*All photos by Brandon Stapanowich*
That pretty much describes everything that was in my pack today for my Pikes Peak summit bid with Brandon Stapanowich. First part of March, going above treeline, anything could happen right? I guess my pack was 20 pounds at least maybe 30. Regardless it was nice to know that I had the insurance with me in case I may have needed it at some point. As Brandon and I were almost back to our vehicles in Manitou I was commenting on just how great the day was and the best part was that 90% of the crap in my pack... I did not need!
Originally this weekend I had intended to do a 20 mile time trial run which is SOP the week before the Salida races. Fortunately I knocked it out on Wednesday leaving my weekend pretty much free to do other things. Brandon had posted earlier in the week that he was going to attempt his monthly Pikes Peak trip this weekend and I figured why not? I told him that I was tentatively in earlier in the week but more or less was all in by Thursday afternoon when the forecast for Sunday looked exceptionally favorable for the trip.
I told Brandon that I was going to start early and I figured he would just catch up with me. Melissa and I were out late last night and I didn't get much sleep (3+ hours before the alarm went off at 5... ugh... time to get going. I was up and out of the house and starting up Ruxton by the COG Depot just a smidge before 6:00 a.m. It was actually sort of warm and nice. Oddly enough there was 1/10th of the incline traffic and folks doing Barr Trail this morning than are usually encountered on Weekday mornings. This I did not mind as the only person (singular) that I met on his way down was all the way up by where the bail trail hits Barr Trail. Really most of the morning was like that with the majority of the trail all to my own. SWEET!
It was a great morning... not cold and yet I was not overheating either. I just settled in with a steady hiking pace and plodded ahead without even stopping at Barr Camp. I was concerned about the trail conditions further up but really it was not that bad at all. Some deeper spots and soft spots where the snow was more of a crystallized sugar-snow but all in all no problems to speak of.
About a quarter of a mile past the Bottomless Pit sign Brandon caught up with me. Perfect timing! We made our way to A-Frame and there we began the plotting and scheming of best routes to the summit. All in all I would say that we did a great job with my only complaint being the grade or overall steepness of some sections as we avoided the deeper snow and patches of solid ice. We had a very efficient line straight up from the A-Frame almost all the way to the 1 mile to go sign at 13,300 feet in elevation. From here we followed the trail a piece before we started scrambling again on a dead reckoned route the 16 Golden Stairs Sign which we kept losing track of here and there as we climbed.
We did okay coming up just feet away from the sign and we then negotiated part of the Golden Stairs then it was time for another strategy. Taking the far south ridge would have just been too exposed to the wind and staying on the classic route (the trail itself) was too snowy and icy so we were left with the only other option to scramble upwards to the summit itself. And it was scrambling in the truest sense... we were holding onto rocks for leverage, balance and even pulling ourselves up at times. One of those not so fun situations that really is a lot of fun as long as you don't get hurt.
We were almost at the top and discussing the safety aspects of being up on a mountain like Pikes Peak, more or less in the middle of winter alone. I told Brandon that for the most part I believed that the Peak was a safe mountain even in winter but by yourself still not smart.... all it would take is one slip, one badly twisted ankle and you would be screwed.
The universe agreed! I had just taken a step over a rotting piece of timber and my foot got caught underneath of it as I slid backyards falling flat on my ass. That was scary. Like a turtle or any blonde on her back... I was screwed. I was able to assess for the most part I was fine but since I was angled downward and sort of pinned between two rocks, or more like my pack was, I was not going anywhere. Stuck!
Brandon asked if I were okay and I told him yes I thought so but I was going to need a hand eventually. He then asked if I minded if he took a picture and I told him to knock himself out... just let me grab this rock so that I don't slide down any further though... I have to admit the inverted perspective of Rampart Range, Manitou Springs and the horizon itself was pretty freaking neat. Since I wasn't hurt or in danger, I started to get a good laugh out of it all. Brandon gave me hand as I sat up and recollected myself and we finished the last 100 yards to the summit.
On the summit we took pictures and hung out a bit. Actually it was NICE up there. For starters, no people... secondly, it wasn't that cold. We conferred about the route down and I for one was in favor of a different route down (not the trail and not the road) and Brandon agreed. So like a couple of old time hobo's we started down the tracks ever aware and on the lookout for the railroad man.
Best Decision EVER! On the south slope we were completely out of the wind. Windy Point? Not so much! We even ran into a small band of sheep on our descent which was really cool and worth the climb. I find it amazing that they can live that high all year around. Amazing.
What we originally thought was snow blowing off a ridge below us turned out to be the COG snow plow clearing the tracks. So... we tried to go around and not be too obvious of our intent to get back on the tracks. This alternate route led us to a great snowfield where I was able to do a sitting glissade most of the way down. Weeeeeee! The self arrest got a little interesting but it all worked out and we made our way back to the tracks and were on our way. Again.
Train! CRAP! "What do we do?" I asked Brandon... He said to just wave and smile as we were off the tracks. A train of tourists were on their way up the mountain as we were on our way down. We were stone cold busted out in the open above treeline... what to do? So I took Brandon's advice and watched as the train tilted towards us as everyone came to OUR SIDE of the train to take our pictures! Crazy! It was almost uncomfortable and I expected them to start throwing food at us at any moment to lure us in closer for better pictures... The train started back up the tracks and we began to go the other way ourselves. We ended up ducking said train again right above Mountain View but this time were ready and were well off of the tracks and in the timber.
We made the trek across to Barr Trail with Brandon going ahead to Barr Camp to let them know that we were back down the mountain. The run down Barr Trail was fun. I was tired but it felt good to still be running after such a long day and of course by now I was scheming on ditching my pack and coming back for it some other day as I was sick of it.
We kept running and once a bit below No Name Creek, it was a carnival. And when I say carnival in this sense... I don't mean it in the good way... I mean carnival as in the state fair "mommy can I have a quarter to ride the redneck" kind of way... my god the trail was crowded.
Finally we hit the trail head parking lot. I was done... I looked at Brandon and just said, "No mas Amigo... No mas." He laughed and said yeah lets walk on down from here. It was just such an awesome day.
We go to the vehicles and and I took my pack off and handed it to Brandon, you should have seen the surprise on his face when felt the weight of it. "I am surprised that you could have run at all with that," he said... I was still happy because there was so much in the pack that we didn't have to use and sometimes... that's a good thing.