Climbing Colorado's Fourteeners
|Routes up Pikes Peak range widely in difficulty|
- Class 1 (a classic route)
From Manitou Springs Trailhead:
25.8 miles, 7,400 feet
- This is the easiest hiking route on Pikes' east side. From the Manitou Springs Trailhead at 6,700 feet, follow the Barr Trail as it winds up Pikes' eastern slopes for 12.9 miles to the summit. The elevation gain is a brutal 7,400 vertical feet, Colorado's greatest vertical rise. The excellent trail breaks naturally into four segments, each with its own personality and challenges.
The first trail segment takes you up the east slopes of Rocky Mountain and Mount Manitou. You meet their challenge immediately above the trailhead as the trail switchbacks steeply up these east slopes. The trail distance and elevation are marked with large metal signs with holes for the letters. The first sign reads"Peak 12 MI, Elev. 7,200." These signs were placed a long time ago and you should only use the information as a general guide, because both distance and elevation are often wrong. The first sign is no exception, especially when compared with the sign at the trailhead.
After the first set of switchbacks, the trail flattens out and passes through a natural rock arch. Beyond the arch you will learn the law of the Barr Trail: Every flat section is quickly followed by a steep section. Beyond the arch, climb steeply through two switchbacks and continue straight at the junction with the trail leading north to the top of the old Mount Manitou incline cog railway. The trail descends briefly, then climbs to cross No Name Creek at 8,720 feet. A sign here reads"Pikes Peak Summit 9.5, Barr Camp 3.5."
The second trail segment takes you to Barr Camp. After a set of switchbacks, the trail flattens and occasionally descends as it rolls along through a Hansel and Grettle forest toward your still distant goal. This is the easiest stretch of the Barr Trail. Enjoy it. Pass a sign that reads "Pikes Peak Summit 7.5, Top of Incline 2.5" and continue to another sign that reads "Barr Trail Elev. 9,800', Barr Camp .5, Pikes Peak Summit 6.5, Manitou Springs 6.5." Continue straight at the trail junction near this sign. The trail heading south goes 1.5 miles to the Mountain View Station on the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway. See Variation 4.1V1 for details on this trail.
Halfway into your ascent in both distance and elevation gain, the trail reaches Barr Camp at 10,200 feet. It is hidden in the trees just north of the trail and is operated under permit from the Forest Service. Constructed in 1921 by Fred Barr, the designer and builder of the Barr Trail, Barr Camp offers many amenities for weary hikers. There are two cabins, an A-frame and two lean-to shelters for overnight stays. You might consider spending a night at Barr Camp to cut Pikes Peak down to size.
A bunk in the main cabin costs $10 per night, and the upper cabin, which sleeps 10, costs $75 per night. The A-frame, which sleeps 4, costs $10 per night. Tent camping is free. The cabins have propane cookstoves, mattresses, a fireplace, picnic tables and even a well-stocked library. There is filtered drinking water here, which any hiker can access. You can buy an all-you-can-eat breakfast for $5 and dinner for $7. Bring your own lunch. You can buy T-shirts, sodas and candy. Donations are appreciated. If Pikes Peak is not providing enough exercise, you can play horseshoes, badminton and volleyball. You can reserve the A-frame, lean-to shelters and upper cabin. The 20 bunks in the main cabin are rented on a first-come, first-served basis. Groups of 5 or more should always notify Barr Camp in advance. Refreshed by your stop at Barr Camp, you can return to the task of climbing Pikes Peak.
The third trail segment takes you to tree line. Immediately beyond Barr Camp, continue straight at the junction with the Elk Park Trail, which goes north and west for 4.5 miles to the Elk Park Trailhead at mile 14 on the toll road. See Variation 4.1V2 for details on this trail. Pass a helicopter landing pad 200 yards beyond Barr Camp, east of the trail. Above Barr Camp, the trail finally climbs in earnest again and passes close to Cabin Creek before climbing northwest to the junction with the Bottomless Pit Trail at 10,840 feet. The sign here reads "Pikes Peak Summit 4.8, Bottomless Pit 2.4." Do not continue straight here but switchback to the south before the rock in front of the sign.
