Ascending Pike’s Peak (part 3)

September 18, 2009

Adventures, Family, Travel

Unfortunately, I do not have many pictures of this final part of our adventure. What was an exciting adventure up to this point morphed into a mission to be accomplished. Although the skies over Colorado Springs were fairly clear, there were dark clouds building on the peak. The summit and at least the final 500 feet of elevation were completely hidden from view.

We recognized that our window of opportunity was quickly closing. Afternoon thunderstorms are frequent in the Rockies and a thunderstorm WILL end your quest to summit. Lightning is the leading cause for death in the Colorado Rockies. We continued to push on toward the summit. As we advanced higher into the 13,000 foot rang, our visibility got less and less. Our route kept us anywhere from 50 to 200 feet from the road leading up to the summit. It was getting foggy enough that we could hear the cars, but no really see them as they passed. Since our line of site was getting pretty limited, we had to focus on following the cairns (small stacks of rocks left by previous hikers to show the way) to keep us on the right path. We started to hear the rumble of thunder all around us (probably because we were actually in the middle of the storm cloud by now).

Ever since we crossed the road, we would feel the occasional rain drop. Once in the middle of the cloud, we started to see a little more raindrops mixed in with some sleet/hail. At this time we put on rain jackets/ponchos to keep us dry. It was already cold, so there was no sense in being cold and wet. As soon as we were all covered up and we started moving again, the hail began coming down hard. Pea-sized to marble-sized hail came down for the next 5-10 minutes. When it was light, we continued walking but when it got heavy, we stood motionless waiting for it to subside. The little pellets were somewhat soft but it did sting a little when one hit you in the face. Dad continued to talk to Shayla every 10-15 minutes letting her know that we were okay and that we were still coming.

Not too much longer after the ridiculous barrage of ice, visibility shrank to about 30-50 feet. Walt had disappeared in the lead. Sara was in front of me and dad behind me. Eventually Walt came walking back to let us know that the trail was coming along side the road once again. We huddled together for just a minute to decide the future of our hike. Because we were so close to the road, Shayla could drive down and pick us up. After many attempts to get Shayla on the radio (reception had gotten really bad due to the weather) she finally connected and she confirmed that she was coming down.

Sara and Walt in the storm

White Out!

What we didn’t know was that the rangers were in the process of clearing the parking lot on the peak. The weather was getting to dangerous and it was best for everyone to get down off the summit. Shayla told the rangers that she was waiting for four hikers. The ranger seemed concerned. Another ranger confirmed that he had seen us recently where the pavement ended on the road. The first ranger perked up and explained that we were still too far away to make it to the top in a reasonable amount of time and that we needed to get off the mountain. Shayla was beginning to panic. The fog was so bad, she was glad that we were hiking up to be able to drive down. Now that we weren’t going to be able to make it up, she had to drive down the steep mountain road where visibility was only a dozen or so feet in front of you. In addition, she got Dad’s last transmission about her coming to pick us up on the road, but she didn’t really know why. She started to think that maybe one of us was injured. To make things worse, as she got to the road, it had been closed until a scraper truck could come through and clear the ice from the road. Shayla couldn’t get us on the radio again and was concerned that we would be waiting on the road wondering why she wasn’t coming. Later, Shayla would reveal how scared she was. Although is was a pretty crazy situation we found ourselves in (13,300 feet in a storm), Shayla was all alone without complete information and a reliable way to communicate.

In the meantime, us hikers moved to the road. As we began walking up the road, we witnessed a biker on his cruiser wipe out on the wet road. We rushed over to help him pick his bike up again and send him on his way. We continued to walk up the road and no more vehicles were coming down. 10 to 15 minutes passed by and no one had come. There was probably a mile of road between us and the summit, but it should have taken that long for Shayla to get to us. We just continued to walk.

Walt and Dad on the road

Sara on the road

Eventually, we saw the flashing lights of the ranger’s truck with a caravan of cars behind him, including Shayla! We dumped all of our bags and gear into the back and jumped in the Envoy. Only 5-10 minutes into the descent and we were out of the cloud and conditions were clear again. We could see off to the distance many other peaks that were now covered in white, likely the hail that we experience just above.

Snow from our storm

Snow from our storm

While driving down, we replenished our energy on trail mix, beef jerky, sandwiches and fruit. It took about 90 minutes to get back down the mountain and back to the Crags campground to pick up my car at the trail head. After getting my car, it would take an additional 60-75 minutes to get back home. We were beat!

It was a fantastic adventure! We were all disappointed that we didn’t make it to the summit. We were probably a mile away with about 700 more feet of elevation to go. It probably would have taken us another 60 to 90 minutes to summit. Although we were disappointed, we don’t regret our decision to abandon the hike. Conditions were getting bad and our safety and lives were in jeopardy. It wasn’t worth that kind of risk.

So, I think everyone had fun. It wasn’t easy and it was an adventure. I think that all of us would like to do it again. We really just needed a little more time. Next time we just need to get a little earlier start and us flat-landers need to be a little better prepared for the altitude!



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One Response to “Ascending Pike’s Peak (part 3)”

  1. JD Stevens Says:

    Wow, what an adventure. I am glad to see that you made it down unharmed from the storm.


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