September 20th – Pike’s Peak 2.0

     All week, I’ve had the idea of hiking Pike’s Peak in the back of my mind. I have already hiked one mountain on this trip (Buck Mountain), so why not make it two? That’s a great idea! 

     I knew this would be a serious hike though. It is a thirteen mile hike up Barr Trail to the top of Pike’s Peak and a thirteen mile hike back. That’s three miles less than what I did at Buck Mountain, but I would be gaining seventy-three hundred feet of elevation instead of thirty-five hundred. It would also be colder; the air would be forty degrees instead of sixty-five.

     So last night, I made sure that everything was in order. Lou generously lent me a Camelbak so that I would have a real hiking backpack instead of the bulky school backpack I lugged up Buck Mountain. He also lent me a set of two-layer gloves. The black outside layer had special fingerpads so that I could use my phone while wearing them. The white inside layer had silver in the weave to help retain heat.

     Into the Camelbak, I stuffed Cliff Bars, trail mix, a bagelwich, sunglasses, an extra shirt, and the gloves. I used the straps on the bottom to hold my windbreaker.

     I set all of this out last night (except the bagelwich, which I left in the fridge) and went to bed early so I’d be rested up for the big hike. I wanted to get going as early as possible. I’d found free parking in Manitou Springs several miles away from the trailhead. A shuttle goes between the parking and the trailhead once every twenty minutes from 6:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. I wanted to get on the first shuttle of the day so I’d have plenty of time to finish my hike and be back before the last shuttle left.

     I slept peacefully, knowing that the preparation and planning were taken care of. All I had to do this morning was wake up and go. There turned out to be a slight problem with that though; I slept an hour past the alarm I set for 5:00 A.M.  Oops! I jumped out of bed, picked up my pack, grabbed my bagelwich from the fridge, and rushed out the front door. I made it to Manitou Springs by 6:40 A.M., in time to catch the third shuttle. Not a perfect start to the day, but not a complete failure either. There would still be thirteen hours for me to finish the hike.

     I had five fellow hikers for company on the shuttle. One was a middle-aged man, here for his annual hike up the mountain. He had a ticket for the COG rail so that he wouldn’t have to hike back down. The other four were together – two guy friends and their girlfriends. They hoped to make it up and back today like I did.  

     I stepped onto Barr trail at 7:02 A.M., after a short walk from the shuttle stop. The trail started out tough – two miles of switchbacks and semi-steep climbing. My sleepy brain wondered if I really wanted to do this thing. Yes, I did. 

     The gloves Lou let me borrow were a lifesaver. I hiked for five minutes without them and my hands started to feel like swollen pincushions. I pulled the gloves out of my backpack and put them on. My hands felt a little better immediately and after several minutes they were perfectly normal.

     The hike up was long, and not as scenic as Buck mountain had been. Green trees and brown rocks are nice (I suppose), but after staring at them for a few hours, they became extremely boring. I started to wish for a change. The landscape must have heard my wish. I passed the treeline and all the green disappeared so that I was left  I was left with brown all around. Be careful what you wish for…

     With four miles to go, I stopped for a bagelwich lunch. Several birds joined me. One of them seemed especially interested in me. I held out a little piece of bagel and the bird hopped up onto my leg, flew away, then came back and snatched the bread out of my fingers.

     As my journey continued, another creature joined me. I wasn’t sure what it was – it looked like a beaver and a squirrel put together.

     At about twelve thousand feet, the view improved dramatically. I was high enough to see all around, and I found that brown rocks really can be picturesque with the proper background. I passed a hiker who was on his way down and we took pictures of each other.

     At one point, I looked back over the last bit of the trail I had followed. From where I stood, it was faintly visible on the mountainside as a sweeping curve headed toward the far ridge, a series of switchbacks zig-zagging down that ridge, and a long straight line moving away from the ridge again.