From the switchback, climb steadily southwest for 0.6 mile, then negotiate 15 switchbacks up to the A-frame shelter near tree line at 11,900 feet. Look for a sign that reads "Timberline shelter, Pike National Forest." From this sign, the A-frame shelter is down to your left. The sturdy shelter can provide a welcome respite, especially in bad weather.
The fourth trail segment takes you to the summit. Two short switchbacks above the A-frame is a sign that reads "Barr Trail Elev 11,500', Pikes Peak Summit 3." The elevation is wrong on this sign. It is closer to 11,950 feet. As you approach tree line, you go through a grotesque dead forest that burned in 1910. Above the trees, Pikes' upper east face, and your final challenge, sweeps up in a singular slope.
A mind-numbing 23 switchbacks above the A-frame shelter near tree line is a sign that reads "Barr Trail Elev 12,700', Pikes Peak Summit 2." These are encouraging numbers, but you may be too tired to appreciate them. A 0.7-mile ascending traverse takes you from the north edge of the east face to some teethlike notches on the south edge, where you can peer south into Pikes' southern cirque. The trail switchbacks near the cirque's edge, past a sign that reads "Peak 1 Mi, Elev 13,300." You must be close; the sign writers no longer felt the need to remind you that the peak you are climbing is Pikes.
The trail has some rough spots as it strains for the summit, where you can see tourists watching you. Your final challenge is the 16 Golden Stairs. A Golden Stair is a switchback pair, so you have 32 switchbacks to go. Six switchbacks below the summit is a memorial plaque to Fred Barr, who constructed this amazing trail between 1914 and 1918.
At the summit, you enter another universe. You will join many people who reached this point by road or rail. As you explore the summit and, perhaps, buy refreshments in the cafeteria, you can rest with the knowledge that you have climbed Pikes Peak. Purists will seek out the mountain's high point, which is a lump west of the summit house. Remember that, from this ubiquitous summit, you can see from sea to shining sea. All you have to do is ignore the crowds and look beyond the horizon.
Variation One: Buy a halfway ticket on the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway for $7 and get off at the Mountain View Station at 10,000 feet. Follow a trail north for 1.5 miles and join the Barr Trail at 9,820 feet. Barr Camp is 0.6 mile west of this junction. This approach greatly reduces the effort needed to reach Barr Camp, but be aware that you cannot reboard the train at Mountain View or at the summit.
Variation Two: This variation provides you with some interesting options. Start at the Elk Park Trailhead and descend southeast on the Elk Park Trail for 1.3 miles to a trail junction at 11,150 feet. Turn east (left) at this junction, cross French Creek's North Fork and continue east then southeast on a long contour at 10,700 feet. Descend to cross French Creek's South Fork at 10,200 feet and contour south to join the Barr Trail just west of Barr Camp. It is 4.5 miles from the Elk Park Trailhead to Barr Camp.
Extra Credit: If climbing Pikes Peak is not enough for you, leave the Barr Trail at No Name Creek at 8,720 feet and hike north for 0.3 mile on a trail to Rocky Mountain's 9,250-foot summit. To complete your day, continue northwest for an additional 0.6 mile to Mount Manitou's 9,429-foot summit.
If hiking up the Barr Trail leaves you fresh, run the Pikes Peak Marathon. The famous race is one of America's premier mountain runs. The race, held in mid-August each year, starts and finishes in Manitou Springs, which increases the mileage to 26.2 miles and the elevation gain to 7,800 feet. To reduce congestion on the trail, there are now two races. The ascent is held on Saturday and the round-trip marathon on Sunday. In recent years, more than 2,000 people have been finishing the two races, with the ascent being more than twice as popular as the grueling marathon. A few souls do the two races on successive days.
The male ascent record is 2 hours, 1 minute, 6 seconds, set by 29-year-old Matt Carpenter in 1993. He set this astonishing time en route to his round-trip marathon record of 3 hours, 16 minutes, 39 seconds. The female ascent record is 2 hours, 33 minutes, 31 seconds, set by 24-year-old Lynn Bjorklund in 1981 en route to her round-trip marathon record of 4 hours, 15 minutes, 18 seconds. There are records for each 5-year age group for ages 16 to 89..
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication