Pikes Peak

March 28, 2022


Colorado Springs, CO

Pikes Peak is a fabled 14er in Colorado and might actually be one of the few peaks in U.S. that sees zillions of “ascents” per year. There’s a Cog Railway that runs all the way to the summit as well as a paved road so tourists do not need to hike anywhere to make the summit of this mountain. The road is reported to open year round but it’s never guaranteed to open all the way to the very top. The Cog Railway is much more reliable as it’s much less subjected to the weather elements. For purists there is Barr Trail that ascends over 2000 m on the east side. If I were a Colorado veteran then Barr Trail is the one-and-only route I would consider for this objective. Unfortunately I do not live in Colorado and my vacation time is very precious. I ended up driving most of the way up but hiked the remaining 4 km distance and 250 m elevation gain (with some up-and-downs) to the summit.

Earlier in the day I had ascended Mt. Elbert in 7 hours round trip and got back to the vehicle at 10:30 am. As I were descending Mt. Elbert I made the decision to rush everything to tag Pikes Peak on the same day. This day had the best weather forecast out of the 5 days I planned to spend in Colorado so I must make the most use of it even though I was downright exhausted from the non-stop travelling and hiking. The drive between the two peaks should take 2 hours but took me 3 hours as I needed one rest break. I then followed Google’s direction to turn onto Pikes Peak “highway” and bought the day-pass at the entrance gate. The latest time to start the downhill driving was 4 pm and they enforced it very strictly with 500$ fine if failing to do so. I thought about to drive to Boulder Park which is basically the last spot to park before the summit, but they closed the road not far past Devil’s Playground. My initial thought was “oh crap” but then I checked the maps and time. It would be a close fight but it’s definitely possible to hike to the summit and get back by 4 pm so I had to at least try. The signs and the police were saying that “no hiking on the road” so I had to take a cross-country path which ended up being actually quite efficient.

Pikes Peak walk-up from near Devil’s Playground. GPX DL

I opted to carry very little loads and wear trail-runners even though there appeared to have snow on the mountain. After gaining about 50 m elevation I picked up some trails that traversed across the north side of “Little Pikes Peak”. There were some patches of snow but the paths had been packed by previous hikers so I did not have to suffer from post-holing. The temperature was nuclear warm at this altitude in March, but as long as I didn’t need to do extensive snow travel things should be fine. I rejoined the road on the east side of that peaklet and followed it for a short distance. I made sure that no service car was running on the road so nobody could come to me face to face to kick me out of the mountain. As soon as I found another trail I left the road sticking closer to the NW Ridge of Pikes Peak.

Looking back at the parking area where the road’s closed
The short snow slope traverse on the NE side of “Little Pikes Peak”
The east side views opened up once I got onto the ridge
The main Pikes Peak and the boulder fields
Looking back at the bump of “Little Pikes Peak”. I was gaining elevation rapidly
The east side had some shear cliffs
This spot was where I initially planned to drive to… I was forced to not be lazy..

For the rest of the ascent I stuck on the NW Ridge dealing with some endless boulder-hopping. I was initially following paths and cairns but lost them in the maze of boulders. I then just scrambled straight up the boulder field since that appeared to be the most efficient anyway. It seemed like I was doing good in time so I spent about 20 minutes walking around the summit taking photos. With the road closure I thought I would have the summit of Pikes Peak to myself, but that wasn’t the case. Tourists had came up by taking the Cog Railway but on the bright side I got better photos. A few tourists looked to be definitely “Instagram girls” so I asked them to take my summit pictures.

Getting higher on the NW Ridge, looking back, things are all becoming smaller
There were some massive cairns guiding the way
I soon lost the route and just scrambled up the boulders
Looking back at the meandering road
The summit was finally in sight
This is a southern view. There’s no public access to Pikes Peak from that side
Just when I thought nobody would be up there I saw hordes of tourists
Me on the summit of Pikes Peak…
A more expansive view looking down from one of the better view corners
Almagre Mountain etc. to the south-east
Me with the city of Colorado Springs as a back drop
Me doing my Instagram thing on the summit of Pikes Peak

On the descent I went straight down the south slopes on boulders to cut onto the road and followed the road a long ways back to the lower trails where things were more defined. I then retraced by route back across the NE slopes of “Little Pikes Peak” and got back to the road closure gate with 15 minutes of spare. I was power-walking most of the descent and to my surprise I actually felt okay considering this was my second 14er summitted in the day and I had not actually properly acclimatized yet. I ended up being the last person starting the downhill drive and I also stopped a few times on various viewpoints to fully soak in the experience.

I stayed more on the paved road on the descent as why-not…
Back onto the trail. The scenery actually improved towards the late-afternoon hours
Gorgeous sheep on the mountain
More about those sheep with the Colorado plateau behind
That short traverse on snow on the return
Looking back towards the summit of Pikes Peak which now looks farther away
Following the trail doing some up-and-downs…
Descending back to the parking lot

I did exit the park in time so there’s no problem, but then I immediately pulled over and took another long break as my eyes were hurting and I was exhausted. I do not think I actually managed to sleep but I did feel slightly better half an hour later. I decided to just push back to Golden which was about 2.5 hours away. The traffic through Colorado Springs and then Denver was heavy but in the tolerable range and I got back to Arthur’s home still in daylight. The weather forecast for the following day was absolutely crap so I finally earned myself a proper rest day. But still, I had to take the train system to the airport to grab my rental car and then drove back to Arthur’s apartment to rest.

Me at the road closure sign. The car behind is a cop’s
Another tourist stopped at the same viewpoint while driving down
That car in the foreground looks pretty darn small
Me at this viewpoint. Note the endless switchbacks that I would soon drive down
The north side of Pikes Peak actually holds some big walls