Pikes via Barr Trail

Page Type
Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Feb 22, 2002
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Created On: May 29, 2003
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I arrived in Colorado (via COS Airport) from Ohio at around 1 pm. I could not really see Pikes most of the day because the peak was engulfed in clouds. This made the mountain seem even more powerful and ominous to me. After picking up some camping supplies and some late lunch (Chipotle burrito, hmmm!), I finally made it to the Barr TH and got my pack ready around 6 pm. The Barr TH is easy to get to. Follow US 24 west out of Colorado Springs, to Manitou Springs. In Manitou Springs, follow Ruxton Avenue and signs to the Cog Railroad Depot. The TH parking lot is just past the depot.
I set off quickly because I knew that dark would be coming quickly and I had to make 6 miles and 3,500’ of elevation in order to get to the Barr Camp. After about 2 miles, darkness started to come and I started to get a little nervous. I was wondering, “Will I be able to find the camp??” So, I broke an unwritten mountain rule and pulled out the cell phone. I had to call my buddy (and unofficial base camp leader) Bob Dawson. I knew Bob had been to the Barr Camp, and, in fact he suggested the route. Bob calmed me down pretty quickly with a description that went something like this: “There’s a flat area, then another small hill, then another flat… Well, really, it’s pretty obvious once you get there. It’s on the right and I’m pretty sure there is a sign.” By this time I was also starting to get a bit chilled, so Bob told me to “Get off the phone and get moving!” I pulled out my head lamp at this time also. I’ve heard of “Alpine Starts”, but not an “Alpine Finish.” One of the things that was really exhilarating on my hike up was seeing the light on top of Pikes. I kept thinking to myself, “That’s my place tomorrow!” I finally made it to Barr Camp at around 9 pm, at just over 3 hours. It was really easy to find. It is just past 6 miles (at 10,200’), and there is a sign almost right in your path. The main cabin is maybe 50 feet from the main trail (on the right); really easy to see, even in the dark. Plus, they were still active in the main cabin and the lights were on. The caretakers (and their guests) were actually pretty shocked to see me come strolling in at 9 PM. First thing that they said was, “You missed dinner!” I said, “That’s alright, because I brought my own.” (I bought a second burrito at Chipotle, hmmm!) It turns out that I was the only paying guest tonight. They don’t get as many visitors in the winter. I asked lots of questions about tomorrows hike and then eventually crawled off to the bunkhouse and my North Face sleeping bag. I actually had a very mild headache that evening. This was my only sign of AMS the whole week. I took 2 tylenol that night and I never took any the rest of the week. I suspect that the high endurance hike to Barr Camp this first night help significantly with my acclimatization.
I got up around 7 am, ate a Barr Camp breakfast (pancakes) and finally headed off towards the summit around 8 am. Greg (one of the caretakers) had suggested that I take a route just to the right of a very noticeable gully. So, I headed up the well beaten trail, with the intention of following this suggestion. After about 2 miles, I lost the wind blown trail. Fortunately, I did find the A-frame. This, I knew, was about my half way point (almost 11,900’). I took a break here for about 30 minutes. I had thought that another climber had been through the A-frame (according to the caretakers) recently, but I could not find any tracks leading away from the A-frame. Regardless, the peak was right in front of me, I just had to choose a route and charge UP! So, I donned my snowshoes for the first time (ever). I traveled in my new snowshoes for about 10 minutes, before I decided that it was just too rocky for snowshoes. Or maybe, I just didn’t know how to use them yet? . So, the rest of the way up, I was walking boot-style. Meanwhile, during my small snowshoe hike, I had actually traveled across to the left side of the gully (instead of the recommended right side). To me it looked like a pretty clean boulder climb up the left side, so I chose that route. It would have been a pretty easy boulder climb in the summer, but in winter it was much more difficult. I found out very quickly that the snow spots in between each boulder was NOT a place to put your boot. The depth of each space was random, and sometimes almost hip deep. That made for very difficult and exhausting climbing. As much I had learned to hate my new snowshoes, I was learning to love my new gaiters. These things saved me as I sunk to varying depths going up this boulder field. I eventually made it to the top, and found out that I was actually about ¼ mile SE of my destination. So, I worked my way to the train tracks and followed them up the rest of the way. I summited in just over 5 ½ hours. I was so excited! I was looking for a dump truck that the caretakers had said was up on the top with its rear door unlocked. I really wanted to crawl inside for a few minutes and drink and snack and warm up. But, I never did find that dump truck. I didn’t spend much time on top because it was a bit windy and chilly. I didn’t really have any problems with wind until I hit the top though. Another thing that I noticed all the way up was that the city of Colorado Springs was completely covered in clouds. It was neat being at an altitude that was higher than the clouds.
I started my descent via the train tracks (sorry for the trespassing). Don’t try this in the summer time!!! This seemed like a much easier route than taking the boulder field back down. It turns out this was very true. For a mile or so the wind was absolutely horrendous. I had my balaclava on, but I hadn’t pulled out my ski goggles. I’d wished that I had though. A mile or so down the tracks (at around 12,100’), I passed Windy Point. Around the bend the wind was much better. I actually wished that I had put my snowshoes back on during this trip down the tracks as some of the snow drifts were pretty high. But, I was pretty stubborn and I did not want stop. All in all, I was flying down the tracks at a pretty good clip.
After about 4 miles of traveling like this, I came upon an old train caboose with a sign that said, “Mountain View Elevation 10,012.” This is where I found a trail to the left. This trail was supposed to lead back to the Barr Camp. I was told that this is how the caretakers get a lot of their supplies to the camp. They take it up on the train, and then either hike it or use an ATV to get it to the camp. This camp requires a lot of supplies and support (especially during the summer), so it is good that they have this option available.
I started hiking this trail towards camp. There was a sign at the start of this trail indicating that the Barr Camp was 1 ½ miles. I could see ATV tracks along this trail, so I knew that I was on the right trail. About ½ way down this trail I stopped and looked to my left and saw the best view of the mountain that I had seen all day. The mountain was virtually cloudless and there was a huge opening in the trees to view the mountain in all of its glory. I stopped for pictures and video. I continued down the trail. The trail eventually met back up with the main Barr Trail, just east of (just below) the camp. I arrived back in camp at just over 8 hours total time (2 ½ hours to descend).
I had initially intended to go back to the TH the same day. But, I changed my mind while I was finishing my climb to the top. I decided that the rest of my climbing trip would be better if I rested after this first rigorous day. So, I stayed an additional night at Barr Camp.
After another great Barr Camp breakfast, and some pictures, I started back down the Barr Trail TH toward my SUV 4x4 rental. On a side note, before I left, we weighed my fully loaded backpack and it weighed 32 lbs. That means that without my sleeping bag and a few other items, I climbed Pikes with about 25 lbs on my back. Man, it seemed like 50. I’m such a wimp. I ended up getting back to the TH in just over 2 hours. And, just in case anyone is interested, I counted 16 switchbacks at the bottom portion of the Barr Trail.
I’d like to mention that Greg and Stephanie (the Barr Camp caretakers) were really great! They invited me into what is essentially their home. They fed me and kept me warm. And, they answered all my questions about the mountain and the camp. They really do a great job!!
After Pikes, I was off to the Sawatch…


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