Fri/Sat, April 18-19, 2008
Objective: Pikes Peak (14,110’) – CO Rank 30
Route: Y Couloir (right branch)
Total Distance: ~17 miles
Elevation Gain: ~8000 ft
Participants: Jim & Karen Ohl, Kevin Baker, Dave Hale, Dave “Hoot” Gibson
Pikes Peak is somewhat infamous in the climbing community because of the fact that you can drive or take a train to the summit and enjoy nachos and a pop at the summit house while you look out over Colorado Springs. Or maybe the problem is that it’s a brutal 13 mile, 7400-ft slog for those who choose to hike the standard route, and that’s just to go up. But Pikes offers several interesting and challenging routes, and when it’s in my backyard, I route for the home team and try to make it to the summit at least once a year, and Karen is a real sport to oblige me. This would be my third year summiting in April, as well as the third different route for Karen and I.
Kevin Baker, Dave Hale, and “Hoot” Gibson have made the Y Couloir route an annual event, and this year they invited Karen and I to partake in the fun. We had done the Angel of Shavano route, as well as the NW face of Blanca in spring snow, but this would be our first couloir climb. Suspect weather kept us off the route last weekend, but the weather and avalanche reports were looking more favorable this weekend.
The ApproachThe game plan started with backpacking up to Barr Camp on Friday evening. Kevin, Karen, and I left the trailhead at 4:45pm, at an easy pace. Hoot caught up with us along the way, while Dave and Emily had hiked up earlier in the day. Emily was going to head up the standard route on Saturday and meet us at the summit. 6 uneventful miles, and 3500 feet later we strolled into Barr Camp just after 8pm. Neil and Teresa, the caretakers at Barr Camp, were gone for the weekend for a 50-miler, but we were lucky to have Bob covering for them instead. Bob was a total riot, and we had a good time relaxing at the camp listening to him crack jokes before turning in. If you’re lucky enough to meet Bob there, ask for the hot chocolate…it’s so good you have to chew it! We had the bunkhouse all to ourselves Friday night, and turned in just after 10pm.
To Bottomless PitAfter a decent night’s rest we were up and on the trail by 4:33am, under clear skies and a tropical 27 degrees. The first leg of the trip followed Barr trail for another 1.25 miles to 10,770-ft where a separate trail leads you toward Bottomless Pit. The snow was firm up to that point, but we donned snowshoes once on the less traveled trail to Bottomless Pit. Traversing around Pikes East Ridge was tedious at times as we crossed some deeper snow, and I learned that my snowshoes aren’t the best for side-hilling, but the views more than made up for it.
Most people that visit Pikes only look down into Bottomless Pit from the summit or somewhere along the road, so it was a treat to see it from this vantage point. We reached the waypoint near 11,600-ft just after 8am with spectacular views of the surrounding cirque.
Ascending the YFor as much snow as we’ve seen across Colorado this year, Pikes Peak seems to have gotten the short end of the stick. There’s definitely less snow than last year, but what is there has consolidated very nicely. We started our ascent still wearing snowshoes as we picked our way through patches of snow and talus. Except for a few short blasts, the winds were virtually non-existant down in the Pit and Kevin had scored us one of his trademark bluebird days.
Dave and Hoot continued to break trail for us and I was grateful to have their steps to follow. Those guys are champs! Around 12,900-ft we reached the point where the slope and the snow suggested it was time for crampons, so we stopped to gear up at 9:45am.
Kevin measured the lower half of the Y at about 37 degrees…hmm, I remember that number pretty well from our avalanche class. But there was no need to worry today as the snowpack was well consolidated and there were none of the tell-tale warning signs. Karen was totally in her element going straight up and keeping up well. I was really starting to suffer under the weight of the kitchen sink on my back, but loving every minute of the climb.
We reached the split at 13,500-ft just after 11am and headed up the right branch as planned. The crux of the route came right away as we encountered a small rock band and the slope angle increased to 45 degrees. Hoot found us an easy way up the left side on continuous snow and we continued on.
The remaining 550-ft to the summit remained between 40 and 45 degrees and was starting to get thin in spots. The scenery, however, was dramatic all around us and made me feel like a real mountaineer for a while. The final 200-ft had me completely gassed, but it was encouraging to hear everyone else as they were summiting and cheering me on.
Exiting the top of the couloir required a short class 3 scramble which was an interesting challenge wearing crampons and carrying an ice axe, but made for an exciting finish. I was last to top out at 12:13pm it sure felt good. We made it, and I loved it! Congrats to Karen, Kevin, Dave, and Hoot! Way to go!
The DescentNow here’s where I lose all style points. I had a donut at the summit house, and we hitched a ride on the Cog down to the Mountain View stop. I know, shameful. Leave Dave out of this though…he and Emily hiked all the way back down from the summit. Because of that decision we only managed about 15 minutes on the summit. Just enough time to explain our gear to tourists and feel kind of like a hero. Why not give them their money’s worth and tell them our story while they rode the Cog down with us? After leaving the Cog we had a short 1.5 miles stroll back to Barr Camp where Gatorade and a rocking chair awaited, but sadly, no Bob. We relaxed for a bit and took off around 4:15pm.
We ran into Dave and Emily just as we were leaving and they were arriving from the summit. They gave us a head start back to the cars but it wasn’t enough and Dave caught us about 0.5 miles from the trailhead…hats off to you Dave! Karen and I finished off the night with BBQ and a trip to the hot tub. You know I’m tired when I fall asleep in the hot tub. Thanks Karen for waking me up before I drown…how pathetic would that have been?!