The girls planned this event 8 months ago. The goal: to hike to the top of the Manitou Incline wearing onesies. Me, being their leader and knowing they weren’t referring to outfits they wore as infants, had to look up what onesies were (pajama-like costumes that are all one piece). This sounded fun to me so we worked on setting up a date. We settled on the first week in December because we thought the weather would be cooler, there’d be less people climbing, and because band and cheerleading would be over so more girls could attend. They all met at my house and we carpooled to the free shuttle lot. Side note: they all drive now, which is weird since I’ve known them all since they were 5.
I’ve never used the shuttle before but it sounded like fun to go with a group and it would save us $20 in parking fees so I was all onboard with this idea. Once the shuttle arrived we had to wait a while for it to take us to the incline (it only goes every 20 minutes) so we talked about our strategy and goals for the climb.
I’d shown them a video last week about hiking the incline and they were all excited to try it themselves.
When we finally arrived we walked up to the start of the incline (one of the harder parts of the hike, actually) and the girls put on their microspikes. I wasn’t 100% sure they were needed, but it’s better to be safe than sorry and the troop owned enough pairs so everyone wore them. I took a selfie with the girls and we were off!
We started out at a moderate pace
But after the first 200 steps or so they all needed a break and two of them were having a hard time breathing. Not gonna lie, I got a little worried at this point. When I hike the Incline I don’t take breaks. Well, today we took a lot of breaks. And I mean a lot. Every 100 steps or so we stopped.
Soon the girls had tied the arms of the onesies around their waist (who’s idea was it to wear felt on this thing?) and we stopped at the Christmas Tree (the halfway point) for an extended rest.
We were glad we’d chosen to hike in December: Yes, the weather was cooler (this would not have been fun in onesies in the sun) and there were less people than normal.
And more resting…
But to be fair, their rests were short and they all kept going. One of my girls had her Tourettes start acting up and she had a hard time seeing due to the ticks but she never complained. They were all tired but no one wanted to quit. I’m proud of them for that! The microspikes ended up coming in handy after the bailout spot, when the trail got icy for a bit.
The girls stayed pretty much together, only being separated by a few feet or so for most of the hike, with Kimberly powering on ahead as we neared the summit. Finally, after an hour and a half of hiking, the girls made it to the summit!
Jules got out the Fun Dip and the girls rested for a bit while I got out the hot chocolate and apple cider. We ended up only having the apple cider though, as my fuel canister had run out and we didn’t have anything to heat the water (bummer!)
I took a selfie because hey, how many people hike the incline in costumes? Caroline did as well, I’m guessing for SnapChat
I tried to get them to continue on to Rocky Mountain but Emily had winterguard practice and everyone was hungry so it was time to gather our stuff and head back down. The Barr Trail down was much icier than the Incline route up and I was glad we had spikes. The girls realized just how important they were when one of Emily’s broke and she took it off. In less than a minute she slipped and fell on the ice, landing on her back. Hard. Ouch! But bless her, she took some ibuprofen and kept hiking. We made it back down to the shuttle at 1:45pm, making this a 4.5 mile hike with 1962’ of elevation gain in 3 hours.
We rode the bus back to our cars and drove to Fargo’s Pizza, where Breanna met up with us and we all chatted for a bit. It’s so cool watching these girls grow up! We discussed boys, school dances, cookie sales, homework, teachers, and a little about our upcoming trip to California.
This year Girl Scout Troop 2393 chose to be traffic cones (an inside joke) for their theme at Reach for the Peak. They spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours this year practicing for this competition, designing costumes, skits, and practicing their outdoor survival and cooking skills. They went a little overboard for campsite set-up this year, being overly “cautious” and creating hazards out of caution tape (which they thought was hilarious). I loved the “Marmot” and “Bighorn Sheep” crossing signs they made. They were all exhausted after set-up, but still stayed up for a bit talking in their tent before falling asleep. I was laying in my tent, proud to hear them decide they wanted to practice their knots again before bed. Then Caroline led them all in a short yoga/shavasana session, and they fell asleep.
First thing in the morning the girls ate breakfast and made their lunches for the day. In the past they’ve been docked points for not having a nutritious enough lunch, so this time they went overboard with the fruits and veggies!
Then it was off to flag where they had a few extra minutes and decided to dedicate them to practicing their knots (once again).
Their first competition of the day was Emergency Survival, which they rocked! Oh, and Caroline was great at reminding everyone about sunscreen and water… She even made up a song!
Fire building is Emily’s specialty. At Reach for the Peak they have the girls use metal fire barrels, which are actually difficult to use because they’re concave and not flat like a normal fire pit. This has been an issue for the girls for years, but this summer Emily was a camp counselor at this camp and figured out the trick to starting fires in these particular barrels. She didn’t use a traditional A-frame of Log cabin, but was able to quickly and efficiently start the fire. And the girls popped the popcorn and put it out in the allotted time. Lauren was in charge of tool craft and sawed logs for the girls to use. Great job ladies!
