Pikes Peak is located in Colorado Springs Colorado and sits at 14,115 feet above sea level. In Colorado there are 54 mountains that are over 14,000 feet high. Pikes Peak is the most hiked mountain of all 54 peaks.
Zebulon Pike tried to climb it in November of 1806 (Crazy in November) with members of his expedition. They only had light clothing and some had no socks. (Marijuana must have been legal back then too) I believe some of them died or “darn near” died trying to climb it. They never made it to the top. Zebulon Pike wrote in his journal that the snow was waste deep and there were no signs of bird or beast living in that region. He also said that mankind could not reach the summit. That is pretty crazy…..today….the trail up the Peak is like a “super highway” trail. It is called Barr trail. About 60,000 people attempt to hike to the top every year and I heard that approximately 75% complete it. Pike should have waited until summer to climb it! He would have made it.
Barr Trail is 12.6 miles one way….that means a 25 mile hike in one day. As a young man, I used to hike it with my church teen group and on occasion with a friend or two. Heck, a couple times I hiked up starting around 9:00 pm (at full moon) and camped somewhere on the mountain. As easy as I make it sound, it is not a hike for the weary. 25 miles is a marathon distance. Throw in the elevation changes and it’s a marathon on steroids.
The good news is that there is a small resting area called “Barr Camp” half way up (10,200 ft) where they do sell food and drink. They also have rustic accommodations if someone was inclined to stay the night. It is a good resting point on the way up. There are no plumbing services at Barr camp, but there is a stream nearby where you can filter water. But, you would need to bring your own filter.
None the less, I am going to attempt to hike it both ways. That means, I need to get in shape to do it. I have started jogging once a week and using the stair master at the YMCA on occasion. I don’t think that anyone who has not prepared for it should hike it. If one is not in very good shape, I could not imagine them making it past Barr camp. In fact, if they did make it to Barr camp 6.5 miles up, they have to remember that they must come down. There is no road access to have someone pick you up half way. So…..having said that, if you want to conquer the Peak with me, start getting in shape for it.
If anyone would like to hike up and ride down, there are 2 options. First, the Cog Railway sells tickets to ride down from the summit or they also offer a ticket from Barr Camp to the summit or vice versa. Second option, is to have a friend or family member drive to the summit on the Pikes Peak Highway. See websites under “Website Links” for information and costs on the Cog and Pikes Peak Highway.
I look forward to hiking the Peak with you!
What to Bring
It is an essential that you bring layers of clothing. This is a skill that enables the hiker to adapt to the environment that can change very quickly in the mountains. By adding and decreasing clothing during the hike you will be able to provide a comfort zone to your day. Layering involves three basic stages: an inner wicking layer, an insulating middle layer, and a weatherproof outer layer. At some points you will be melting from the hot sun and just want to throw off your clothes, next thing you know it, the rain clouds could roll in and you are freezing.
Here is a cheat sheet:
1. Wicking- Wear specific gear that pulls sweat away from my body. Without being too graphic, chafing will make your day miserable, many hikers never finish a hike due to the chaffing process.
2. Insulation- After checking the forecast it may seem like you may want to wear a fleece vest, or jacket. Fleece will retain body heat and also has a wicking process. If you wear a fleece you can carry your jacket in the pack (just in case).
3. Weatherproofing- This is to protect you from the elements. If you have inadequate outer layers or it traps perspiration it will cool you off. Winds on the summit are extreme at times, if you have wet clothes your core temperature will drop drastically and put you in danger. A Gore-Tex® jacket provides the protection from the elements as it has shell that can be added or removed based on overall temperature.
4. Hats, Gloves, and socks should not be cotton! Invest in some polyester, or propylene, materials. Pack an extra pair of socks as your feet are crucial to completion of the hike.
Removing layers is common, However when stopping for a break it is important to remember to add layers to maintain core temperature. If you are feeling too hot, or too cold, this can be a sign of improper layering methods.
What to Pack
This will be a day hike, but you should always prepare for the worst. Again this hike is not extreme, but it is challenging. Also, mountains can be unpredictable and if you are not prepared you may find yourself in a bad situation. For a day hike the following items should be commonplace in a pack.
1. Water/Camel Back- The rule of thumb is for every hour of hiking your should bring .5 liters of water to drink (minimum). This hike is estimated to take up to 8 hours, therefore 4 liters is recommended. Carry more than the minimum, even though it adds weight in the beginning you have to remember it gets lighter by the end. Maybe even a filter system in my pack as well. Like a straw filter or something.
2. Headlamp- self-explanatory if it gets dark this is imperative.
3. Food- Bring high carb foods that will sustain you throughout the hike. Trail mix, jerky, power bars, apples and always a little bit of sugar (candy bars). Hiking at altitude increases the appetite from the high calorie burn so food is essential. Do not bring soda! I remember some teens who brought a soda on the hike and the cans exploded in the high altitude.
4. Shelter- An emergency poncho for waterproofing.
5. Batteries are important, just an extra pack for a day hike.
6. Compact first aid kit. Not excessive, but enough to help with burns, cuts, blisters, pain, bites, and small injuries. I have had a headache from the altitude change. It is important to have something to take for headaches.
7. Hiking poles- I do not use these but I know of many that do. They decrease the chance of injury from fall, and distribute weight more proportionally on your body. I like my hands free for photos etc… but many love the use of poles in hiking.
8. Camera for photos. The views on this hike are amazing, documenting your hike through photography is a wonderful way to make memories.
9. Sunscreen, lip balm, and maybe a small bottle of baby powder for chafed areas.
10. Cash for gift shop at top, riding the Cog down or losing a bet along the way.
Obviously, there may be other things that you will think of to bring. Just make sure you bring enough to sustain you throughout the hike, but don’t overdo it. You can leave your hair dryers, I-pods and air mattresses at home.
VERY IMPORTANT! See The Pikes Peak Hiker Information Guide!
If this will be your first time to summit the Peak, then it is important to know what you are getting yourself into. 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.
In 2012, 9 soldiers were rescued off of Pikes Peak due to weather and lack of preparation. It takes an average walker between 6-10 hours to hike it both ways. If we start at first light, we can miss the afternoon storms that generally hit.
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.
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 its 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.
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.
The first European-American to climb the peak came 14 years after Pike in the summer of 1820. Edwin James, a young student who had just graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont, signed on as the relief botanist for the Long Expedition after the first botanist had died. The expedition explored the South Platte River up as far as present-day Denver, then turned south and passed close to what James called “Pike’s highest peak.” James and two other men left the expedition, camped on the plains, and climbed the peak in two days, encountering little difficulty. Along the way, he was the first to describe the blue columbine, Colorado’s state flower. Read More History Here