HIKING AND CLIMBING PIKES PEAK for the first time is an exhilarating experience, but being prepared is a necessity. The Trails & Open Space Coalition can't make it an easy climb for you, but maybe we can help you get prepared. Check out the Pikes Peak Camera website for a look at the mountain today. If you would like to know more about running the Peak, go to www.skyrunner.com.
The Barr Trail. Barr Trail offers a spectacular route up the Peak. It is also the course for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon races each summer, which attract thousands of runners from all over the world. The trail offers the greatest base-to-base summit climb in Colorado, with an altitude gain of over 7,800 feet in 12-plus miles. It is the most difficult regional trail because of the elevation gain and the distance.
The Barr Trail trailhead is in west Manitou Springs, off Ruxton Avenue, up Hydro Street near the Cog Railroad Depot. Finding an empty space at the paid parking lot during the summer season is difficult, so we suggest that you park at one of the City lots and walk up Ruxton Avenue. The trail itself is a well-marked, packed dirt, rocks and decomposed gravel trail. However, it is not an easy hike. Four distinct segments of the trail exist, each with its own personality and challenges. The first section, consisting of switchbacks up Rocky Mountain, a subpeak of Mt. Manitou, are steep and very tiring, so take your time and stop to enjoy the view drink lots of water and rest a bit. You will pass through beautiful forests of aspens, ponderosa pine and blue spruce. Wildflowers are abundant in July and early August.
At about 3 miles, you will cross Noname creek, where the trail levels out a bit. It's a good spot to stop and have a snack.
The trail beyond Noname Creek to Barr Camp is the easiest part of the hike, with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet in approximately 4 miles. It goes through gently rolling aspen forests and meadows with spectacular rock formations and views of the Peak itself.
Barr Camp is approximately halfway up the mountain and is operated under permit from the Forest Service. It was built around 1921 by Fred Barr, the designer and builder of Barr Trail. It is located at 10,200 feet and provides overnight accommodations, some food (for a fee), and a place to rest. For further information on Barr Camp, visit their website. Donations are appreciated.
After you leave Barr Camp, the next three miles become steeper as you pass through forests of spruce and fir and then enter a region of very old dwarf trees. At treeline (about 3,000 feet below the summit), trees have disappeared and you are entering the tundra. It s easily damaged and takes years to repair itself, so stay on the trail.
At tree line, you will see the A-Frame shelter on your left. You are now about 3 miles and two hours from the summit if you are a strong hiker. Allow more time if you aren't acclimated.
The final miles to the summit are awe-inspiring. At about 1.1 miles from the summit, after a long trail traverse across the east face of the Peak, you will pass the Cirque on the left. It's spectacular pit carved by the glaciers, with views of Lake Moraine and east.
The 16 Golden Stairs (there are really a lot more than 16) are a series of short, steep switchbacks in the final one-half mile to the summit. Climbing over rocks on a narrow trail, the altitude and unpredictable weather make this portion of the trail difficult.
While thousands of people run up and down Pikes Peak every year without problems, they've trained for the event and spend only a short time on the mountain.
People do get lost and even die on Pikes Peak. For the casual hiker, understanding and preparation are critical. A healthy respect for the mountain can save your life.
When you reach the top, watch out for the Cog train and the tourists. Most of them will be awed that you hiked up the peak. This photo was taken July 29, 2010. Note the 1 inch of hail on the ground. This hiker/runner was cold and soaked from head to toe. Summer storms can happen anytime of the day, so you need to be prepared.
How long will it take? That's a good question. It depends on what kind of shape you are in, how many times you stop to rest, take pictures, eat, etc. Do you want to do it quickly or do you want to take your time? We generally tell walkers it will take 6-10 hours with some taking longer. Runners generally do it in 4-7 hours (a lot of that will be power walking and very little sight seeing.) Start as early as you can, preferably at first light so you will have time to get up before our typical afternoon storms. It's a good idea to be on the top by noon.
Weather. Weather is very unpredictable on the mountain. It may be warm and sunny when you start at the trailhead and miserably cold with dangerous wind chill above treeline. A typical rule of thumb is that the average temperature decreases by 3 degrees F with each 1,000 ft increase in elevation. Real temperatures in the thirties and forties are commonplace at the summit during the summer. Wind makes this much worse. Snow and ice can be on the trail into June.