On to the lashing competition! When the girls first came here 6 years ago they had the same task: to build a trebuchet and launch a cow over the moon. They weren’t able to get much done that year, but this year they were able to successfully build the machine and launch a ‘cow’ over the moon. They were so proud of themselves! (also, these are all timed events)
The girls were really excited for Emergency First Aid this year, as they all have their CPR/First Aid certificates and Kimberly’s currently working as a lifeguard at the local YMCA. Their victims were cut up pretty badly and one was having a heart attack. Neither of them died!
Next up were knots. These girls have been practicing knots since 2008, and know them all pretty well. This competition was fun for the girls: they even did a handful extra, hoping to earn extra points…
The last competition for the girls was the dinner competition. They’ve practiced this meal on four different campouts this summer, and have got the recipe down. Check out their menu… It’s Road Kill Themed and included frying plantain chips and cooking an entire chicken in the Dutch Oven
RftP 2019 Menu – You Kill It, We Grill It
Kabobs (Grill) – Fender Tenders
Corn (Fire) – Chunks of Skunk
Shrimp (Cooler) – Deer Tail
Plantain Chips (Pan) – Road Flakes
Fruit Salad (cold) – Highway Hash
Chicken (Dutch Oven) – If you can guess what it is you eat for free!
Veggies (pot) – Slop (Guess that mess?)
Pudding & Gummie Worms (Hobo) – Dirt Cups
Sun Tea (Solar) – Bug Juice
After the competition dinner was cleaned up the real fun began! The girls invited some other troops competing they’d met at previous competitions to have a campfire with them. The girls all live in different parts of the state but in the past few years have really hit it off: they’ve even joined us at Hamp Hut! This year one of the troops asked if their younger sister troop could join in, so we had double the number of girls. This is one of my favorite parts about Girl Scouting: the girls are all in ‘competition’ with each other, yet really cheer each other on and genuinely like each other. They share a bond. We had a fire and the girls chatted about how they felt they did in the competition events and life in general until it started raining and everyone went back to their tents. It rained all night long, but finally stopped around 6:30am, just in time to pack up all our gear and get ready for awards.
Oh, but first, it’s skits! Check out the skit Troop 2393 came up with…
And now time for awards: Before they were given out the girls posed by their traffic cone (another inside joke).
The girls earned the Eagle Award! Great Job Ladies!
This event is made possible by a wonderful committee of volunteers who put a lot of time and effort into this event. It’s by far my girls favorite Girl Scouting activity, and they talk about it with every troop they meet. If you’d like to help volunteer with this event in any way (as a judge, with ideas, special skills, monetary donations, etc.) please let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the right person. I love watching the girls grow every year in their outdoor survival skills!
This year Girl Scout Troop 2393 decided to use some of the proceeds from their cookie sales to go Hammock Camping. Of course I was all about this, so we planned a couple of dates, one for June, another for July. The theme? “Chill”.
This past weekend was the first campout, and I just have to say, success! (kind of…)
After a long week of little sleep everyone met at my house at 6am on Saturday morning and we packed up the gear in my truck. It’s amazing how much gear is needed for a few days doing nothing! After the 3 hour drive full of conversations centering around summer reading lists and upcoming concerts we arrived at the dispersed camping area and the girls spent some time picking out a site. They didn’t like the first few spots, but settled on one that had creek access and trees they could set up their hammocks comfortably.
We unloaded the truck and split up into two teams: One to set up hammocks, another to collect firewood. I headed up firewood collection, which proved more difficult than anticipated. We weren’t able to find much wood on the ground, but we were able to find some downed trees, and decided to just take those back and cut them up at camp.
The girls weren’t yet done setting up camp when we made it back with the firewood so I got some pictures of them in the process (the towels help protect both the trees and webbing).
After campsite set up the girls had fun playing in the hammocks. The girls who chose to set up their hammocks on top of each other (despite my telling them it would make getting in/out difficult) had a blast getting up into their hammocks, and then turning themselves over so they were face to face with the person below…
The girls did a great job! The only thing wrong with this set-up? The weather forecasted rain, and they didn’t have tarps set up yet. That changed quickly when the weather picked up. We got a light dusting of snow and the girls all ran to set up shelter
Believe it or not, the tarps were adequate. Ok, next we’re on to food. The girls cooked their own food as well… some were in charge of fire
and others were in charge appetizers. The plaintain chips were amazing!
My favorite was the whole chicken they cooked in the Dutch Oven!
