Friday, July 26, 2013

Pikes Peak

Several years ago, a couple of my nephews and one of their fiances hiked to the top of Pikes Peak, and I've wanted to do the trip myself. Since then, I've become an ultrarunner and was interested in doing the Pikes Peak marathon. Being in the best shape of my life, I decided that this year would be the year that I would try the trail since I was going to be in the area for a family reunion.

Initially, I was going to just do the ascent and ride the Cog Railway back down. Then, I decided that I really wanted an up/down adventure and was going to do the Crags Campground route since it's shorter. In the end, I ascended and descended on Barr Trail, 24 miles round trip.

I'm a flatlander living in Omaha. I run a lot, and am just coming off a 72 hour event 2 months ago, and a 50 mile trail race last month, so a 24 mile run is not a big deal for me. However, I don't have steep hills to train on, and really didn't have a chance to do much stair climbing leading up to this.

I arrived at the Hydro Street parking lot around 415 am on a Friday morning. There was already a very large group (about 30 young men) that had been dropped off, and as soon as I pulled in, another group of about 12 cars pulled in. It was a nice crisp clear morning, lots of moonlight, very little wind, temperature of 55 degrees. I paid the $5 parking fee and was ready to go around 4:35. I wore a tech shirt, a pair of running shorts, Hoka Bondi B shoes, wore a Camelbak marathoner hydration vest, had a hat, a headlamp, sunglasses, and trekking poles. For water, I had 70oz in the Camelbak, and also carried two 16oz bottles of water. I carried 4 Hammer gels, 4 Clif Bars, and 4 Honey Stinger waffles.

And so it begins. I was immediately behind the group of young men, and was able to pass when I could. I was power hiking the switchbacks, and the guys were generally walking slower. Up and up I went, actually not having a lot of problems. Yes, my heart rate was up, but I made a point to never allow myself to get into oxygen debt and said that I would slow down if needed. Stopped for a couple of pics of the city below at mile 1 and 2. By about mile 2.5, I saw my first view of the actual peak. It was pretty cool, and good motivation of where I'd be in a few hours. Once I got out of the switchbacks, I was able to run most of the way up to Barr Camp, arriving there in 2 hours and 4 minutes. I stopped to snap a picture and to let my wife and family know I was OK, and continued on, really only resting at Barr Camp for about 5 minutes.

Shortly after Barr Camp, the climb got noticeably harder for me, and I was starting to get just a little dizzy. At that point, I slowed down just a bit and stopped running, and also changed my breathing to deeper longer breaths trying to maximize oxygen intake. And I continued up. Hitting the A frame shelter at treeline about one hour 5 minutes after Barr Camp. At this point, when I looked up toward the peak, or down the mountain, a little bit of vertigo would set it, but as long as looked ahead of down on the trail in front of me, I was OK.

A Frame to summit took one hour and 39 minutes, and I hit the summit at 4 hours and 49 minutes since I began, with virtually no running after Barr Camp. The Cog train had arrived about 15 minutes prior to my arrival. I hit the summit feeling pretty good, no major aches or pains. As I climbed the 16 golden stairs, I did drain the 70 oz Cambelback, but had not touched either of the water bottles. On the ascent, I had 1 gel, 2 Clif bars, and 1 waffle. Up on top, it was a beautiful day. Winds were less than 10 mph, it was still sunny, and maybe 45 degrees, not sure, never did see a thermometer.

I spent only 20 minutes on the top. Long enough to get the obligatory summit picture in front of the sign, emptied my 2 water bottles into my Camelbak, refilled the water bottles from the tap in the bathroom. I thought about getting a donut, but they looked really bad, kind of rancid actually, and I decided it wasn't a smart choice. When I walked back outside, the chilled air made me feel a little nauseous. I sat down, quickly ate a gel, and emptied my shoes since they had a couple of small rocks. Also, I noticed that clouds were quickly swirling up the east side of the peak, it was like someone flipped a switch. I saw that and decided to immediately begin to head back down.

The descent back below tree line wasn't that bad. I was moving along, and running when I could once I got past the boulders. I noticed that I was stumbling over the small rocks though, almost tripped a couple of times, and really decided to just slow down a bit. The lack of oxygen was getting to me, and I was worried about being caught above tree line with the developing clouds. Once I hit the tree line A frame shelter, the stumbling became a little more pronounced with the increased number of roots. I had also stopped once to clean out my shoes again before hitting the A Frame, and immediately my thighs and hamstrings started to cramp. As long as I was moving, I was OK, but if I stopped, my legs would start to cramp again. By the time I hit Barr Camp, I had turned both ankles a few times, nothing serious thankfully, but enough to make me say a few more swear words outloud and to be very thankful that nothing was hurt. By this time, there were also significantly more people coming up the trail, which I always pulled off to the side to let them pass. Coming down, I had another waffle, a Clif bar and one more gel I did not really stop at all on the rest of the descent, just kept moving, occasionally turning my ankles all the way down though. Any one of those could have been serious, but I got lucky every time.

I arrived back at the parking lot about 8 hours and 32 minutes after I had started. Ascent time was 4:49, 20 minutes on top, and descent time of 3:23. Felt pretty good when I was done. Was partly sunny and hot when I finished, about 80 degrees, and could not see the peak since it was obscured with clouds. Overall was tired, but not completely bagged at all. No blisters (I taped my feet and used Blistershield in my socks). No chafing. And overall just pleased with the day.

I did use Black Diamond trekking poles, which I thought helped immensely. They helped push me up the mountain on the ascent, and really helped me from completely falling on the descent. I had though about doing the actual race next year, but you can't use poles in the race. I'm not sure I would want to do this ascent/descent without the poles.

24 miles. 15000' elevation ascent and descent, a flatlander with no specific hill training. Fun stuff!

                          Ascent     Descent
Trailhead to Barr Camp   2:04:19     1:32:15
Barr Camp to A Frame     1:05:38     0:46:45
A Frame to Summit        1:39:23     1:04:33
Time on Summit                 0:19:51

Totals                   5:09:11     3:23:33 8:32:44

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