StatsPike’s Peak- (14115’)- CO Rank 31
May 5-6, 2006
~24 miles RT, 7400’ gain
Via North Face Y Couloir
Class 3, Grade II
Barr/Bottomless Pit trails
Participants: Dave “Hoot” Gibson, Dave Hale, and Kevin Baker
The ClimbAll Pics
Pikes Peak has always intrigued me since I first visited it with my family as a boy. I remember gazing into the abyss called the Bottomless Pit from the summit and wondering if people actually climbed it. Now I have the privilege of seeing its east face every day from Colorado Springs. Pikes is a totally different mountain when viewing it from the north as the north face looks almost vertical from a distance. It looks like a scene from the Alps. The Y Couloir is a prominent gully which is best climbed in May or June. Optimal snow conditions do not last long. Gerry Roach describes it as the premier mountaineering route on Pikes. Three weeks ago the CMC HAMS group I am in preparing for Rainier aborted the climb very early in the day due to a snow squall and high winds. I thought I had to wait until next year until Dave Gibson invited me on his attempt with Dave Hale.
The 3 of us departed from the 6700’ Barr trailhead at various times on Friday evening. I left at 6pm with about a 35-40 pd pack as I was carrying my mountaineering boots so I could do the 6.8 mile hike to Barr Camp in trail runners. The familiar grunt to Barr Camp seemed long as I was not used to the weight, but I arrived around 8:30 edging out dusk. Dave Hale had already arrived and had setup his own tent nearby. We chatted with caretaker Neal in the main cabin awaiting Dave “Hoot” Gibson’s arrival. Hoot and I shared a lean-to that was quite comfortable. We hit the sack around 10pm as it began to snow lightly. I hoped this was not de-ja-vu from the previous attempt.
Hoot and I awoke at 4am, ate a quick breakfast, and got our gear in order. My pack was probably 10-15 pds lighter for the climb. The early start was necessary to increase the odds of a stable snowpack and mitigate rockfall danger from tourists at the top. Dave met us and we were off at 4:39am, following the switchbacks of Barr Trail with our headlamps to the Bottomless Pit trail at 10800’. I then lead the way on the Bottomless Pit trail as it gently wrapped around to the north side of Pike’s. The snow as expected was not near as deep this time, but we still did some postholing that was more than we bargained for. I managed to lose the trail, and we ended up higher than we needed to be. Our work in the dark soon paid off as we were treated with one of the most spectacular sunrises I have seen on a mountain. C. Springs was still enveloped in clouds, which made me glad I was above them!
We traversed some low angle snow slopes and finally made it to the spectacular Bottomless Pit at 11640’, a place that sees few visitors. We were amazed at the beauty of this place as spectacular cliffs ringed the pit as our view opened up to the couloirs on the north face. We first identified the Railroad Couloir, which tops out near the railroad tracks. It was mostly melted out, so we hoped the Y Couloir to the right would be in better shape. We climbed to the base of the Y via a rock moraine. At the base of the couloir are the remnants of an old truck in which someone committed suicide driving off the summit back in the early 90’s. Depresssing stuff. Initially we stayed on rock until donning crampons at the base of the Y at 12730’.
We found conditions in the couloir to be stable. I was not going to attempt it with any avy risk as I didn't bring a beacon. There was about 2-3” of soft snow on top of a well consolidated layer, so it wasn’t going anywhere. The soft snow allowed us to kick steps fairly easily and there were not many areas where solid purchase was questionable.
Dave Hale generously broke trail for us most of the way, cutting back and forth to lessen the steepness. The views on this route are amazing, as I would occasionally look back taking it all in. At around 13500’, we came to a fork in the couloir, hence the name. The left fork was more difficult as the climbing exceeded 50 degrees. A rock band was the crux of the climb and looked OK from our vantage point. We chose the easier right branch, thinking that the steepness would soon let up.
Dave Hale at one point measured the slope angle at 47 degrees with his inclinometer. We finally got our first glimpse of the top about 300’ below, which encouraged me that we were almost there! Hoot led the way for the final stretch and we topped out on the western end of the parking lot at 10:10am. What an amazing climb!
Since the toll road had just opened, there wasn’t anybody in the parking lot to startle. The first train arrived a few minutes later. After some pics and a visit to the true summit, we headed to the summit house for some much needed grub. I had an expensive $13 lunch of pizza, chips, and Gatorade, but it was worth the money! People were gawking at us like we were rock stars in the summit house. One guy asked me if there were snowmobile rentals near the summit!
Dave and Hoot decided to catch the cog train and ride it down to Mountain View, which would cut 4 miles off the hike down. I decided to save the money since I had already spent $13 on the summit, so we parted ways. As the train was getting ready to leave, a woman who looked lifeless was wheeled out to the train. Apparently the altitude had gotten the best of her, but Hoot later said she was OK after descending. After a nice relaxing stay on the summit, I headed down Barr Trail at 11:45am.
I followed the trail down the familiar 16 Golden Stairs. The snow on the trail was manageable as the postholing was minimal. I then took a direct line down the open tundra of the east face and rejoined the trail at 13200’. This saved me some of the endless switchbacks. My LaSportiva boots were now digging into my heels, so I was happy to see Barr Camp again 2 hours later. I packed up camp and had a nice hour break at camp, then headed down now rejuvenated from some food and light trail runners. A storm passed through and dumped some refreshing graupel pellets, which was cool. Barr Trail was surprisingly not very busy for a Sat. I passed a couple parties making their way to camp and gave them some beta on their summit bids. As always, the last couple miles back were long and I arrived at the trailhead at 4:52. This climb probably ranks up there as one of the funnest for me. Experiencing mighty Pikes on this route was truly a treat with great company!