After dinner the girls sang songs by the campfire. Emily, just getting back from a week at Girl Scout Camp, was especially energetic. Her call and response songs garnered less than enthusiastic comebacks, and she loved hamming it up even more! As you can see from the photo below, the weather became colder than anticipated
Around 8pm the snow became heavier and even though it was still light out we decided to call it a night. It continued snowing all night long. It wasn’t enough to accumulate, but it was wet and icy
This was the first time I’ve ever slept in a hammock, and I have to say, it’s not a bad way to camp! I didn’t sleep very well, but it wasn’t due to the hammock, it was due to the cold. I was warm everywhere except for my feet, which felt like solid blocks of ice. I woke up in the middle of the night to 3 rounds of gunshots, 20 at a time in rapid succession. After that it was hard to fall back asleep. It got down to 24 degrees. The morning was cold and the girls were slow to become cheerful. They wanted to “chill” as much as possible, so we cooked our waffles over the campfire (ok, heated them up)
The snow wasn’t letting up and it didn’t look like it had any plans to stop, so we packed up our gear earlier than we’d anticipated and drove back home. Everything came back wet and muddy. It’s currently sitting in my living room (on a dry tarp), ready for the next trip. All in all the weekend was a success, and we expect the next one to have better weather, so it should be just as much fun!
This time when we made it to the parking lot at the base of the trail it was halfway full. Apparently there were a lot of hikers this weekend!
Even though I’d asked them to go before we left the house, one of the girls needed to use the restroom before we started. I’m not a fan of trail restrooms, and encouraged her to wait a bit because it was probably dirty, but she insisted. So while I paid for parking she used the restroom. When she got back she said it was pretty clean, but there was a homeless person sleeping outside. Facepalm.
We started the trail at 3:06am. There was no moon to guide us, so we got a great view of Manitou and Colorado Springs as we hiked.
The girls made pretty good time. We made it to MM2 at 3:59am, which meant they were hiking a little over 2mph.
Around MM4 it got really, really cold. I’m not sure why (I’m guessing it’s due to a shift in topography) but MM4-6.5 of Barr Trail are always really, really cold. It felt like the temperature dropped at least 20 degrees. I’m guessing it was in the high 20s. It got so cold my hands started to swell and I lost feeling in my fingers. Luckily there was no wind, but I honestly felt colder than I had a few weeks ago when it was snowing. I put on my gloves, but that didn’t really help. I kept encouraging the sun to rise over and over again, knowing that’s what I needed to warm up.
We made it to Barr Camp at 6:05 (still hiking about 2mph), and about 15 minutes later the sun began to rise and we began to thaw out. The colors on the mountain in the morning are absolutely amazing! There is so much light it’s really hard to get a clear picture, but that didn’t stop me from trying:
I was really surprised at how much red was in the light this morning
Added to the red was the changing yellow of the aspens.
We made it to A-frame at 7:35am. The A-frame was occupied by an older man and his adult children. They’d hiked Pikes Peak 18 years ago and were back to hike it again. It looked like they were set up to camp all weekend.
We also learned there was a special hike today: The Pikes Peak Challenge.
The Pikes Peak Challenge is the Brain Injury
Alliance of Colorado’s flagship fundraising event.
Participants have the opportunity to raise funds by climbing Pikes Peak. We were told there were about 400 participants, but not to worry because we were hours ahead of them. Also, this wasn’t a race, they’d just be hiking.
After A-frame we saw challenge volunteers at each of the three remaining mile markers. They were all really nice and supportive, even though we weren’t participating in the event.
I tried to take a selfie with 3 marmots…
The girls were getting pretty tired when we had about 1.5 miles left to go. They were doing great, but lacking a bit in motivation. We made it to the cirque and some volunteers gave them dum-dum lollipops and they were excited once again!
We took a bit of a break at the 16 Golden Stairs. Volunteers from El Paso County Search and Rescue were there, preparing to assess Challenge hikers. We talked for a bit, and they encouraged me to sign up to join EPCSAR. It’s honestly something I’ve been thinking about, but not something I’ll have time for until Emily graduates High School.
On we trekked. This is where my “motivating” the girls kicks in the hardest. Lots of life lessons are learned at this point in the hike. It’s a fine line between encouraging them and making them hate me for making them continue. They told me later I did a great job…lol!
We made it to the summit at 9:59am! That’s just under 7 hours, and a great time for the girls!
They were exhausted, and opted to sit for a while before taking pictures. I asked them if they’d ever done anything harder in their lives, to which Julianna replied (and Lakin agreed): “The only thing harder I can think of is cookie sales”. Spoken like a true Girl Scout! They would know, they take cookie sales seriously! They’ve each sold thousands for years in a row, and know what hard work it can be.
I was proud of them, and told them they could take an extended break. A summit spider joined us for donuts…
It’s really hard to breathe at 14,000+ feet: Your body is working overtime just to breathe, and time can get distorted. When I told the girls we needed to get going because it’d already been 45 minutes they didn’t believe me. They swore it had only been 5-10 minutes. I had to show them the time to convince them!
We took a few summit pictures and began our descent.
Here is where the hike got really fun! The girls were super proud of their accomplishment, and wanted to encourage the Challenge hikers on their way up the mountain. We high-fived ever hiker we saw on the way down, and the girls would shout out words of encouragement: “You got this!" "Trust me, I’ve been in your shoes, just think positively!" "With a positive attitude there’s nothing you can’t do!”
Those girls are amazing! The other hikers thanked them for their enthusiasm, which was much needed at this point in their hike.
When we made it back to the 16 Golden Stairs we were offered more candy. This time I took a Werther’s (an indulgence I haven’t had since I was 12). Instant memories came flooding back. It totally made my day!
