From Crags Campground
Sunday May 22, 2005
I was eager to get my first 14’er of the season and since I was going to be spending the night in Colorado Springs to go to my niece’s college graduation at Colorado College anyway, I figured this was the weekend to get things started for 2005.
I was on route 25 heading south at 4:15AM and the weather was already fairly warm, the traffic was light and I made great time to route 24 and then proceeded west. I drove beyond Woodland Park to the small town of Divide, here I turned left on route 67 and continued a short ways to a ranch on the left side and turned left on a dirt road to Crags Campground. I paid the $4 daily fee and parked way at the very end of the campground where the road loops back; this is where the trailhead is.
I started up the trail at 6:35 and soon came to where I turned to the right, crossed a footbridge over a nice creek, and headed up a very good trail covered with hard packed snow. After a short while I saw a sign that confirmed I was heading to Devils Playground. It was still a little cold as the sun had not yet reached this area and it was a good thing as I was able to hike right on the hardpack which made things easier. The trail climbs up through a very nice evergreen forest and the grade is fairly gradual, the forest then gives way to bushes and the trail somewhat resembles a road as I hiked into a clearing as the sun was now up and I could see more forest and tree line ahead.
I was now back into another section of forest as it winds a bit and then begins a series of switchbacks as I climbed closer to tree line and the trail gets much steeper here. There were lots of birds and ground squirrels in this area as I climbed up and around a ridge on my left and made my way to tree line. I stopped for a rest and a long drink as I planned the open section before me; the trail became indiscernible as there were now many patches of snow leading up to a crown well above.
Unlike the hardpacked snow on the trail below; the snow in this section had a very thin crust and I soon found that I had to avoid the snow patches and work my way from one open spot to the next by “post holing” through the shortest patches of snow I could find. I thus had to stay well left as I climbed higher up on to the crown instead of going towards the saddle as my maps had described, as the snow at the saddle would have made passage most difficult.
I reached the top of the crown and proceeded towards a cluster of boulders which was surrounded by drifted snow; passing through the boulders I found I was actually in a perfect position to continue on. Just below was a snowy traverse over to a notch that opened the way to Devils Playground; the trail had been well packed down by many others and was still hard enough to walk across without much trouble. I hiked through the notch and here I could hear the roar of race cars and motorcycles on the road to the summit directly ahead and to my left. I followed the trail across the snow and then crossed the road into the Devils Playground.
The trail now parallels the road for a ways and then goes to the left and around a pronounced mound which also had a good deal of drifted snow that was still hard enough to hike across. As I rounded back around and to the right the snow was beginning to soften and I was glad to get off the snow due to more “post holing” and I climbed back down onto the road. The smell of high octane racing fuel was in the air as several more race vehicles passed by, this time on there way down. I wouldn’t see any others from here on and it was just as well as I now hiked the last couple of miles directly on the road as the snow was now too soft to hike on. I saw a few cars & vans heading up with many people all dressed-up, after all, it was Sunday.
I rounded what was the last turn and could now see buildings ahead so I knew I was nearing the summit. I cut across a small snow field and soon found myself in an opening at the top of the mountain and amongst a large group of well-dressed people; a wedding party. They all looked at me with a certain degree of amazement when I told them I had hiked up vs driving as they must have thought that I walked the entire way up the road. I assured them that I hadn’t and also stated that many people don’t drive up here, but actually hike instead; I’m sure that most thought I was crazy, oh well……..on to the summit sign, and summit restaurant for a nice rest. It was 10:30.
I stayed and rested, took many photos as the weather was perfect, and mingled with the many tourists from many different places. The parking lot at the summit was getting fairly congested and everyone was converging on the restaurant. I had been there about 30 mins and then started back down the road with lots of cars coming up and going down.
Here I saw two other people hiking up the last section before the summit and found that they had climbed up the same way I had. I was soon back to where the trail leaves the road and was now struggling a bit as the snow was now downright slushy in places. I was glad I was wearing Gore-tex boots; otherwise my feet would have been soaked by now.
The weather was warming into a very beautiful day, but with this the “post holing” heading back down made things really difficult in several places particularly heading down the crown and back towards tree line as I was “punching through” on virtually every step and it was quite exhausting at times. I was glad to get back to tree line and on the true trail back through the forest as it was getting pretty warm and I was getting tired. However, with the hot sun the trail was a virtual “stream” with plenty of slippery rocks and mud to contend with. I stopped for one last rest and then would hike the remaining miles without stopping. I finally got back to the footbridge and knew it was only a short distance from here; I got back to my truck at 2:13PM. My 9th 14’er, and another gorgeous day in Colorado. Sweet!!