July 19, 2013 – I made the summit of Pikes Peak (14,110 ft.) with my cousin John McDowell. My Dad Jerry McDowell and Uncle Keith McDowell did not make it very far on this climb. Dad made it to the top of the first hill to see the view across the meadows; Uncle never made it that far.
Stats from Garmin GPSMap 62s:
*GPS has slight skew
Distance: 14.49 miles
Avg Speed: 1.4 mph
Avg Moving Speed: 2.0 mph
Elevation Gain: 4829 ft
Min Elevation: 10,012 ft
Max Elevation: 14,110 ft
After an easy day summiting Mount Evans yesterday, we got our start on the Devil’s Playground Trail from the Crag Campground at 5:47AM. It was light from the sun, but still technically before dawn. The trail is advertised as about 6.5 miles from trailhead to summit, and other sites list the round trip as 11.6 miles, but the Garmin says 14.49 miles round trip on this one. It was a LONG day. Right away the trail is unforgiving with the steep start, then it even has a little slight downhill and finally a long even trek at 6-7% grade through the trees.
As we start to poke out of the tree line around 12,000 ft., the grade gets steeper but the weather so far has been beautiful. The sun starts to poke out over the ridge we’re hiking up and eventually we get to put our shades on to welcome the sun as we get close to cresting the ridge. You can see in the Garmin elevation path below where we reached the meadows. This was a welcome ease to the relentless uphill grade we had been climbing. However, as we look across the ridge to the summit of Pikes Peak, it is covered in a dark rain cloud. Well, it’s just a rain cloud, no lightning and thunder, so onward we go!
After crossing through the meadow section just before crossing the Pikes Peak road, some clouds started coming in at our elevation. We stopped and changed clothes into rain gear. I’m sure if people on the road looked closely enough there I was in my under armor. Anyway, I took my long REI pants off and put my long Event rain pants on in prep the the potential weather. The clouds rolling in brought chilly air with them. Off we go across the road into the Devil’s Playground. As we break around the next bend we get a good look at the summit. It would appear to be another crazy boulder field like on Mount Bierstadt, but we would fortunately find it to be slightly less treacherous.
Around 13,400 ft. we lose complete sight of the summit, buried in the clouds and we’re hit with our first weather, large sleet pellets, so rain shell goes on and I put the rain cover on my pack. Soon we hit the bottom of the boulder pile for the last bit to the summit. Suck it up, watch your balance, follow the cairns closely and onwards we go! At this point, if you are watching the video clip, you’ll notice I did not take any video at the summit. What’s the point, it was completely socked in with clouds. But, you can enjoy the summit photo!
We took 30-45 minutes to relax in the touristy building at the top. I had a fresh fried donut and some gatorade, John had some peanut butter on some small flat bread rounds. After asking a few people and wandering around the top for a while, we finally found the USGS marker for the summit. It was definitely not in an obvious place. Then time to head back down. The weather cleared as we came down out of the boulder field. We had some fairly long range views for a bit.
By the time we made it to the flatter area as we headed out of Devil’s Playground, we got hit hard with some big sleet and rain. We had to stop and put our shells back on and I put on some super thin glove liners to take the nip off the fingers. Eventually the sleet stopped, we made it back across the meadows and headed down below the tree line. Not soon after that and we started to hear thunder. Looking across the way were a couple storms, but neither were heading for us. But wait, not too longer after and thunder started coming from behind us! OK, well, at least we were in the trees. We picked up the pace a little and kept on heading down.
The last piece of the story is the WOOOT! I let out when making it back to the parking lot. It was a long and challenging hike, but a success! This was the summit I wasn’t sure about and through the distance, elevation gain and the constant weather changes, John and I did it!