The one predictable factor is afternoon thunderstorms during the summer. Start your ascent in the early morning hours (preferably at first light) so you can reach the summit by noon or early in the afternoon. If you wait until later, you may be asking for trouble. One solution for a later start is to hike down the mountain from the top. A car shuttle or the Cog railroad will get you to the top. That way, you are hiking away from the weather. Above treeline, you are very exposed.
Do not stay on the mountain if there is any chance or signs of a storm. Lightning is very prevalent above treeline if dark clouds are close by. People have died after being hit by lightning! If a dark cloud comes over the top of the mountain while you are on it, turn around. There is virtually no shelter above treeline. Additionally, even a shower will obviously get you wet, so if you don't have rain gear, you are at risk of hypothermia at altitude.
What to take/wear. While you don't need to prepare for a trip to the Himalayas, you are going up a mountain that is 14,115 feet, so make sure you are prepared. Bring raingear. You can start in shorts and a T-shirt, but long pants or rain pants, water repellent jacket, gloves and a hat will make the trip much safer and a lot more fun as you continue climbing. Wool and polypro retain body heat even when wet. Wet cotton kills so leave it at home. Hiking boots are best, but good walking or running shoes will work. There will obviously be more snow and ice on the trail early and late in the year. It is really easy to slip on the ice so consider Yak Traks or equivalent as you will encounter snowdrifts and ice on the trail in the late spring and early summer.
Remember, there's no easy way off the mountain if you get hurt. Take everything you might need. The sun is intense, so a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are important. Take a snack. Water is essential. Take at least 2 water bottles and refill them whenever you get a chance. Take your own watter purification tablets or a water filter. You can refill from the stream at Barr Camp and from streams higher on the mountain. Don't drink out of the streams. They can contain giardia, a parasite which causes severe intestinal discomfort. If you need medications, take them with you. A small first aid kit should be considered. Other than Barr Camp, there aren't any bathrooms, so bring toilet paper and get off the trail. Haul it out. Those blue newspaper bags make great poop bags. If you are planning on camping out overnight, bring a tent and sleeping bag. Overnight camping is available at Barr Camp. Be sure to take a headlamp.
By all means, take your camera. The views are spectacular. Money is nice too. The Summit House is famous for it's greasy donuts and hot chocolate. They taste awfully good once you get to the top.
People do get lost, so take a map, compass and follow the signs. If you have a cell phone, you should be able to use it on most of the trail.
How do I get down? The obvious answer is to hike back down. But unless you're prepared to walk a total of 25 miles, you might want other transportation. Having a friend meet you is probably the best way. If you are going with other people, you could drop off one car at the top (but this would get you a much later start than we advise). You cannot leave a car overnight. Another option, although not always possible, is to try to ride the COG train down. You make reservations before you leave and buy a round trip and only use the downhill portion. See the Cog website for details. www.cograilway.com.
Will the altitude make me sick? Hopefully not, but some people do have problems, whether they come from lower altitudes or not. It is generally unpredictable. Symptoms can include nausea, headache, dizziness, loss of breath and loss of judgement. The only sure way to treat it is to go to a lower altitude. Staying well hydrated helps ward it off.
Do I need to train? It is a strenuous hike, but thousands do it every year. You can certainly hike the Peak without being in great shape, but being fit always makes the trip up the Peak easier and more fun. If you are already in shape, go for it. If you are not, we recommend some form of training program to get you used to walking uphill for several hours. A moderate walking, running or biking program for several weeks ahead of your planned trip will pay great dividends. As always, consult your physician before embarking on a new exercise program.
What other problems might I face? Hypothermia is one of our killers. It is caused when the body loses more heat than it generates. Wet or inadequate clothing, sometimes coupled with a lack of nourishment, is is usually the cause. Most people think it has to be extremely cold for hypothermia, but a walk in the rain with wind at altitude can be deadly. Poor judgement sets in and the victim is no longer capable of saving himself.
Heat stroke or heat prostration can be equally dangerous. Starting quickly up the switchbacks at the bottom on a hot summer day without water can quickly make you overheat. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and take your time.
What else do I need to know? Reading one of many good mountain hiking books can provide you a lot of good tips on hiking mountains in general. Several have detailed maps and guides to hiking Pikes Peak. The Pikes Peak Atlas is the locals' favorite for hiking on the Peak.
Yes Virginia, the Peak is really 14,115 feet high. The sign just hasn't caught up yet!.