About a mile above treeline we had a hiker point and tell us: “See that man in the red jacket? That’s Robert Downey Jr." I was intrigued, but didn’t much believe him. That didn’t stop me from catching up to the man in the red jacket to find out for myself. Unfortunately, it didn’t look much like him: His hair was the right color, but he was a bit overweight and sported full facial hair so I couldn’t much tell if it was him or not.
We said "hello” as we passed him and kept hiking down, enthusiastically high-fiving everyone along the way.
Back at A-frame the man and his kids were still there. It didn’t look like they planned on hiking at all today. Quite a shame for other hikers hoping to snag the A-frame for themselves tonight. There were a lot of hikers around the A-frame, filtering water and milling about before tackling the hardest part of the hike.
We only rested there for about 15 minutes, then once again started hiking down. The girls were practically running at this point (it is MUCH easier to hike down than up). We saw many more hikers there to complete the challenge, all hiking up the mountain. We never saw anyone else hiking down.
We stopped at Barr Camp for another 15 minutes to use the restroom and for a snack. The girls were still all smiles!
For the rest of the hike down the girls kept up a fast pace. They still high-fived everyone they passed, but we didn’t see many more challenge hikers. In fact, the only ones we saw were those returning down the mountain because they weren’t able to summit.
When asked we told hikers we’d hiked all the way to the summit and were on our way down. Everyone was impressed, and one (very fit) woman remarked: “Wow! You all made it? Those girls are more hardcore than I’ll ever be!" The girls took that as quite the compliment!
We made it back down to the parking lot at 3:40pm, and once again the restroom was needed. This time however it was flooded.
I don’t care how old you are, or how great of shape you’re in, Pikes Peak is a difficult hike. Strenuous. Probably the most difficult thing you will ever do in your entire life. It’s 26 grueling miles, 13 of which are uphill, 6 of which are above the treeline, exposed to the elements. It’s difficult in any condition, but Troop 2393 did it with 30lb packs!
A week before the trek I talked with the girls to let them know what they were getting into. I told them it was difficult, explained what would happen at each point in the hike, and told them they would want to give up. In fact, they’d beg me to give up. They’d curse me as well for making them continue. Did they want to summit? If so, I’d do my best to make sure they all summited. They did.
Since this was their first big hike we started out earlier than usual. I woke them up at 2am, we had our traditional muffins for breakfast they’d cooked the night before, and we were on the trail at 3:17am. The girls were really excited! We wore our headlamps around our necks instead of on our heads, and moths were attracted to us like flames. We were batting them away until the sun rose.
I knew this hike was going to be difficult almost immediately. About half a mile in the girls started complaining this was harder than they’d thought, and one of the girls was having difficulty breathing. We took many more breaks than I would have liked and for much longer periods to compensate. It took us 2 hours to go the first 2 miles (it usually takes about 45 minutes).
After the 3 mile mark everyone was back to “normal” (breathing was fine, etc.) but we still took it very slow. I was glad we’d started extra early!
We made it to Barr Camp and the girls collapsed by the stream. They were already exhausted! I tried to remind them this was difficult, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t listening…
It was 3 more miles to the A-frame, and we were in a bit of a hurry to make sure we were able to “claim” it. Otherwise we’d be sleeping in caves tonight (one of which leaks due to snow). I told myself I’d adjust the hike depending on the next 3 miles. There was a big chance we wouldn’t be summiting at all. Even with all the prep work it was much harder than they’d anticipated. Around mile 7 I had a girl pretend to faint. Yes, I’m sure she was pretending and looking for sympathy. However, she’s relatively new to the troop and didn’t realize that was the wrong game to play with me. I totally understood she felt she’d bitten off more than she could chew, but as far as I’m concerned you don’t joke around with safety. I let her know how I felt. She didn’t have any more issues after that.
Every 30 seconds or so I’d look over my shoulder to see how the girls were doing, and around mile 8 I had a girl actually faint. Right in the middle of the trail! She had been in the back of the line and none of the other girls had heard. Luckily we’d only gone about 30 feet or so. I told the girls to sit down, and ran to the one who’d fainted. Her skin was clammy and she was a bit cold. After gently tapping and nudging her a few times she woke up very confused. She didn’t remember falling. She must have done so gracefully because she wasn’t hurt at all, just confused. I’d been “pushing” water on the girls, so I knew she was hydrated, so that wasn’t the issue. Her body was just really tired. We took a long break until I was sure she was feeling better and we set off at a slower pace. I like to lead (so I’m the one who runs into that snake or slips on something), but I figured at this point we’d all take turns leading and I’d be in the back so I could watch the girls better.
It was a tough next mile, but the girls made it!!! Look at their excitement upon making it to the A-frame!
Here we took a REALLY long break. Over an hour. The girls relaxed, wrote their names on the walls to record their achievement, and consumed a lot of calories. Some girls refilled their water (filtered it), but everyone relaxed. We went over the journey so far, and the girls admitted it was harder than they’d anticipated, but (after their break) they all said they wanted to try to summit.
So we left all the gear we didn’t need in the A-frame, and set out with just the essentials to hike the remaining 3 miles to the peak.
I knew this was going to be challenging for them, so I tried to think of a game to keep their minds off the difficulty. Most of the girls had never seen a marmot before, so I asked them to count how many they saw. Some we may have counted twice and I’m sure there were some we missed, but we ended up counting between 40-50 marmots! They make a really annoying chirping sound…
After the first half mile the complaints began again. I had one girl adamant she no longer wanted to do this. She’d brought her cell phone, and wanted to call her mom to come get her (as if that were even a possibility at 12,500 feet 11 miles from the car). I’m 95% sure she was texting her mom at this time, telling her what an awful person I was. However, I’ve done this hike many times, and I know this behavior is “normal” at this point in the hike, so I encouraged her to continue. I knew there’d be more nasty comments to come, and I knew while only one (or two) girls would actually say they were tired, wanted to stop, couldn’t breathe, etc., everyone was thinking the same thing. This is the part of the hike where I get to be the “bad guy” in the nicest way possible, encouraging them to continue. Some of them said they really didn’t want to continue, but I knew how upset they’d be if they gave up, so I kept cheering them on. After all, if it was easy everyone would do it and there wouldn’t be bragging rights!
Since a lot of the trail was covered in snow and we had to get creative to continue climbing. We looked like we really knew what we were doing, and had several first timers follow us on the hike. It’s really cool to have things like this happen!
The changing point to the hike came about a mile and a half from the summit. At this point the “complainers” realized I wasn’t giving in, and this is also where a lot of the trail was covered in snow. The girls had to be very careful and work together to navigate the trail. I guess for them this is when it became fun!
Make no mistake, they were still sore and tired, but from here on out they trudged on without my constant encouragement and even seemed to enjoy the experience.
The small streams on the trail were fun to navigate as well. The girls asked me to take this picture for fun!
Once we made it to the Cirque (just under a mile from the summit) the trail became unnavigable. No worries: I did this hike last week. All we needed to do was head towards the “16 Golden Stairs” sign and then head straight up to the summit. It was difficult, but the girls seemed to have fun! We had another first timer follow us on this route as well.
The final push to the summit was really hard, but not one of the girls complained even once! It was as if a switch had been turned on, they all realized how close they were, and they WANTED to summit. It wasn’t easy: we had to scramble on the rocks and make our own trail.
About halfway to the top from where the rock scrambling started someone shouted “Look! Bighorn Sheep!” Indeed, there were 3 bighorn sheep traversing the ridge next to us! They were robust, confident animals. We watched them until they were out of sight (about 5 minutes). As an added bonus it was a nice break! The girls commented on how they made rock climbing look easy!
After about 20 more minutes of losing our footing, cheering each other on, and mini-rockslides we made it to the summit!
We tried to stay a good distance apart from each other to minimize rock slide injuries, so the girls who made it first waited for everyone to get to the top before all holding hands and crossing the cog tracks together. This was their idea: I love these ladies!!!
The girls were all smiles, enthusiastic, and PROUD of themselves! They were glad they’d continued on, and celebrating their personal and physical victories.
We immediately went inside the summit house and got donuts and fudge. The girls commented how only hikers who’d summited should be allowed such luxuries… They’d EARNED it!
After a break of about 15 minutes we went outside for pictures.
Emily truly wanted a picture with me to show she’d hiked Pikes Peak. Her smile was all the thanks I needed!
You expend a LOT of energy just breathing at 14,000+ feet, so it’s dangerous to spend too much time at the top. Adding to that it was starting to get cold and the girls wanted dinner.
After the fun of last week getting down the mountain we decided this time to go down the same way we’d gone up. I explained to the girls how to keep their center of gravity low while navigating, and we began our decent.
It was slow going the first half mile or so for safety reasons, but after that we practically skipped back to the A-frame, high fiving ourselves the entire way. The girls were a bit upset we hadn’t “glissaded” so we found a safe place to do so. On purpose.
Dinner was terrible. We had Mountain House backpacking meals, and I’m not sure if it was the altitude or how they were prepared, but the consistency was either way too watery or not watery enough. They tasted OK, so the girls with extra watery meals added their ramen and were fine with that. Apparently it was an improvement for the ramen!
Samantha and Olivia were in charge of the fire. Check out what an awesome job they did! One match!
I’m REALLY GLAD we were the first ones there because there was serious competition! At least three other groups were interested in sleeping in the frame that night, but luckily had brought back-up tents as well. We made several friends at the A-frame, and invited them to join us in our fire.
Although this was the warmest night I’ve ever spent at the A-frame the girls all said they had trouble sleeping because it was so cold. We all set our alarms to watch the sunrise, but due to the fires in the area it was difficult to appreciate, so we all went back to bed.
At 7:30am we got up and quickly dressed. We were running out of food and needed to get back down the mountain. We ate our cheerios as we descended. While better than the hike up, the hike down was still a challenge. It was hot, the girls were tired and very sore. We had blisters on top of blisters, and needed frequent breaks.
