It is 8:54 in the morning and my body feels like I rolled down a mountain, instead of hiking up one. I should be asleep still; David and I didn’t get home from Colorado Springs until midnight-ish, but I want to write down yesterday’s experience before time obscures my memory.
My uncle Ryan messaged me about a week ago stating that we should come to Colorado Springs this past weekend to hike Pikes Peak, a “fourteener,” as people from Colorado call mountains at least 14,000 feet high. Hiking a fourteener is held in high esteem here; I have a friend from work who has made it her goal to hike as many as she can. She wears bracelets to represent each fourteener she has summitted.
So, knowing that much (which isn’t much), I told Ryan that yes, David and I would love to hike Pikes Peak with him on Saturday. He gave me a packing list including sunscreen, hats, sandwiches, and lots of water. We arrived in Colorado Springs Friday night loaded with all of these items and a few extra snacks from Trader Joe’s, of course.
That night Ryan, my cousin Emma, her boyfriend Forrest, and Ryan’s girlfriend Moira made us a wonderful spaghetti dinner. We all chatted at the dinner table until 10 pm, when Ryan sent David and me to bed with the statement that we had better wake up early, because we would be leaving for the mountain by 5:15 at the latest.
Side note: sleeping in a bed, for the first time in a month, felt like my body was floating. The bed balanced each part of my body perfectly and felt as if some hand of God was cradling me as I slept. Lacey felt the same way; she hogged most of the bed.
I woke up around 4:30 am to down a few mugs of coffee before we had to leave. Ryan was up already and had made a pot, so we talked as I gulped the plentiful caffeine. It was 5:15 before long, and David was awake and ready. The three of us piled into the car (Lacey stayed because we weren’t sure how she would do with the altitude and long hike) and headed toward the trailhead.
It was 6 am when we finally had parked and were standing at the trailhead. The sun was peeking over the horizon of mountains as if to say “Hello, don’t worry, I’m watching you.”
We began slowly at first. David and I were still groggy from waking up before 5 am but Ryan was raring to go. “Let’s step it up a gear,” he said often enough to inspire us but not quite enough to make us push him down the mountain, although we told him we would. Gradually we began to find our rhythm, and onward we climbed.
Each time I looked at the horizon, it seemed that we had climbed hundreds of feet higher. The path quickly brought us above the line of the relatively small mountain which was the beginning of the Barr trail and toward the rising sun. It was definitely uphill but not a tough path, necessarily; comparing it to the steep staircase trail David and I took to reach Bear Peak, Barr trail was absolutely wonderfully forgiving. Ryan explained to us that the slow incline was so that our bodies could adapt to the increasing altitude safely.
We reached Barr Camp after 6 miles of this easier hiking through beautiful aspen trees and darker, more richly green pine.
Barr Camp was a wooden paradise for the tiring hiker with free chocolate pancakes, garlic bread, bathrooms, and an entire cabin shelf full of books. We stayed at the Camp for half an hour chatting with hikers, refilling our water, and energizing with burritos from TJ’s. Ryan had expected that we would reach Barr Camp but questioned if we would be able to hike much further; David and I repeatedly mentioned that we felt, somehow, that we would make it.
So off we went, higher and higher. From Barr Trail the altitude began to be noticeable; first Ryan, then David and I felt giddy and then lightheaded every-so-often. We had complicated conversations about the environment and human evolution then switched too-quickly to discussing the gas-production qualities mountains tend to have on the human digestive system.
We finally reached timberline after an hour or two of hiking past Barr Camp. Timberline is where trees cease to grow because of the lack of oxygen in the atmosphere — a frightening concept as a hiker, but the hikers constantly passing us was a sign that we would, indeed, survive.
From here the hike became tougher. Our breaths were harder to grasp; simply cutting off the end of a switchback by climbing up through the rocky slope became an impossible task. We were forced to take it slowly and break often. Water became a cherished resource as our bodies craved the liquid of which we had only a limited quantity. Our brains were affected; Ryan cursed a lot more and I became extremely interested in the many chipmunks and marmots we passed. Granted they were soooo cute, but normally I wouldn’t have been quite as interested.
The stark landscape was confusing; it was scalding hot with the sun beating down at that altitude, yet snow and ice covered parts of our path.
This section of the trail took us over 2 hours, yet covered only a bit over 2 miles of the 12.something mile hike. It was grueling. Our bodies were exhausted and depleted of oxygen, yet we continued moving upward. Each time I felt at a loss for motivation, I looked at the horizon (although this only worked until about 1/2 mile to the top; after that, it was simple need to reach the doughnuts and coffee awaiting us at the top).
The last half-mile was a more dangerous section of trail. Snow and ice obscured parts of the trail so we had to guess where to go based on footprints; sometimes this meant traversing an extremely slippery ledge above a precipice which, if we had been in our right minds, I’m not sure we would have attempted.
Yet we reached the top. 9 hours later, we climbed over the last few rocks to step onto the summit of Pikes Peak. I didn’t feel euphoric or anything; I’d felt more euphoric hiking, gazing at the quickly-changing clouds and the tops of pine trees. But it was warm and sitting down felt better than anything else in the world.
We got our doughnuts and they tasted beyond delicious. Emma and Forrest met us at the top to drive us down, so we wouldn’t have to hike the whole trail back. David and I were asleep within minutes of the car ride.
It was an incredible experience, hiking up a mountain like Pikes Peak. It was humbling to realize how much human endeavor it takes to reach the summit on foot. It was… something beyond beautiful… to see the people living at Barr Camp, to notice their communion with the mountain and to participate in that for a little while. Humans and nature are intertwined, I can feel it now more than ever.