You know when you become attached to a goal that you just can’t shake? When, no matter how arbitrary the goal, you come to the conclusion that you won’t be a complete person until you attain it? That was me when I decided to make this the Summer of the Summit.
My original plan, if you remember my post from a month ago, was to hike to the top of Mt. Yale for my birthday. That didn’t quite work. But, in accordance with that stubborn goal unshake-ability, I couldn’t just shrug and say, “Oh well. Fourteeners are hard.” I wanted to try another mountain.
My sister, a.k.a. Sacajawea, suggested Pikes Peak. It would be a long hike to the summit, approximately 13 miles, but she firmly believed we could do it. I had never visited that part of Colorado, so the idea sounded good to me.
A little research assured us that it was safe to do the hike (Pikes Peak’s base town is Manitou Springs, which got evacuated during the Waldo Canyon wildfire). We picked a date: Sunday, July 15. But then we had to worry about rain. Colorado and New Mexico are currently actually seeing sprouts of a monsoon season, which is fabulous, but increases the likelihood of afternoon thunderstorms on high peaks. We closely monitored the Pikes Peak forecast (thank you, www.14ers.com!), and wavered a little, but ultimately the chance of storms dipped low enough to satisfy our nerves. Game on!
We drove to Manitou Springs, a cool little town bustling with tourists, on Saturday afternoon. We saw big signs thanking firefighters – hard to believe the town was totally empty just weeks ago. After checking in at a motel [we nixed camping due to sparse campgrounds, the possibility of late rain, and the O-dark-hundred hour we would be waking up the next morning], we drove around Garden of the Gods, making mental notes to return for a longer visit. Then we scarfed calzones at Savelli’s and turned in for the evening.
We got up at 4 a.m. on Sunday, breakfasted on Clif Bars, and scooted off from the trailhead just after 5. We had brought headlamps, but didn’t need them – the gray pre-dawn light provided ample visibility. Ready, set, hike!
There were tons of people on the trail, of all ages. Everyone went at their own pace, from the “keep ‘er steady” hikers like us, to nutty – er, admirable – runners trotting back and forth. We leap-frogged with a group who started around the same time as us, which became pretty amusing. You’d think that a lot of trail traffic would get annoying, but it really didn’t. Everyone was friendly. We all followed the rule of “if someone is coming up behind you, move aside, let them pass, and enjoy a little micro-break for yourself” and it worked beautifully. People encouraged each other. Maybe it was the weather, which stayed magnificent the entire day and never even hinted at rain, or maybe it was collective gratitude that the wildfire had spared the trail, but it just felt good out there.
Not to say that it was easy. Breathing at 14,000+ feet requires extra effort no matter how you slice it, and it’s not like the trail got flatter towards the top. Frankly, I relished those micro-breaks when people passed us. But we pressed on, thankfully without the high winds we experienced on Mt. Yale. We saw a pika (sort of a chipmunk/prairie dog hybrid); we leap-frogged a couple more times with our buddy group; we caught a glimpse of Pikes Peak’s famous Cog Railway starting its descent; and then, six hours after starting…we were THERE!
My first fourteener summit was everything I thought it would be. I gave a victorious shout of some sort and hugged my sister, and we took obligatory pictures at the “trail’s end” sign. Then we trooped inside the Summit House/ Visitors’ Center, where we were greeted by an unmistakable, heavenly aroma. I was mildly concerned that I was hallucinating, but sure enough…they sell donuts at the summit of Pikes Peak. And after a 13-mile uphill hike, yes, they are the best *&$# donuts IN THE WORLD.
We ate our packed lunches, bought a Pikes Peak magnet, and soaked up the views that inspired Ms. Katharine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful.” The Cog Railway returned us to civilization, where we shuffled back to the car, got gas for its tank and large coffees for ours, and drove back to Alamosa. We walked to a local brewpub for dinner, where we ate like tired but happy zombies.
I ordered a celebratory beer to go with my burger, and couldn’t even finish it – and didn’t mind one bit.