     The last two miles stretched on interminably. I stepped off the trail at 1:02 P.M., exactly six hours after I started the hike. As I reached the top, I was glad to just be done. In the big picture, I was only halfway done; I still had to go down. But I didn’t let myself think about that. I let myself enjoy the feeling of being done and of surviving

     I walked through the doors of the Summit House and saw, to my relief, that there were two water fountains waiting just for me.  I still had water in my Camelbak, but I was trying to drink it sparingly. At the water fountains, I could drink as much as I wanted. Except for one tiny problem. They didn’t work. Argh! Who puts water fountains at the end of a thirteen-mile trail without any water in them? Cruel people, that’s who. People who laugh at the suffering of parched hikers like me!

     So much for quenching my thirst. I decided to just drink a little more from my Camelbak, buy a hot chocolate, sit down, and eat some of the trail mix I’d brought with me.

     A few minutes after I sat down, a middle-aged man walked by my table. He had a Nikkon camera with him and he looked familiar. Suddenly, I remembered why.

     “Hi sir!” I said. “We were at the Molly Kathleen mine together yesterday!”

     “Oh yeah!” He replied. “What a coincidence! It’s good to see you again. Did you hike up the mountain?”

     I told him that I had indeed hiked up the mountain, and we chatted for a couple minutes. He told me that he took the COG rail and was there with two friends. As we talked, I showed him a few pictures I had taken. Finally, I came to the mystery animal that I had seen; the beaver-squirrel.

     “Hey, I saw this animal on the trail today. Do you know what it is?”

     “Sure, that’s a marmot.”

     Instantly, my mind flashed back to the scene where I met this man yesterday and I started to laugh at myself.

     Yesterday, Marie took us to the Visitor’s Center at the Molly Kathleen mine, where we learned that the mine itself was closed. It was here that I met the man. I was standing in front of an exhibit that showed animals commonly seen in the Rocky Mountains. There were pictures of eight animals. I was able to identify seven of the eight, but the last one gave me trouble.

     I wondered aloud, “What is that last animal?”

     A man behind me spoke up. “That’s a marmot.”

     I turned around to see a middle-aged man carrying a Nikkon camera.

     I said, “Thanks!” and walked to the next exhibit.

     I talked with the man at a couple other exhibits in the Visitor’s Center and, at the time, forgot all about that first conversation – until today, when I asked the very same man the very same question. Thankfully, while we were talking today he did not seem to remember that particular conversation from yesterday.

     After this man left to get back on the COG rail and go down the mountain, I wasn’t quite ready to resume my hike. I stayed in my seat and looked for more people to talk with. I ended up meeting a real, live knight and dame! Their names were Bill and Eileen, and they were part of the Order of Malta – the oldest surviving chivalric order (begun in the eleventh century), whose motto is, “Defence of the Catholic Faith and assistance to the poor.” Bill is a retired Air Force pilot. We chatted until they had to catch their ride down the mountain.

     Now that two groups had left in the time that I was sitting, I decided that I should get moving too. I made sure everything was stuffed back into my pack, put on my gloves, and walked out the back door of the Summit House.

     Before I got back onto Barr Trail, I was arrested by a thought. Wouldn’t it be cool to do pushups fourteen thousand feet above sea level? I decided to find out. 

     After doing twenty-five, I came to the conclusion that pushups feel exactly the same at sea level as they are on top a mountain. But I had gotten a start on the two hundred pushups I had scheduled for the day, so it was a good experiment.

     I stepped back onto Barr Trail at 2:02 P.M., which meant I had a little less than six hours to make it down before the last shuttle departed. And I did make it. I stopped at several places to do the remaining hundred seventy-five pushups over the next three hours, and had a mostly unremarkable hike down the rest of the way. I did see an F-16 fly quite close overhead. And I narrowly escaped being run over by mountain bikers who were zipping down the trail. And managed to get lost for twenty minutes. But my mind was focused on getting down and finding somewhere to sit down, so I barely noticed those things. Finally, I finished. I walked off the trail at 7:01 P.M., eleven hours and fifty-nine minutes after I started.

     I got to the shuttle stop before 7:20 P.M. and called home while I waited for it to arrive. The shuttle dropped me off at my car, I drove back to The Mansion and freshened up, and then I went out with Lou and Valli to enjoy a wonderful Mongolian Barbeque dinner. When we returned to The Mansion, I went straight to bed and enjoyed a glorious night’s sleep.

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