We stopped about 6 times each mile to rest, and every 3 miles we took an extended break and took off our packs. However, at the 1.5 mile mark the girls got their second wind, asked if we could stop taking breaks, and booked it the rest of the way down. They were exhausted and excited to be done with the hike! I told them to pose for this picture describing how their bodies were aching at this point… They have blisters on top of blisters, and I know every muscle in their bodies ache, but they should be proud!!!
Let me start by saying these girls were prepared for this hike. They’d backpacked this trail multiple times before, and were even nominated by Search and Rescue to earn the Red Cross Lifesaving award for rescuing hikers on this trail on another occasion. They received that award. They also train for and participate in an outdoor survival skills competition every year. They are experienced, in great physical condition, “pumped” about going on the hike, and I know them and their personalities well. I trusted their abilities.
For those of you who worry, don’t. Everyone made it out ok without any injuries that needed more than moleskin and a few Tylenol.
As always the girls spent the night at my house the evening before the hike. They made blueberry muffins for breakfast the next morning, and stayed up way too late giggling. I checked the weather forecast for the next day: 83-90 degrees with no chance of rain. AWESOME!!! We’re always worried about thunderstorms above the treeline. We were so excited it wasn’t going to be an issue this time. We woke up at 3am and were in the parking lot by 3:55am.
The parking lot was pretty empty, except for two large passenger vans. As I was paying for parking I overheard a director surrounded by about 20 people talking about how they were all going to hike to the top today, and their goal was to do so by noon. He prayed for God to bless their bodies and journey. I thought a few things:How cool for a church group to hike Pikes Peak!
· They do NOT look prepared for a hike like this. They are in shorts and none of them look like “hikers”
· Making it to the top by noon was overly ambitious
· I wanted to get a start before they did because passing them would take forever!
I quickly paid for parking and ran back to the truck. We grabbed our gear, turned on our headlamps, and got going. I said a positive “Good Luck!” to one of the church ladies preparing to hike (she seemed confused when she noticed I wasn’t with her group), and we were on our way before 4am.
We’ve hiked Pikes Peak before, but this was the first time we’d done so with small packs carrying just water. We have always backpacked with 30lb packs, so this was a treat! We made great time! We hiked the first two miles in about 40 minutes (which is amazing, considering it’s all uphill). As always, we enjoyed the view. No matter how many times I try, I can’t capture the beauty. I need a special camera.
The hike up to Barr Camp was pretty uneventful. The first 3 miles of incline are the hardest, and then the next 3 are gently sloping. No long breaks were needed beyond shedding layers (it was getting warm, and we were sweating). We saw various new flowers that aren’t in bloom when we usually hike in July or August, as well as a caterpillar nest.
We made it to Barr Camp at 6am (6.5 miles in 2 hours) and had a heavy snack.
Most of the campers there were just waking up. One man came up to us and asked about the conditions of the trail. He said hikers came back yesterday saying the snow was up to their thighs in areas and they weren’t able to summit. They kept losing the trail and getting stuck in snow, but said you could get pretty far if you “kept going left” and asked if that sounded right?
I told him it made sense, but we had crampons, so we weren’t too worried. His concerned reply: “I wasn’t worried about you, I was worried about making it myself. Do you think I can make it?” I thought this was hilarious! I initially thought he was looking out for us, but he was really worried about himself and his abilities. Apparently we looked like we knew what we were doing. He was worried he wouldn’t be able to find the trail, so I gave him some pointers.
Around the 8 mile mark we saw patches of ice on the trail. Right in the middle of the trail to be exact.
It was 1 more mile to the A-frame, and at this point we were feeling pretty good. It was so much easier hiking with just water! We made it by 8:30am and took a look around. It was not as green as it usually is (probably too soon in the season), but otherwise it was cleaner than normal (kind of… still some trash here and there). We were met by a marmot living under the frame and a young buck! SO cool! We never see deer at 11,500 feet!
Just as we were getting ready to leave a man came down the trail. He looked like an experienced hiker, so we talked with him a bit about the trail conditions. We asked him if he’d summited yet, and he said he hadn’t. He’d been trying for the past 4 weeks, but there was always too much snow. Last week the A-frame had 4 feet of snow around it. He was hoping to summit today. He also said he’d seen the church group at about 6am near the top of the incline…it had taken them 2 hours to hike 2 miles. There was NO WAY they were going to summit today, but they still seemed to think they could. They had driven in from Oklahoma at 10pm the night before the hike. The girls and I had flashbacks of saving those hikers form Kansas, and mentally prepared ourselves to help if necessary.
We said our goodbyes and continued with our hike around 9am. Immediately after the A-frame we lost the trail due to snow. There wasn’t snow covering the ground completely, but huge piles of it covering large parts of the trail. We knew which way to go, but it was under too much snow to traverse.
