though at times.
Rob ahead of me as I ditched some clothes.
Our destination is way down there somewhere.
The lower we got, the more I felt the pull of the car. We mostly put our heads down and hiked, happy but a bit tired from hiking all night and most of the next day.
Eventually signs of civilization returned. Bye bye for now.
Tired and happy smile.
TopoFusion route overlay.
The GPS claimed 18 miles and almost 10k feet total climbing in 17:33. My thought was it was more like 20 miles and 8000 feet gain but it doesn't really matter either way.
Barr trail was really fun and I'm excited to go back and lead a trip up in the summer with Marni. Until then, other mountains and my bike are calling.


UltraRob said...

It certainly was tough but rewarding to finish it. My legs are still complaining. We'll have to do something else epic in better weather and when I get some fitness.

Doug said...

Incredible, thanks for sharing that!! I could use a good mini-epic like that!

Cellarrat said...

way cool

Perry said...

Awesome ascent! Maybe a toboggan for that cog railway next time will give you the speed descent in the snow! That is an excellent MTB trail in the summer--ride it both up and down--a bit rocky at the top and some pads are wanted, but the single track and climbing rock out too! Excellent epic day--summer or winter!

Marni said...

Nice job!

Fonk said...

Man, that's quite the excursion you guys made! Now you got me thinking about maybe doing that next winter... Great pics! You sure do look beat in that post-hike picture. :-)

Mike said...

That's awesome... glad not to see you on the next episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive.