Colorado would make an ideal training venue for the short seven weeks prior to departing for Mount Everest, the rockies reaching up above 14,000 feet whilst offering limitless opportunities for winter hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and fatbiking. With equipment to cater for all on offer we headed the 1200 miles from Kentucky to Denver, then on to Monument before arriving at our base just outside of Winter Park. Our primary goal was try and increase our 14er count, currently standing at 13 official peaks out of the 53 throughout the state. If Andrea and I could add another half dozen without me getting injured then it would be mission accomplished – a bit of cross country skiing and fatbiking thrown into the agenda would mix things up perfectly.
Looking back along Quandary’s summit ridge on an extremely cold winter day

The first objective, and definitely one of Colorado’s easiest big summits, had to be 14,410 ft Pikes Peak. Pretty straight forward in winter, and if we really felt lazy there was always the road up to the top! Our decision was to stay at Barr Camp sitting 3,500 vertical feet up from the small hip town of Manitou Springs – they offer a bunk house with mattress and breakfast for $33 per person and for another ten bucks even throw in an excellent spaghetti dinner.

For this summit we were joined by an ultra running friend who recently moved to Colorado, Pikes Peak being in his backyard almost. We were not going to be equalling his sub 6 hour 25 mile roundtrip time on this occasion! For the hike up to Barr Camp we could take one of 2 different routes; either a meandering 6+ mile scenic trail or a much more direct path known as the Incline Trail. This popular but extremely steep old cable car trail has wooden trestles all the way up its 45-68% incline and at 0.85 miles to ascend almost 2,000 ft is a pretty intense workout. Throw in 30lb backpacks and it would be a tough start to our day. We obviously chose the Incline.

Standing on the top trestle in 41 minutes was not too shabby, closely followed by Andrea coming in an impressive ten minutes later. We were glad that part was all over. From there on up to the Barr Camp was a further 4 miles of fun hiking through Pike National Forest.

Heading back down to Barr Camp
Team Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak upper reaches

Barr Cabin is the perfect place to spend a night in a Colorado forest; rustic, with a burning stove and fun caretakers. The sleeping area was a little colder but with thick mattresses and our decent sleeping bags the night was a cosy one. Dinner was the usual spaghetti with some pretty tasty garlic bread, both home made and providing good carb loading for the day ahead. We had no intention of leaving before light and hopefully calmer winds – the temps were supposedly going to be hovering around -38°F with windchill on the summit!

With approx 3,500 ft of elevation tagged on day 1 this second day would see another 3,900 ft (ish), the higher starting elevation ensuring this would take a little more effort. We also had to cover the entire 7,400 ft descent in one push – Andrea’s knees were probably not going to be happy about that! The beginning of the trail through the trees was definitely on the chilly side but as soon as we made it above tree-line the Colorado sunshine appeared and temperatures improved drastically. Trail finding became a bit sketchy in the mile or so before reaching the switchbacks but with the ultimate goal being obvious there were little chances of becoming lost, although throw in some low cloud and things could be entirely different.

Perfect place to spend the night prior to summiting Pikes Peak

Before long another 14er summit falls prey to this intrepid duo bringing the total to fourteen, this one being the only so far in the dead of winter. The brisk conditions were not going to deter us from making this a habit, the lack of crowds and peacefulness of the Rockies this time of year far outweighing the potentially risky mountain environment! It was hard to believe it until we crossed the railway tracks and actually reached the tacky signage indicating the summit of America’s Mountain that we had hiked such a significant peak the hard way, most people choosing to either drive the road or take the cog railway – until you’re almost at the top you wouldn’t even realize that these other options even existed. It was nice that on this day the railway was under repair and the road was closed – other than a security vehicle making its rounds we were the only people on the top, and throughout the day we saw only one other person hiking. The return hike was long but uneventful.

Quandary (again and again)
Following up from Pikes Peak the hope was to tag another half dozen 14ers over the next 7 weeks, a nice build up to Everest. Whilst this was probably not over optimistic the idea that we would just be able to drive our Subaru up to any summer trailhead would turn out to be out of the question. All were under a boat load of snow with Colorado having regular dumpings! Quandary was the one peak that I knew would be accessible but this had been done before. Although over 2 hours from our base close to Winter Park it would turn out to be an ideal training hike.

The drive to Quandary

Prepared for the cold

Conditions up high

FWIW, banging out the Incline Trail a few days after Pikes Peak in 28:30, minus backpack, is still very beatable!

Barr Camp: Cost: $43 pp inc breakfast and dinner

Feb 9th – Feb 10th 2019


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