It was a beautiful late summer day. We had spent the last 8 days in Colorado acclimating and preparing for this day. This would our second attempt to hike up Pike’s Peak and our third to hike a 14,000+ mountain. We had done everything we could so that acclimation would not be a problem this time as it had been in the past.
We arrived at the Crag’s Campground trailhead by 7 a.m. We had one goal for the day and that was to make it up to the top of Pike’s Peak and all the way back down. Quite a goal for a couple of low-landers. The weather was perfect; a slight chill in the air, nice filtered sunshine, and a very little breeze.
This would be our third attempt to make it up a 14’er. The first time, I got altitude sickness real bad and the 2nd time, Mike started getting moderate signs of altitude sickness right at Devil’s Playground. Things would be different this time as we came about as prepared as one could be; supplemental oxygen; prescription and nonprescription meds to fight altitude sickness. We were ready.
Things went well, slow and steady, but well. Once we got above tree line, things started getting a little tougher. The trail really starts to become vertical at this point, and there aren’t switchbacks anymore. But the views certainly do make up for the challenge of the hike. At this point, I was exhausted. Not in shape for this kind of hike and I never do well breathing in the high altitudes (even carrying portable oxygen). But it was time to keep pushing.
We made it through devil’s playground and as the sign warns, get off the mountain before it gets late in the day. We were behind schedule by this point. But the sky was clear and beautiful. At this point, it “seems” like you are within reach of the summit, but it is a mere illusion. You still have a long trek upward. However, unlike the hike to this point, you are mostly walking beside the road and yes, the views are still amazing but they are not quite as isolated as before. You definitely have reached the tourist part of your hike.
At this point, we crossed the road and remained on the other side of the highway walking along it. We did see a lot of marmots scurrying about. They seem to be very curious fellas. The hike at this point is just a means to an end. Part of you will want to hitch a ride from one of the passing cars. Stick with it! You can see the summit, up, up, up ahead!
Once you get to the final push, it’s nothing but a boulder scramble. I gave up at this point and sat down and sent Mike ahead to get a donut and some snacks. I was spent. I sat back for some time and watched him scramble up the boulders. He was like SpiderMan! Watching him gave me the strength to try some more. So I took off my backpack, hid it behind some rocks, and started up the boulder scramble myself. I did my best to follow the cairns but sometimes they just didn’t make sense. At one point, they take you way farther out of the way than necessary, and I simply didn’t see that the path they outlined was any easier going.
If I had to do it again, I would shoot as close to straight up the boulders toward the north end of the parking lot that you can barely see. Find the path through there that meets your skill level. Otherwise, you are going way far south and then right back north again like a switch back.
With all that said and done, we made it to the summit! It was amazing but unfortunately I was too tired at that point to really care. And of course, it was getting late in the day, pushing 3:00 and we still had to hike all of the way down again. We did hitch a ride from the summit down to the first turn where I had stashed my backpack; however, someone found it and stole it. So the rest of the hike down was without snacks, water, and my glasses. Whoever took my backpack, I sure hope they needed it more than I did!
The descent was harder than you might guess. We were exhausted, hungry, sore. We got down as quickly as possible; probably reaching the parking lot about 6:30 that evening.
The next part of this story is what has kept me from writing about this amazing hike for over a year! I fell getting into the truck in the parking lot. I fell so hard that I ended up “killing” my buttocks. Meaning that skin, soft tissue, muscle, etc. died. I ended up a couple of weeks later in the hospital for 3 weeks with 4 surgeries leading up to a skin graft.
I have been asked the question knowing this, would you do it again? Of course. But, having hiked Pike’s Peak, my advice to someone who would like to do it themselves would be do the Crag’s Trails up and take the cog back down. We pushed ourselves to much for the shape we were in.
Just Getting Started; near Crag’s Campground
Getting close to tree line.
Just at the edge of tree line
Mike looking at the western view standing at tree line.
At tree line now
The trail heading up after you pass tree line and before Devil’s Playground. Looking up the trail, there is not a lot you can see beyond straight up! It’s a pretty amazing thing!
Devil’s Playground: Coming up on it and heading through it!
Past Devil’s Playground looking toward the summit; there is still a very long way to go!
Some of the views after Devil’s Playground and before the final boulder scramble at the summit.
One of my favorite moments. Standing looking toward the east at Colorado Springs and the clouds rolling up over the mountain. Also kind of frightening since a storm could roll in at any moment.
The summit parking lot is at the very most top point of this picture. This is the final push and it’s entirely boulder scrambling from here on.
The final scramble to the top. There is no other way to go (except the road) but up and over the boulders. If you look close you can see some of the cairns marking a path.
I didn’t take any pictures at the top nor on the way down. I always regret it that when I get exhausted, all I focus on is getting the hike over instead of enjoying the opportunity. Something I need to work on!
Now for the ugly:
Pictures of my right leg where they took the donor skin from my buttocks. If you ever hear someone say the donor site hurts worse, it is true. It was excruciating.
One year later, I am finally healed enough to have the strength to tell my story. It was an amazing blessing to be have the opportunity to make it up on my own 2 feet all the way to the summit of Pike’s Peak. My favorite part was the clouds rolling in near where the boulder scramble started. Mike says his favorite part was getting through the boulders. He certainly seemed to enjoy it!