It was June 17, 2000 the morning of our second day on Pikes Peak. Last night we stayed at Barr Camp and had just finished a filling breakfast of blueberry pancakes. The morning was chilly and damp with limited visibility. Pat and Steve were planning to summit the peak via the Barr trail. Since all 4 of us summited yesterday via the Crags, Darryl and Scott decided to hike the trail to the Bottomless Pit and headed out around 9 am. We traveled light, wearing Gortex and only carrying water, food and a camera. It felt good to hike without the weight and constraint of our backpacks that we carried for the previous two days.
The Bottomless Pit trail branches off to the right of Barr trail about ½ mile and 600 vertical feet above Barr Camp. The turn off is well marked with a rusted iron sign. As soon as we turned onto the trail it was obvious that most hikers bypass this trail, choosing instead to hike to the peak. The trail is covered with soft pine needles in contrast to Barr Trail which is mostly crushed rock and dusty. The trail continually gains elevation, but only rises from 10,200 ft. at Barr Camp to around 12,000 ft over the 4 mile length of the trail.
The hike up the trail was very peaceful, visibility was limited to 100 ft and there was almost no sounds except for an occasional bird chirping. Our footsteps were noiseless on the wet pine needle covered path. Several times the path disappeared, however we picked it up each time after a little searching. About 45 minutes into our hike we came to an large outcrop of rocks. We could hear the rushing of water and the splash of waterfalls but we were clouded in so initially there were no views. After a few minutes the clouds below us passed and we had a spectacular view across the valley and could see a small water fall up in the valley. As the clouds above us blew by we saw jagged rock peaks towering above us. The sky was deep blue, the rocks were slate gray with pure white snow in the depressions. As more of the clouds passed we saw more peaks up ahead. These peaks were of tan rock, more vertical and were snow free.
Scott and I pressed on, driven to find the waterfalls we could hear but not see. From this point on there was no more forest. As we were traversing the mountain we had to cross several small snow patches. Scott sank up to his hip with his first step into the snow! The rest of the time we only sank 6 inches to 1 foot into the snow. After crossing several boulder fields we came to an area that reminded me of a desert, the surface covered in small crushed stone. Unbelievably there were small ( not more than an inch high) yellow and purple flower patches growing in the rocks right next to the snow patches. We rested here for a few minutes before beginning the decent into the valley.
As we approached the initial waterfall that we saw from the rock outcrop we saw additional waterfalls up stream. The waterfalls were cascading over the rock face with several of them having 10 to 20 foot drop offs. After spending some time at the base of the falls Scott and I started to climb up beside the falls to investigate the origin of the stream. After a while we were drawn off track by a sort of rocky meadow lightly covered with low green scrub grass with scattered patches of yellow flowers. There were remains of a log cabin and Scott found an iron plate from an old wood stove. At this point we were in a cirque, which is an area surrounded on three sides by rock faces. Scott and I separated for a ½ hour of solitude. As the clouds passed the views were continually changing and it became much warmer. I laid down to watch the clouds as they revealed and hid the various views of the rock faces. Surprisingly there were a few fir trees growing hundreds of feet up on the rock faces.
We took a different path out of the cirque, requiring some smooth faced rock traverses. Scott and I worked our way back to the rock outcrop where we found our first views of the valley. I sat down on a rock to rest and when I leaned back a large 4 foot by 2 foot piece of the rock broke off. Who knows how long this rock was sitting there waiting for someone to give it a little push! While admiring the views 3 birds suddenly flew out of the forest and dove at Scott, passing within 4 or 5 feet of him before quickly disappearing down into the valley.
As we headed back down into the woods we descended into the clouds once again. At first it appeared that it was raining but it turned out that the cloud moisture was just accumulating on the trees and dripping onto us. We were experiencing life inside a cloud! As we approached the end of the trail we heard voices of a couple hiking down Barr Trail. These were the first people we saw since turning off Barr Trail. We arrived back at Barr Camp at around 1:30 and we surprised to find that Steve and Pat summited and returned to the camp a few minutes before us. We were all hungry and had a satisfying lunch of 3 day old bagels, oranges and apples before preparing for the final hike down off the mountain.