Before my first hike up Pikes Peak I was told that on the summit, I would feel as though I hadn't done a thing. Would you have believed it? I didn't. But I must admit, that's exactly what happened. And. . . it has happened every time since.
A little about Pikes Peak:
Pikes Peak is a 14,110 ft elevation peak in Colorado. Or is it 14,115? I guess it depends on when the measurement was taken. There have been different conclusions at different times. But I digress. . .it's the 31st highest out of 54 peaks over 14,000 ft in the state.
The summit is accessible from several trails including Barr Trail from Manitou Springs. There is a store/restaurant at the top where you'll find plenty of souvenirs, clothing, restrooms and the Cog Railway. And . . . it'll be winter up there.
The half way point (about 6 miles up Barr Trail) houses Barr Camp. There you can catch your breath, load up on more food and water (you'll need to provide a filter) and prepare for the second half. You'll love it even more if you have toilet paper with you.Credit: Mark Byzewski
I've enjoyed hiking Barr Trail during all times of the year lending to a variety of weather conditions. The warmer months typically avail afternoon rain and on occasion hail and lightning. Because of the tendency for afternoon lightning, hikers should get an early start for safety. I'm referring to 'beating the sunrise' early.Credit: Mark Byzewski
There is a well-earned warning for hikers to respect the mountain. Take it seriously. I have rarely experienced cloudless, stormless days and from time to time during the summer you'll hike through snow. I did it once without cleats or YakTrax and I decided, never again #1 (there is another 'never again' later). I have trusted friends who have told me that they've experienced the perfect climate. My experiences have usually lent to using rain gear and hoping tree line would never end.
If you're traveling to Colorado from a lower elevation, plan to arrive in Colorado Springs or Manitou springs a couple or few days before the hike to acclimatize. It's a great idea to take some prep walks or hikes in the higher elevation, and drink plenty of water. If you think you've had enough water. . . drink more.
While you're at it, carb-loading is a good idea at least the day before heading up the mountain. You don't need to stuff yourself, but you want to focus on filling your muscles with glycogen for a more effective (easier accesss than fat) energy source. Breads, waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, bagels, yogurt and juice are easy to digest because they lack fiber. Between the 'practice hikes', extra water and carbs, you'll be better prepared for the larger trek up the mountain.
What to wear: Keep in mind that extra clothing isn't a bad idea. . . just in case. During the months of May - late August or early September (I know. . . not technically a true summer schedule) if your goal is to summit and hike back down (or cheat and get a ride down) within a day, here's what you'll need:
- Foot wear: Wear shoes with traction. They don't have to be costly, but you want to have a good grip for the terrain. I have always worn my running shoes and the traction worked great.
- Socks: During the summer cotton is a great idea for the breathability! I would suggest more than one pair.
- Pants: Any breathable shorts or pants work well. Don't feel the need the make a special purchase for the hike. But if you love to shop, a great pant that I love is PrAna convertible pants! I wish I had invented them. You can unzip part of the pant leg at the thigh to detach and wear as shorts during the warmer temperatures. When it's cooler, just zip 'em back on! They save space, have handy pockets, are comfortable and are pretty much the greatest thing since Snickers bars!
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- Tops/jackets: I suggest a cotton tank or a T-shirt (though I always wear the tank) with a flannel lined jacket because as the sign says, the top of the mountain feels like winter). Preferably a hooded jacket. I love the variety that zips in to a collar. But having one at all is just a good idea. The rain is highly likely.
- Gloves: It'll feel like winter on the summit. Have gloves!
- Caps and vizors: Wear one. :) Even if you also have the hood; it's a great combination to wear the hood over the cap or vizor if it rains.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen: Have them both and put on sunscreen before you begin up the trail. Time passes by fast, especially if you're with others having a great time on the trek up (Yes, between gasps for air). All that to say that if you start with sunscreen, you won't have to take the time later to put some on.
- Water: You'll need plenty of water either in water bottles or my favorite a Camel Back back pack. The packs come with very durable hydration 'bladders' for your fluid and a flexible tube from the bladder for drinking. They have easy access clamps to secure the tube to the front strap between uses. The mouth piece closes automatically when not in use and to drink from it you gently squeeze the 'bite' with your teeth and suck just like using a straw. You can nurse the water on the way up the trail and mostly leave your hands free. Remember, keep drinking. When you think you've had enough, drink more.
If you have a filter or treatment (to help purify the water) you can add more water at Barr Camp for the rest of the trip. Some packs have extra storage space for food, clothes and other necessities. I use my Camel Back for hiking and cycling. In fact, when it gets too warm (90 - 100 +F), I fill the bladder with ice. The pack has an insulated panel that rests closest to the users back and helps with temperature control.
- Electrolyte Replacement: You'll be asking a great deal from your body and with the exertion comes salt depletion. It's also common as you gain altitude to feel faint and get a headache. I've used Shaklee Performance every time and have never had a headache or felt faint, though every body is different, that has been my experience. It's a flavored powder that helps with electrolyte replenishment, and as the name suggests, it helps with your performance so that when you might otherwise be fuel deficient, your endurance gets a boost.
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- Food: Here is a list of ideas that are helpful for endurance. Some are great cost savers, some not. Some are gluten free, some not.
- Peanut and butter and jelly sandwiches.
- Trail mix with peanuts, M & M's ;), and raisins!
- If you have a few extra dollars, Powerbars and Triple Threat bars are great. Powerbars have a touch of a gritty texture that some people don't care for. They aren't gluten-free. Triple Threat tastes good and is not gritty, also not gluten-free.
- Apples, dried fruit mixes, Jerky.
- General Safety:
- Go with others: Being with at least one other is just smart for safety reasons. If one gets hurt, the other helps. If you go alone, tell someone what time you're leaving and an estimated return time.
- Light: Whether you go early before the sun comes up or things don't necessarily go as planned and you end up on the mountain after dark, having a light is a safety staple. I was unintentionally on the mountain after dark once and went from a nice jog (I know it's bad for the body) to a 'careful with my footing' walk. I decided then that I would never again (#2) be on the mountain without light.
- Matches, compass, small first aid kit, fire starter, knife.
- Lightning Injury Prevention:
- Before you go: Check the weather forecast for any oncoming storms.
- Just in case the planning doesn't work:
- "If you're in the open or on a ridge, retreat to a sheltered area. Shallow caves or picnic shelters aren't good enough. Lightning can bounce around and strike you. Enter the forest, but do not choose the tallest tree in a stand of trees for shelter. Avoid water and isolated trees.
- If you cannot find shelter, crouch down with your feet close together. Do not lie down—doing so creates a larger target for lightning. Crouching on your pack does not lessen your chances of being struck.
- If you're near your vehicle, get in and roll up the windows—but do not touch any metal during the storm.
- Make yourself less attractive (to lightning)
- Toss away metal objects (ice axe, trekking poles, tent poles, climbing gear).
- Get off the cell phone. This could attract lightning.
- Hiking partners should stay at least 15 feet away from each other."
- Start time: Plan to be at the trail head by 6:00 a.m.. This will help to keep you ahead of potential afternoon weather conditions including lightning.
Have your camera ready for these amazing moments, and soak it in!
Pikes Peak is located west of Colorado Springs.