Head West Young Man
Pikes Peak was a lot of things for me. It was my first fourteener, my first Colorado mountain, my first time above ten thousand feet. It was also my largest vertical gain, longest distance traveled for a mountain, and all of this by myself.
It all started when I convinced my family to go to Colorado over Christmas. After we all decided to go to Colorado Springs I started looking for mountains close by. Pikes Peak was the closest and after deciding on climbing the Y Coulior all I could do was try and prepare. I did so by jumping on some local Adirondack mountains. Having no couliors in the east I climbed the next best thing, the Trap Dyke on Mt. Colden. Unfortunately, my group turned back because of some discomfort among my peers, but I felt very comfortable and competent, which made me feel good about my proposed route.
Fast forward a couple weeks. I'm driving through the snow and ice again. The usually deafening sound of punk music is turned low so I can listen to the sound of the engine as it struggles to accelerate. Cars, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. I'm also listening to the tires on the snow and ice. Tires have a different sound when they're sliding and I didn't want to ruin my trip before it got started. Six hours of white knuckle driving later I'm spending the night at my climbing partner's house. Then after a fun day on the plane I was almost there. Just a ten hour drive away. Scratch that, since I was visiting my girlfriend in Iowa we had to drive on I-80, adding a few more hours. While I waited to go though I had some fun. Went to Hawkeye Point. Tried to reach Panorama Point in a blizzard, and failed, but finally I was there.
My family and friends were not quite as excited about my plans. Despite trying to calm all feelings of fear there was little I could say to assuage such fears. They feared I would be too cold, I would fall, I would be mauled by a mountain lion (the warnings at the trail head didn't help), they feared that I would get lost, die, that I would not return.
Despite this I was still excited. I felt prepared and the night before I was to leave I got some helpful information about the weather. Unfortunately, the weather didn't make my proposed route look like a fun or viable option. Likely avalanche hazard and unpleasant post holing dissuaded me from the Y coulior and instead I decided to head up the Barr Trail.
As morning came I double checked my gear and jammed it in the car.
30 minutes later we were at the trail head. The family decided to follow me up a few switchbacks. After about two they were done and decided to head back to the car. Then I was alone.
The Longest DayWelcome to the Barr Trail ladies and gentleman. The name of the game here is Switchbacks. During no point during the first mile did I do anything except go back and forth. As the sun began to rise, so did I above the Manitou and Colorado Springs. Despite the monotony of the switchbacks I felt noticeable progress. After passing a few hikers I felt considerably alone. Alone with my thoughts I started to sing to myself. For some reason Katherine Bates' "America the Beautiful" came into my head. After passing under the rock arch and getting to what Roache describes as the second section of the Barr Trail I was able to push the song out of my head simply because I was thinking about what a Hansel & Gretel forest would looked like.
For some reason it wasn't that scary. Checking how fast I was moving it was a quick two mph. Maybe I could get to the top in a day. Oh how foolish I was.
I took a quick break in the quaint forest to go to the bathroom and to rub my aching back. I sat wondering why I put myself through considerable physical pain just to get to the top of a pile of rocks? Since I had a schedule to keep I ignored that thought and the pain and moved on. A surprisingly short while later I found myself at Barr Camp. What a welcome respite. The caretaker was very caring as she invited me inside. After a quick bite to eat I bid the people at Barr Camp goodbye. Moving quickly I passed two women who told me they had broke trail for two miles past Barr Camp. They said if I was determined I could make it. Buoyed by the thought that I could top out in a day I continued to press on.
As I came to the end of the women's tracks I found that my second wind was a while ago and that I might be running out of steam. After an exhausting hour of breaking trail I was beginning to wonder where the hell the A-frame was so I could just stop for the day. As I stopped to rest there was all of a sudden a man behind me. Came out of nowhere! He asked if I would like him to take over and I graciously accepted. Then he was gone. Never did I think someone could move so quickly post holing through the snow. I continued to push on and after several times of questioning my will to push forward I came to the A-frame and one of the longest feeling days in a long time.
An Uncomfortable Night
First things first I tried to start my stove. As I pumped the fuel pump it simply would not push air into the fuel bottle. A small bit of fuel spewed into the priming cup and after priming I turned the flame control and to my surprise the stove simply sputtered. I tried pumping but it would not pump and eventually the stove went out as my water went unboiled. I took the entire stove apart and could find no problems. For the second time in my life I cursed the stupid stove. Why is it that whenever I try to push myself something gets in my way to make it more difficult? After several more tries I gave up. Looking at the meager ration of water I put several handfuls of GORP in my mouth and swallowed the rest of my water.
Slipping into my sleeping bag and bivy sack I resigned myself to the fact that I would be in for an uncomfortable night. For the rest of the night I awoke to cotton mouth and muscle cramps. So I played the clock watching game. First, I woke up at nine. Then, I woke up at two. Then, at four and finally my watch went off at six and I sat up. Gathering my things I decided I'd let urine color be the go, no-go decider. With only two liters the day before I thought for sure that I'd be in the brown and be heading back down. Amazingly, it was bright yellow and so away I went. The lessons I learned was to always bring more than one pump and to bring other sources of purification (the streams nearby were not completely frozen).
The Hardest Day
As I set off for the summit I crossed the gully to start ascending the southeast ridge. The caretaker had said that the best route to the summit would be on the south side of the gully to avoid the cornice at the top.
This put me on the southeast ridge for the remainder of the ascent. While mostly first class with bits of second class and some snow to plow through the difficulty was not technical. Each step became a struggle upward. While my muscles were perfectly willing to speed up, my lungs were not, but I persisted. Slowly, and with great difficulty I continued. Every time I looked up I could see I was closer. After three hours I finally came to the top of the ridge right near the cog tracks. A few more minutes and I was there. Again I was alone. Despite seeing the cog train ascend a little while ago I did not think to try the door to the summit house. After a short time I decided to head back down.
The knee-jarring descent was arduous and it was quickly wearing on me. Half way down as the angle of the gully lessened I decided to glissade down the wind harden slab. Despite the bruising of my ass it saved me at least an hour and was far more pleasant to my knees. Reaching tree line I began to descend towards the trail head and sweet, sweet water.
I decided to try my cell phone to let my family know to come get me. For some reason it worked and low and behold they were on their way to the summit. By this time I was already past the A-frame and I told them I would not go back to the top. instead they said I could meet them at Mountain View and catch the cog the rest of the way down. Unfortunately it was past one and I was still just past the A-frame, a good distance from Barr Camp. I practically ran down the trail, determined to save myself the six miles past Barr Camp I would have to walk. As I booked it down the trail I made it to Barr Camp in approximately an hour from the A-frame. Stopping briefly to get info on how to get to Mountain View from the caretaker and finally having someone to share my triumph with I hurriedly walked towards Mountain View. After burning up the trail there in less than half an hour I realized I was incredibly early. So I waited. Then I waited some more. Finally the time of arrival had passed. After ten minutes I wondered if it was ever going to come. Then there it was slowly rolling down the hill. As it pulled to a stop the people in the passing windows pointed at me. Stepping on to the train I hugged my mother and people around us clapped. It was the most unique welcome back from a mountain I've ever received. My father handed me a liter of water which I quickly chugged and then a bag of chips which I quickly devoured and finally let the success and exhaustion take over.