Having moved to Colorado Springs in January, Pikes Peak is on my mind every day, even if enshrouded in the clouds. My wifes parents visited in late September and wanted to drive to the tops of Pikes Peak. My wife Julie agreed to drive them to the top where I would meet them after hiking up the Barr Trail from Manitou Springs, our neighbor to the west. Pikes Peak is almost exactly 20 miles as the bird flies from my house and is visible from my master bedroom window. I decided to meet them at the summit around 1:00pm. I drove the half hour to the trailhead and got started around 6:00am. My goal was to cover the 12.5 mile trail and summit in under 6 hours.
The first mile of the trail is relatively steep compared to the rest of the trail and is discouraging to first time hikers. About ten minutes in I passed a couple who I assured that the trail would flatten out after a mile or so. I like to mentally break the Barr Trail into four separate parts. The first part is rather steep and switchbacks out of the lower canyon up into the foothills. Near the top of this section the Peak first comes into view. I define the top of this first section where the trail passes through a tunnel formed by tumbled boulders.
The second section of the trail climbs more gradually and doesn't really gain much elevation for over a mile. After the flat section which is great for making time, the trail climbs gradually to Barr Camp approximately 6.8 miles from the trailhead. Barr Camp is a walk-in campground with a small store with bunks that can be rented that even serves breakfast. I stopped and rested for about 15 minutes and talked with the host who stays at the Camp for weeks at a time.
The third section is from Barr Camp to treeline. This section climbs through many switchbacks up to treeline. The higher you get the better the views get. Just below treeline the A-Frame shelter, an emergency refuge that I hope I never need, can be seen off to the left. Shortly after the A-Frame is the turn off for the bottomless pit. I started encountering some snow about this time.
Once to treeline the trail becomes slightly more steep the higher you get with amazing views of Colorado Springs the whole time. When you are over a mile above the city it is tough to make out anything specific. It amazes me how big this mountain seems when you are standing on the east face at about 13,000 feet with Colorado Springs 7,000 feet below and 1,000 feet of climbing yet above. The trail is managable thanks to trail builder Fred Barr's use of many switchbacks. He built the trail for burro rides to the top. Above 13,000 feet the trail comes to the furthest south switchback and a view into the Cirque, a greater than 1,000 drop, and then head back north to the 16 Golden Stairs. This is the name given to the last 32 switchbacks, a stair is two switchbacks, prior to summiting. I knew I was getting close when I could hear the train whistle. I finally summited and looked at my watch. I made it in exactly six hours and met my goal. I'll have to try and trim even more time off next time.
Depending on when you get to the top, you can become somewhat of a celebrity to the people who drove up or took the train that simply find it nearly impossible that someone could "walk up". This minor celebrity status has happened to me all three times I've summited. Once I even had a small boy ask if he could take my picture. Other than this, the crowds can be quite discouraging, although one benefit is that you can get a hot chocolate and go inside to warm up. It's also neat to see the monument to Katherine Bates who penned America the Beautiful after a wagon trip to the summit while a visiting English professor at Colorado Colorado, which is only a few blocks from my office, over a hundred years ago.
Everytime I look out my bedroom window at the peak, see it on my way to and from work, or see a picture of the peak, I think to my great experiences on Pikes Peak and can't wait to get up there again.