Climbing a 14er: Pikes Peak Part One

Editor’s note: Today, Lisa Martinez continues her ongoing series about an amazing adventure through Colorado and to Pikes Peak. Lisa

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Colorado Road Trip Quick Stats:

Trip Day: 4; Pikes Peak Day 1!
Route: The MCM Elegante in Colorado Springs, to Manitou Springs Trailhead, to Barr Camp
Hiking departure time: 6:30 am
Steps: 26,368 (according to my Fitbit)

One should never start a hike on an empty stomach, so stop #1 was the McDonalds Drive-thru for breakfast burritos, and coffee for Mike.

Driving through Manitou Springs, before the sun had risen, the town was dark and quiet except for the hikers buzzing around trying to find parking. Even at 5:20 AM, the $5/day parking lot at the base of the trail was full.

We found parking below the trailhead, on account of a nice parking attendant. My husband drove back up to unload our gear and then park down by the Cog Rail Train for $20/day. #ouch

Around 6:30 am we finally started our hike up Barr Trail from the trailhead in Manitou Springs. Dressing in smart layers and getting an early start are core to hiking this type of Rocky Mountain trail. In the summer months, the bottom part of the trail can be brutally hot; yet the summit can be 40 degrees cooler, with possible winter weather year round. A cool morning start would help us to get higher before the heat and/or Thunderstorms of the day, and hopefully reach Barr Camp with time to unwind and prepare for the next day’s hike.

Trail veterans had coached us that the first 3 miles and the last 3 are the hardest ones of America’s Mountain. Our goal today was the 6.5-mile hike to Barr Camp, where we had reserved overnight accommodations. If you’re looking for a hardcore leg and glut workout, this first part of the hike gains 3,800 ft – with the elevation gain primarily over the first 3 miles of the trail.

Our first few hours of hiking were beautiful, and arduous. My lungs felt the effects of the elevation, and the steepness of the incline was felt pretty much everywhere else. With the Pikes Peak Marathon the following weekend, and the Incline’s upcoming closure for maintenance, the trail was very busy. A narrower trail, thankfully we found out early on that hikers going up have the right-of-way.

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We were a small group of motivated hikers, determined to not allow our physical challenges to create insurmountable obstacles: Joseph, who had dropped over 100 lbs to get a total hip replacement done just 5 months ago; Trish who dropped several dress sizes to make it to the top with her family this time; Mike, with a bad knee from a recent injury and foot issues; and me, with involuntary muscle spasms causing frequent Migraines and a long history of Asthma/Allergy. Simon, the 18-year old receiving this trip as his graduation present, was thankfully good to roll “as is.” So slow and steady, hydrating and high-energy snacking along the way, we continued to push forward.

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Here’s a cross section of trail-worthy snacks that Mike and I carried in our packs –from Pistachio-covered Figs to Beef Sticks.

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Approximately 11:00 am, we arrived at a nice rock sheltered area. Mike and I were ready to stop for lunch. We found a shaded area and pulled out our supplies to make PB&J sandwiches. Simon, Joseph, and Trish decided to continue hiking.

After lunch, we hiked on for a stretch. Mike’s legs had been badly cramping — so we stuck together, and took it at the pace that his lower extremities required. We caught up with the Kahlichs at times, or kept in touch with them via Walkie Talkie.

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Reaching a stretch that prompted us to get ready for an impending storm, we covered our packs and put on our rain gear. Saving me from rain on my wedding day, I interceded through my Mom to keep us dry and safe from the storm. Lightning kills many people on mountains every year. Mom pulled through once again, as at two points along the hike, the darkened skies and thunder never produced more than sprinkles.

By 3:10 pm, nearly 9 hours after we began, we had hiked only 5.5 miles – so still had another mile to go. I’d have thought that the proximity to camp would have given us a power boost, but trust me, it that was the toughest of the day.

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The last 1/2 mile to camp felt so much longer for everyone. The increased steepness and rockiness, interspersed with switchbacks, felt even more strenuous after hiking all day. I stayed with Mike almost the whole way, but the burning in my legs, the pack pulling down on my tired shoulders, the nagging ache in my lower back, and my feet that were getting harder to lift to make forward steps, all urged me to reach camp as soon as I could.

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I pushed forward and after seeing no signs of civilization for hours, the rustic camp looked like a Tropical Oasis. After arriving at camp, I couldn’t wait to get my pack off and sit down. I got there just in time, as the sprinkles started to pick up.

As I watched out for my husband to appear, I found the Kahlichs and we started recounting the last couple of miles. Joseph shared his own struggles, including the point that he thought he was going to pass out (read his account here). Yikes.

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Seeing Mike walk up to camp was a proud moment for me. Hiking the trail without physical impediments is challenging enough, but pushing through despite them takes grit. His decision to not hike the next day, due to his pain level and desire to not cause group delays, was truly selfless. I had waited 34 years to find my Husband, and am I ever so glad that I did.

Checked into our very simple cabin, most of us passed out. Dinner, water filtration, and the best cup of hot cocoa ensued.

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The highlight of the evening was the arrival of the Kahlich’s relatives from Austin, Julie & James Salazar and their 3 kids. When you’re tired and feel like the trail just came at you like a Spider Monkey, the enthusiasm, energy, and encouragement of others feels like aloe on raging sunburn.

It was an early night for our crew. With Mike and the Salazars riding the Cog Rail Train up the next day, we offloaded or non-essentials to them. Despite the long day, knowing that the other half of the mountain was waiting for me, it felt like I hardly fall asleep before it was 4:30 am and time to try and conquer it.

This post is part of my Colorado Road Trip series. Next up will be challenging finale of our Pikes Peak summit, so come back and join me to see if we all make it to the top!

Lisa Martinez

Lisa Martinez

About Lisa Martinez

A writer, artist, and silly-heart from her youth, Lisa Martinez utilizes a variety of mediums as outlets for creative storytelling, laced with humor whenever possible. Lisa attended Franciscan University, where she studied Writing, Mental Health, and Theology. In 2004, she discovered her passion for driving small business growth; now, with her husband, she owns a boutique digital agency, illuvint, based in Dallas and partnering with a world-class team across the States. Closed Doors Open Windows is where her personal blog lives on the web.

Copyright 2014 Lisa Martinez

About Lisa Martinez

A writer, artist, and silly-heart from her youth, Lisa Martinez utilizes a variety of mediums as outlets for creative storytelling, laced with humor whenever possible. Lisa attended Franciscan University, where she studied Writing, Mental Health, and Theology. In 2004, she discovered her passion for driving small business growth; now, with her husband, she owns a boutique digital agency, illuvint, based in Dallas and partnering with a world-class team across the States. Closed Doors Open Windows is where her personal blog lives on the web.