We could see large switchbacks further up the mountain, so we decided to just head straight for those and continue with the trail there. Normally I am completely against going off trail and creating new ones, but we really had no choice: there wasn’t a trail to follow. We could see where other hikers had attempted to go up, and tried to follow their tracks where possible (all in the snow, so we weren’t trampling ground cover). If we found the trail we took it until it was buried in snow again. Many times we “made our own trail” over the previous one.
We got really good at confidently making our own solid tracks in the very slippery snow. You see, the problem was we had no way of knowing how deep the snow was. As you can see by the picture below, one step I was on solid ground. The next I sank to my waist, and was only able to get out because my right foot was in a stable position. There’s no telling how far I’d have sunk if I hadn’t had one foot in a solid position. Yes, I was scared the first time this happened!
Adding to this was the water. Water trickles down from Pikes Peak into rivulets and small streams, then continues past the A-frame down the mountain. Some of them run below the rocks, others above. These streams can be heard the entire time you’re above treeline. You can see them at points, but you can always hear them. We knew there was water flowing below us, but we never knew if it was under snow or rocks. We’d be in trouble if it was under the snow and we fell in!
There were times when I had to make our own tracks and could see hoof prints in the snow. I followed those tracks, trusting the Bighorn Sheep or Mountain Goat that had made them…
Did I mention the Marmots? We saw more marmots this trip than I’ve ever seen before, and they were quite fluffy…
There tracks were everywhere too… Adorable!
We eventually found a way to a switchback leading to the Cirque. Notice how hard I’m breathing? It’s really hard to breathe at 13,000+ feet!
Just after the Cirque we followed the trail until we found the 1 mile mark, where it completely disappeared. We could see the “16 Golden Stairs” sign, so we made our way towards it. At this point we had to completely abandon the trail and just hike straight up. There weren’t footprints to follow, or any sign indicating which way we should go. We knew how the trail usually bends, but due to snow were unable to get to those spots. We also knew we wouldn’t be damaging any groundcover because it was all rocks.
It was like rock climbing on ice! Except there were no footholds, so we had to make our own. And there was nothing to hold onto except for our hiking poles and the holds we made before lifting ourselves up. And there were a lot of unstable rocks hiding below the snow causing minor rock fall avalanches. It was really scary and slippery, but the girls confidently made their own trail. Oh, and crampons for the win! Those things are amazing!
We summited at 12pm. It had taken us 3 hours from the A-frame, the normal time is usually does, but not in the traditional fashion.
Side note: The man we met at the A-frame was with a group of about 10 male hikers. They followed our footprints, so basically we made the trail for them. They didn’t have crampons so they were unable to summit.
We summited about 20 seconds before a cog train arrived, so we booked it inside the summit house to grab a table. We got donuts!!! I’ve summited Pikes Peak several times, and this is the first the donut machine has been working. I celebrated!
We collapsed at a table to take a well-deserved break. That hike was insane! We were so proud of ourselves! We had never done anything like what we just did: blazing our own trail and climbing through ice and snow for 3 miles up the face of Pikes Peak!
We also noted how scary we must have looked to everyone else there arriving from the train: you know, the ones wearing makeup with their hair curled.
As we sat there a “Park Ranger” (I’m not really sure that’s an official title, but there’s always a guy in a park ranger uniform at the summit house) came up and asked us if we’d hiked up. When we told him we had, he said we were the first this season! Woot! He then asked us if we’d be hiking back down (instead of taking the train) and told us to be careful: The other day he had someone lose their backpack looking over the edge and it slid 1500 feet down the slope.
A bathroom stop was on the agenda, but the line for the bathroom was longer than the line for fudge (which had about 30 people in it) so we decided to book it down the trail and go at the A-frame instead.
We went outside for a few pictures. Everyone who talked with us was super impressed we’d hiked up the mountain. See how proud we are? The person taking the picture noted the awesome rain shower in the background…
We’d just been through a very intense hike, and came up without a proper trail. This time we were at the summit and knew where the trail down started, so we decided to descend using the trail as intended. The “park ranger” was standing at the edge where we’d summited, presumably discouraging people from taking that way down. All routes from the top looked impassable, but we knew if we could just get past the snow we’d be able to find our route down. After all, the snow wasn’t “everywhere” as there were patches of rocks in between, and we’d made it up, hadn’t we?
We hiked for about 40 feet and knew immediately hiking down was not the same as hiking up.
This is where I need to pause a moment and let you know how we got into the situation that put us at risk. I am a serious photographer (intense hobby). Much to the disappointment of my children I take pictures of everything. I am rarely seen without a camera in my hand, and indeed summited Pikes Peak this trip one handed (with my Canon Rebel in my left hand… yes, I got a scratch on the lens from a falling rock, but it was worth it). In addition, there was no room in my backpack to hold my camera, so I had to keep it around my neck.
Remember that picture from before where one foot was level, and the other sunk to my waist in the snow? Well, that happened just as we were descending, except instead of catching myself I was off balance (due to my camera) and slid one foot first, one sideways, 600 feet down the face of Pikes Peak. Things going through my head at this time:
· This is bad
· Don’t start turning! Do whatever you can to stay upright and don’t tip over!
