TR-Pikes Peak (14115')
13.6 miles RT, 4300' gain
via northwest slopes Crags route/Pikes Peak hwy
CO Rank- 30
CO Prominence Rank- 2
Participants: Layne Bracy & Kevin Baker
Purpose: because Layne & Kevin haven't done a 14er in Nov yet. I wonder why?
The original plan for this weekend was to climb centennials Atlantic, Pacific, & maybe Crystal in the Tenmile Range, but a forecast Friday nite for 6-10" and high winds made us reconsider. Layne Bracy, John Kirk, and I decided on East Spanish, a 12er in the top 100 prominence list in CO. The plan was for Layne and John to meet in Denver at 4am and pick me up in C. Springs at 5.
John and Layne unfortunantly did not end up making connections in Denver, so it ended up being Layne and I. Layne was interested in doing a 14er in Nov as it was his only month to not summit one, so I was game to climb Pikes again since I hadn't done one in Nov either! How hard could it be to climb Pikes via the Crags route with just a little snow? We would soon find out.
We left C. Springs at around 5:15am and arrived at the Crags trailhead south of Divide at around 6:15. There was only an inch or so on the dirt road leading up to the campground, but it was a little slick on the way down. We decided to forgo bringing snowshoes as we figured there was little new snow and the trail should be packed down. We left the trailhead at an elevation of 10100' with temps probably in the upper 20's at 6:33am. We made good time up the trail as it was well trodden from the lack of recent significant snow. As we approached treeline, we could hear the winds roaring up high. I made a comment that we were moving almost as fast as a summer hike, but that soon would come back to bite us.
For the most part the wind was coming out of the northwest, so it was conveniently at our back for the climb to the Devils Playground area. At around 12K', we lost the trail so we decided to head straight up to the left of the saddle. The snow was not that deep and was hard packed for the most part, so the postholing was minimal. We crested the ridge and found the old road that winds through some crags to join the Pikes Peak highway.
As we approached the road, we noticed a truck was stuck in some drifts. They told Layne they were summit house workers, but decided not to press their luck through the drifts any further. We helped them back out of the drift and were on our way. At this point, the winds met us with all of their fury as spindrift began to consistently pelt us, especially around the occassional drifts on the road. Since the road was closed, we figured it would be a piece of cake to just walk up the low angle road. Yeah right!
At around the mile 18 sign, we rounded a switchback and were now forced to climb face into the wind. It was probably a sustained speed of 30mph with 50-60mph gusts. Yale in March is probably the only stiffer winds I have encounterd on a mountain climb. I guess I have been blessed with nice weather. My trekking poles were now hard to use as the wind would blow them sideways. The going was much slower than expected and we decided to skip the talus slog which would have been even worse in the wind and we just followed the switchbacks to the top. As we rounded the final switchbacks, the winds made us look like drunken sailors, a familiar gait in winter conditions. We topped out at 11:27am only to see that the summit house was closed! Apparently the cog railway had been closed in the last week. Dreams of hot cocoa and hot food were quickly dashed. The only decently protected area around the building was on the s.e. side, so we sat on a bench and hunkered down for some lunch.
It was 20 degrees on the summit, a far cry from the 60 degree temp in C. Springs at the same time nearly 8000' below. We were so hammered that we managed to stay warm enough for nearly an hour. We staggered over to the true summit then began the dreaded descent into the wind at 12:17. Initially the first few switchbacks were pleasant and we quickly warmed up. Maybe Pikes would be kind to us the rest of the day. Wishful thinking. The spindrift blasting drill began again and was now beginning to take its toll. Both of us nearly lost one of our gloves over the cliffs. I sprinted and dove to save mine a few seconds before it blew into the Bottomless Pit!
As we began our descent beyond Devil's Playground, a couple hardcore hikers approached me and said they were doing a loop hike to Green Mtn Falls. Those were some dedicated dudes! The wind continued to pound us until we reached the security of treeline at last. We found the trail without a problem and completed the hike through the beautiful forest, as I arrived back at the car at 3:19, a few minutes after Layne. I guess we now realize why we have never climbed a 14er in Nov until today. The winds are brutal! There's no lack of punishment when Layne and I hike together!