I decided to hike the only 14er close to Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak at 14,180 feet. The start of the Barr Trail is only 5 miles from our AirBnB. But, unlike most 14er hikes, which usually start above 10,000 feet, the Barr Trail starts in Manitou Springs at 6,800 feet. This makes for a 7,400 foot climb. Most people do it one very long day. The trail is 12 miles long but with the detour at the top (they are rebuilding the welcome center) it is now 13 miles. You can turn around and head back down after summiting, which makes for a very long (14 hours or so) day. But you can also schedule a shuttle ride (private cars are not allowed to the top of Pikes Peak) back to the bottom – nice!
I decided to do it in two days, stopping at Barr Camp, 10,200 feet and about halfway and then going for the peak the following morning. This allowed for more hiking in the cool morning and more time to acclimatize. I also scheduled a shuttle with Rocky Mountain Rides for 1:00 PM. My knees were grateful.
Day 1, August 10
Bert dropped me off and I started hiking at 6:25 AM.
I made really good time and felt good. The morning was cool and the trail was not too steep. I was passed by a couple of people running up the trail (yes people do run this trail) and I saw a few other hikers.
I arrived at Barr Camp at 9:30. This was about an hour earlier than I had planned. Camp Barr is a lovely spot, nestled in pines. It has composting toilets, a bear box and lots of tenting spots. They also have some cabins but these are closed because of Covid. There is no potable water but there is a stream that runs through the camp. And they serve breakfast.
With the extra time I decided, after checking in with the camp manager, setting up my tent and filtering water, to take an acclimatization hike up another 1,000 feet or so.
Around noon, at about mile 7, I ran into a family from Nebraska. A very tired looking, overweight guy and three teenagers (all in t-shirts and shorts). They had started at “around 4:30” so had been hiking for about 7 hours.
He said this was “our first hike”. After finding out they did not have any rain gear I suggested they abort. On my way down I ran into them again and they were headed up. I told the father “you know it can snow up here, even in August.” I also explained that they were only halfway effort-wise (probably less actually) and that even at their current pace (highly unlikely as they moved higher) they would not get to the top before 6 or 7 PM. When I left them they were still headed up.
Near camp on the way down took a side trail the camp manager told me about. Walked 1/2 mile to a great lookout spot and had lunch.
I was back at camp by 1:00 cleaning up and it started to sprinkle. Rained off and on for an hour or so (thinking about that Nebraska family!).
Day 2, August 11
I passed on the Barr Camp famous pancake breakfast both because my stomach was a little iffy (probably altitude) and also because I wanted to get an early start (they serve at 7:00 AM). I left camp headed for the top at 6:30.
Day 2 was a lot tougher than yesterday. I was definitely moving slower but my stomach felt better as the morning wore on. I passed one hiker, a young lady with a dog, at about mile 8. And that was it until the top. I literally had the entire mountain to myself almost all morning.
I left the trees just past mile 9 and 12,000 feet. I lost the trail for a while but found it again after a very steep bushwack (and thanks to my Gaia navigation app!).
The combination of the altitude and the steepness made for pretty slow going (I average about 1.5 mph on this day). But the views were stunning, it was a gorgeous, sunny day and, thanks to my early start, I had plenty of time.
I stopped just after 10:00 with about a mile to go for a rest and a snack.
The last challenge before the top is a set of 16 steep, short, rocky switchbacks called the 16 Golden Stairs. They are about 400 feet below the summit.
Near the top I passed a couple coming down who suggested I try to talk a construction worker into letting me through the construction zone rather than doing the 1 mile detour. Another couple (who started at 4:15AM from the bottom) caught up with me about 200’ from the top and suggested we summit together (strength in numbers I guess).
We managed to hail a construction worker on the other side of the fence. He was very nice but …. no go … so after topping out (at 10:40 or so) we all started the 1.0 mile detour down 250 feet and back up on the paved road – not fun!
And, after spending nearly the entire morning not seeing another person, the top was a complete zoo. Construction workers and machines and a relentless parade of white shuttle vans dropping off (inappropriately dressed) tourists. The top was disappointing, with construction blocking most of the good views.
Our shuttle (four hikers) arrived on time and we had a nice, 1 hour ride back to the Manitou Springs trailhead. During the wait for the shuttle we had some rain and snow flurries and it was kind of fun to watch the people in flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts hop out of the van and realize they weren’t in Kansas anymore.