Miles day one: 7
Elevation day one: 3,500 ft
Miles day two: approx. 16.5
Elevation day two: 3,910 ft
Total Miles: approx. 23.5
Total net Elevation gain: 7,410 ft.
SO, tra la la, we dropped the kids off at 3pm on Thursday at the sitter and headed down to CO Springs for some Pikes Peak LUV. We were very excited and a little nervous.
As usual, things got a little behind schedule. We arrived as planned, about 5pm, but could not find a parking spot. You'd THINK that a mountain such as Pikes Peak would have a HUGE parking lot at it's main trailhead...but NOOWP. Overnight parking lot is about 30 cars big. Little did we know that all the locals come up to do their evening runs on the Barr trail around then...so we proceeded to drive around for 40 minutes looking for a spot and then just waiting for someone to pull out. We then had to gear up. Started hiking at 6pm.
Hiking hurt. We had all our camping gear plus all our mountaineering gear plus about 3 liters of water each on us, so lets just say the packs weren't light. Somewhere between 45-55 lbs. Let the switchbacking begin...There are about, I don't know...5000 switchbacks in the first few miles of the trail. We knew we had to gain about 3,500 elevation in this 7 miles up to camp, but we didn't realize it was going to bitch slap us in the face all at the beginning. We were slow. I was taking care to not strain my leg. Chad had some sort of knee irritation going on.
We got to camp just after 9pm. In the dark, and yes, it did manage to rain on us a little bit. Not enough to really drench us, but enough that we could count it on our neverending streak of it raining precisely when we need to make a camp, wherever we go. The cabin was all dark, so we didn't check in. We just found a spot that was clear and set up the tent and got in and went to bed.
Gear report: Yes, we were testing out a lot of new stuff. Once we realized how heavy the packs were going to be, we decided against hot coffee and breakfast in the morning, and left the stove and cook stuff at home. We settled on PBJ and a Starbucks espresso double-shot in a can for my caffeine fix.
- TNF TENT: The tent was ok. As expected, it was cramped and got pretty damp inside - being a single wall tent and it being so cold outside vs. warm inside with our body heat. It worked out ok. We both sorta cursed the little tent at times, but couldn't override the miracle of a 3 lb tent that packs to the size of a football, so we are keeping it.
- 0 degree ALPS down-fill BAG: My sleeping bag was a champ. I started out pretty cold since we were damp when we got in the tent, but I woke up in the middle of the night ON FIRE. That's exactly what I want. I spent the rest of the night with it half zipped and a little more room to move. Good.
- GLOVES: Ended up not even using the bomber gloves. The windstopper ones were great in the snow. They were thinner to allow me a bit more dexterity too. On with the story
So, we get to bed around 10pm. Got up at 3am. Why so early? We had both drank a lot of water on the hike up so we knew we needed to pump water in the morning to refill our hydration bladders. UGH. We hate pumping water. But the camp had a nice little area set up next to the stream with big empty coffee buckets so you could actually just scoop the water up and pump while sitting comfortably on the rocks vs. crouching down next to the side of the stream like you usually have to do. Score. Also, we knew we had an 8 mile trip to the top and needed to be up there while the snow was still reasonably frozen from the nighttime cold.
We hit the trail around 4:20am with our headlamps on. We were all excited to drop weight at camp, but in actuality, we didn't get to dump that much. All I had left was bag, pad, pump, 1 liter nalgene. Chad dumped bag, pad, tent and 1 liter nalgene. We still had about 35 lbs on our backs...Water, snowshoes, axe, crampons, extra layers, first aid/emergency stuff, food, avalanche shovels/beacons/probes, trekking poles, other gadgets like GPS/Spot/camera. Shit. Still very heavy. Ah well. There is a reason that not a lot of people do mountaineering.
We were moving up the Barr trail at a good clip and before long got to the branch off for the Bottomless Pit trail. About a mile into the BP trail we got to watch a very beautiful sunrise. We got pretty much no good pics of this because we suck at pictures and our camera ain't doin' us no favors, especially in the dark...so here is the best shot of our sunrise.
As described in many trip reports that I have read, the trail eventually peters out and you are left with a view of this huge canyon...and to find the "Bottomless Pit" via GPS and a lot of unpleasant off-trail side-hill partially snow-covered travel. We saw what we think were a lot of lynx tracks in the snow up here. We also found another set of people footprints, but didn't know yet if it was from this morning or yesterday. We put on our snowshoes finally at the bottomless pit. It's a very pretty place, can't really capture it in pics, since it's a 360 experience sorta thing. I think we were at the BP at around 7am and this was about 6 of our 8 miles. Not bad. HOWEVER, we were at about 11,300ft. Only two miles for the remaining 2,800 vert. The party was about to start...
The first mile or so of our ascent was probably the most fun of the trip. We traveled about 1,000 vertical feet up to the base of the Y coulour on nice solid snow, and walking in our snowshoes was a breeze. We were VERY grateful for the heel risers on our snowshoes (MSR Denali). Not sure how anyone's achilles tendons could do this without them. We came around the bend into full view of the approach gully and saw a bunch of avalanche debris and also a solo dude up there ahead of us. It was Joe (at the red arrow). We'll get to that later. Here is a pic of our route (blue line) on this section, and Joe, which gives you a good idea of the scale of this place. You might want to click and look at the full size pic for this one...
