Stats/IntroPikes Peak (14115')-CO Rank 30
January 27-28, 2007
via Barr Trail and East face gully
20 miles RT, 7400' gain
Participants: Steve Mueller, John and Kathy Mitchler, Brian ?, Jamin ?, and Kevin Baker
Of the many times I have hiked Pikes Peak, I have yet to summit it in calendar winter. Back in Feb '05, I made a winter attempt of Pikes via the cog railway but started too late and was thwarted by deep drifts beyond Windy Point at 13K'. With an upcoming trip to Kilimanjaro now looming only three weeks away, I thought a climb of Pikes via Barr Trail would be a stiff winter test. Surely the summit day on Kili isn't much worse than a long day on Pikes! I invited John and Kathy Mitchler to join me as they will be attempting Kili with me. My friend Steve Mueller was also up for some punishment as he enjoys winter hikes.
Hike To Barr Camp
I wasn't real confident with our odds of making it to the top this weekend as the forecast was for 3-7" of snow Saturday night and moderately high winds on Sunday with sunny skies. If the trail was broke to the A-Frame shelter at treeline, we would then have decent odds. We set out Saturday morning after a nice brunch at the Adams Mtn Cafe in Manitou at around 11:45am with light snow falling and temps probably in the mid-20's.
As expected, the trail was pretty icy in the first couple miles due to some recent warm days, but a fresh coat of snow made things a little easier and the Yaktrax did their job. Steve set a nice, leisurely pace to Barr Camp as we needed to conserve for the big day tomorrow. This was the first time I have actually not pushed myself to camp, so it was nice to enjoy the snowy scenery for once!
Steve Mueller amidst the beautiful forest on the way to Barr Camp.
A few folks passed by running down from the incline, but overall there were not too many folks out today. Above No Name Creek, we met a group who had come down from Barr Camp and told us that the caretakers were not aware of any successful summits this month via Barr Trail. Great, just what I wanted to hear!
The trail as expected was well packed all the way to Barr Camp. The caretakers Neil and Teresa were heading down just before we arrived at camp and told us Brian would be taking care of us. We arrived in about 4 1/2 hrs and were surprised at how many people were there. Apparently we picked the wrong night, as it was a full house of 21 folks in the main cabin! A few of them made an attempt at the summit but got way too late of a start. One group was seen high on the mountain late in the afternoon, but they never stopped by to report if they had made it. We met Brian and Jamin from Glenwood Springs who were planning on an attempt in the morning, so we hooked up with them to share some of the trail breaking if necessary.
This was the first time I have stayed in the main cabin and there were 3-4 people snoring off and on. Unfortunantly one of them was like a freight train that wouldn't stop, so even with ear plugs I only managed to get a couple hours sleep. I kept looking at my watch begging for 5:45 to come and it finally did.
Straight Up The Gut
Steve and I left our sleeping bags at camp as I planned on hiking all the way down while everybody else took everything with them. We set out at 6:55am under clear skies and a temp of 12 degrees. We could hear the wind higher up, but it looked like we may have a great day as there was maybe 2" of fresh snow at the most. The trail was surprisingly nicely broke all the way to the A-Frame shelter at 11800'. I was envisioning postholing all the way to treeline, but thanks to the efforts of the lucky souls who toiled before us, we now had a highway to the summit! Whoever initially broke trail missed a switchback below A-Frame, as we ended up going straight up a slope and popping out on the south side of the shelter. We made it to A-Frame in a respectable 2 hrs and John and Kathy decided to call it a day there.
After a nice break enjoying the views and warming temps, we donned the snowshoes and headed up to a ridge above the shelter. The view here confirmed that there would be no avy concerns today, so we decided to avoid the circuitous trail and head straight up the gut via a prominent gully on the east face.
The prominent gully to the left is the route we took to the south ridge.
I have always wanted to do this route, but was worried about postholing amidst the talus. We found the snow conditions to be surprisingly bullet proof, perfect for snowshoeing on. With the prevailing winds coming out of the northwest, the face protected us from any significant winds.
The hike up the gully saved us 3 miles of traversing on the heavily drifted trail and was very efficient even though it didn't seem like we were climbing very fast. All week I was concerned about a noticeable cornice on the south ridge below the summit which the trail traverses below. It turns out right now it is more of a huge snow bridge than a cornice. At our final break at around 13600', we discussed our options. The 16 golden stairs section of the trail below the summit was swallowed underneath a steep gully, which looked steeper than the snow bridge. The snow conditions continued to be solid amidst dry patches, and it looked like we could go to either side of the bridge.
The "snow bridge" on the south ridge of Pikes. I went left and the others went straight up the gut.
Steve choose to split the middle and snowshoed in his MSR's all the way up the 40 degree or so pitch to the ridge.
Steve Mueller is dwarfed by the impressive slope just below the south ridge of Pikes.
I decided to stay left near the rocks and it was steep there as well, but the snow was not as bomber. Just before cresting a short rocky stretch, my camera case slid down 20' or so, so I had to downclimb this stretch to get it, not an easy task with snowshoes on. I finally gained the ridge and saw that Steve was near the summit.
Brian and Jamin pretty much went straight up the bridge as well, with Brian electing to wear crampons. We joined the cog for the last couple hundred feet and topped out at 12:02pm. Wow, we stole this one! The summit house had just opened and we had the place pretty much to ourselves other than a few tourists who had came up the road. After kudos and a donut in the summit house, we headed out to the true summit in the middle of the parking lot. We said farewell to Brian and Jamin and took off at 1:20pm, just as the hords of tourists arrived on the cog.
Miles To Go Before We Sleep
Steve was wavering on whether or not he would hike down with me, but decided to sign up for the abuse. We walked down the cog a couple hundred feet to the end of the snow bridge and descended on the far south side near the rocks, the most reasonable line. We had our ice axes out for this stretch as things were a little entertaining coming down with snowshoes. We followed our tracks back to A-Frame and I left my snowshoes on all the way to the Bottomless Pit trail for added traction.
We made it back to camp in around 2.5 hours, repacking our junk for the death march down. After a nice chat and cup of cocoa with caretaker Brian, we headed down. I felt better than other times for the final 6.8 miles, but the trip down the W's was brutal as usual. The slip-n-slide in the dark on the icy trail was interesting, but we emerged unscathed from the twilight zone at 7pm. Pikes is no walk in the park in winter, but we were blessed with excellent conditions considering Barr Camp has received 125 inches this season!