We just kept snowshoeing along, up past about half of the huge avalanche debris field (you can see it up just to the left of the blue line above) until we got to about 12,800 ft. There were some rocks to sit on and this was the point where we thought we should switch to crampons and axe. Here is a view back down the gully and route almost back down to the bottomless pit.
Here is a totally tard picture of me at this point (which very unfortunately is the best one of the day of me) and a good one of Chad where you can see what lies ahead. The good stuff.
Chad was starting to feel the altitude at this point. He hadn't been above 13,300 or so for 6+ years...The original plan was for him to kick most of the steps since I had this bum wheel...well...time for the ignoring the injury part to start. I was worried we were taking too long and the snow was getting too soft, so, I ended up kicking about 500 vert worth of steps to keep things moving along. It hurt. From here for a while, it was really soft and frustrating. So I moved over actually onto the slide debris, which was inconsistently icy and decent, which ended up being easier, but rough going. Above the slide debris was very hard ice. Couldn't really kick. Had to do some switchbacking. This brought back memories of our Mt. Baker climb...this sort of climbing really munches your ankles! Here's a pic of this icy part above the slide debris.
At this point, we're in what I would consider the leg of the Y. We were approaching the rockband at 13,400ft where the Y arms branch off Left, right, and I guess there's a middle too. We were both getting tired at this point. I think it was about 9:30 and a lot of slough was coming off of the right wall of the couloir. A couple of times it hit us. I was getting worried about the snow. The left side was wind loaded softer snow with a touch of slab on it, but still in the shadow from the sun. The right was pretty much the same solid ice like we were on, but out of the question since so much junk was coming down off the walls. We were originally planning on doing the right arm of the Y since it is considered easier. But, staying left it was.
Here we joined up with Joe's steps, which was a God-send. If we didn't have his steps to walk in the rest of the way up, it could have turned our happy little trip into "epic". The left arm of the Y is very steep at times, but since we had Joe's steps, it was not that bad. Just a matter of getting up. Let's remember this is exactly why we made the trip! Pretty sweet! Some pics of this section:
Chad was really dragging at this point, and I had to start giving him pleasant reminders that we needed to get up and out of this potential death trap we were dawdling in. Still, we got this rather lovely picture of me. The camera pouch is in front of my face, leaving you to wonder if it's really me or not, but if you do actually know me you should easily be able ID me by the giant ASS in the picture.
Anyhoo, we started to reach critical mass after this pic. The snow was getting very soft. Chad was lagging farther and farther behind, and I would look back and he'd be hunched over. I started worrying about him falling and if he did, it was game over. I wouldn't be able to get down to him for a LONG time without falling myself, and I was just about spent. I realized that we hadn't eaten anything except a few sport beans since we put our crampons on a few hours prior, but you can't really sit down and have a picnic on a 50 degree snow slope, now, can ya?
The last 200 vert was nerve wracking. Chad was bonking before my eyes. It was one last steep pitch above that pointy rock in these two pics above. All I could do was stand at the top and talk to Chad and try to keep him moving. I felt guilty for putting him through this tough of a climb with having been out of the game for so long. I knew I could make it, but I never thought he'd have this much trouble. It was just past 11am when Chad finally made it. The homestretch:
At the top we learned who "dude ahead of us" was - Joe. We expected all these tourists at the top, but it was still pretty well snowed in and the only person we saw was the ranger. He asked us if either of us was Joe and we said no, but that we saw Joe ahead of us and we know he got out of the climb safely for sure. I guess his peeps at the bottom were worried about him and sent out a search. Maybe Joe underestimated how long it would take him to do this climb too. All I really know is that I thanked God for Joe the rest of the day, cause without his steps, it could have gotten messy for us. I wasn't too worried about him, since I knew he made it out, but it made me feel better to see that he had posted info about the climb on the 14ers.com forums yesterday.
We were so spent at the top that we didn't even really bother to find the little mound that designates the true summit. We took a pic of this sign, since it was directly on the way to the food in the restaurant.
Chad was on the verge of collapse and I wasn't much better off. We had some pizza and sodas inside and I immediately felt better. But Chad wasn't pepping up as much as I would have liked, so when the train pulled in, I collected all of our gear (we left it by the sign and all the tourists were having to walk over it) and went and talked to the conductor and got us seats to ride half way back down to Barr to pick up our stuff. I really did want to do that huge glissade back down to camp, but Chad felt so bad, and my arms felt like two large noodles, and I wasn't confident that I could have even held a glissade or self arrested if I needed to. And I knew Chad couldn't do it right now...so...wave the white flag...sometimes the moutain wins. Besides, we still would have 1.5 miles from the train stop back to camp, and the lovely 7 mile hump back down to the car with full weight. That sounded like enough...and believe me it was.
We both felt better by the time we got back to camp, which was about 2:00, I think. We packed up camp for about 45 minutes, got on the trail and got back down to the car by 5pm. I will spare you the gory details of that hike back down. Lets just say that 23 miles in mountaineering boots is not at all kind to your feet. And if you ever want to experience the feeling of your shoulders and hips being murdered while you are left alive and forced to march...follow this itinerary!
It was a great climb with great weather, and even for all the suffering, we're glad we did it. It had been a LONG time since the Whites were out in the wild together on the tough stuff!
Shout-out to Big G for watching over us on this day!