· Don’t scare the girls! Keep calm. Talk to them as you’re going down to let them know you’re not scared and that you’re ok. “I’m sliding down, just wait a bit, ok?”
· Find a way to slow down!!!
· I’m not slowing down, try something else!!!
· This is really, really bad.
About 600 feet later I was able to slow myself down by making a large “V” with my legs and came to a stop just before a rock outcropping. I’d lost my hiking pole about 1/3 of the way down (my first attempt at stopping was to try and anchor myself… the hiking pole stayed where it was).
At this point I was scared. That “glissade” was NOT on purpose, and now I was separated by my girls by 600 feet. Not for long however, for they decided to follow me, and without thinking I encouraged them:
I hadn’t fully processed the situation when they started, and encouraged them on. I didn’t want them to know how scared I was, but I also realized there was no other way for us to make it down the mountain: we could not go up. We had to go down or stay where we were, which wasn’t an option.
Note: I don’t have pictures of everything from this point on because there were times when our safety was much more important than pictures, so I focused on getting us down safely. I needed two hands to navigate and steady myself.
The girls made it to me and we assessed our situation. We were in an awful spot! We couldn’t walk sideways because there was a rock outcropping too steep to traverse. In addition that “rain shower” had turned to snow above us (wonderful weather forecast, huh?) and the rocks were really slippery. The only way down was to slide on the snow another 200 feet.
So we did. The glissade wasn’t pretty, as the grade was too steep to do anything but dig your heels in to slow down your descent. The girls are all smiles in these pictures (I’ve trained them to smile on cue because I’m always taking their pictures), but I know they were thinking “I’m going to DIE!” In reality, that was a possibility if they didn’t control their descent. They were fabulous!
The first thing Tristina said when we got to the bottom was “I’m glad those rocks were there to break our fall!” It sounds comical, but she was actually sincere: the rocks provided us traction and gave us breaks from snow that kept us from sliding out of control. They also ripped a very large hole in her pants, right where you don’t want a hole. She used her sweatshirt to cover the damage.
I was seriously worried about our predicament at this point, but knew we needed to keep going to save ourselves. We were at an inaccessible spot on the mountain, no one was hurt, we were all together and we could make our way down. We just needed to be extremely careful and not make one misstep, or we’d seriously injure ourselves on the rocks. Or tumble and break something and be in serious trouble.
I knew I needed to be a leader for the girls, so I kept up a positive, encouraging attitude while inside being scared I was leading them into danger. For their part the girls were amazing! They trusted my decisions completely, followed my footsteps, and problem solved on their own when necessary. I went first and many times had to direct them on the right path from places they couldn’t see me.
From here on out we tried to avoid snow patches whenever possible, hiking up and around them as we could. We spent a lot of time navigating large granite boulders. One of my girls was in shock, and we were all on a serious adrenaline rush. None of us were hurt, but we all knew we should have been. I knew they were scared, but the girls didn’t stop: they kept hiking down.
The group of 10 guys who followed us up was now descending, so we made our way towards them. They weren’t using a trail, but hiking straight down. This making your own trail irks me, but in our present situation I totally understood. We bouldered and traversed straight down, using them as a reference point. It took us about 75 minutes to reach them. One of the guys in the group started talking to us: he said their group was being led by someone who placed 2nd in a very popular Pikes Peak run. Impressive!
We tried to stay behind the group of guys (remember that embarrassing hole in the pants?), but they kept slowing down and taking breaks. This didn’t make ANY sense! They were all very fit men who shouldn’t have had to take so many “breaks”.
Eventually we figured it out when they asked us if we were anywhere near the trail: They didn’t know where they were going! They asked us for help navigating back to the trail. We knew the general direction so we led the way.
At one point we came to a large expanse of snow there was no way to navigate around: we had to cross it. This time we did so more confidently. I went first, solidly sitting down and sliding feet first. The incline wasn’t as steep as at the top, so I was able to make a nice smooth slide. The girls quickly followed. This time glissading was fun!
I heard the group of guys shout “Wow! Those girls are badass!”
I shouted from below to the guys “feel free to use the slide!”
They enthusiastically accepted and we watched them get a running start, jump and slide, obviously having great fun!
Jordan was the one who eventually found the trail that led to the A-frame, and we were back in business! The guys continued down to Barr Camp, while we took a bit of a rest and assessed our current situation. We had just been through a very scary experience most people would have needed to have been rescued from. None of us was hurt, we’d made it out alive, and we were proud of how we handled everything! We considered this trip a very exciting win!
I am hiking the trail with another group next week, and we are staying overnight at the A-frame, so I “hid” my jacket so I don’t need to carry it up the trail next week. Then and used the facilities (although it was jokingly commented that might have already been taken care of accidentally on that first slide) and we hiked back down the trail.
The rest of the hike was uneventful. It rained a cold, biting rain the last 6 miles (once again, great weather forecast, huh? I almost wished I’d have kept my jacket). We were surrounded by rolling thunder but no lightening.
We talked with several hikers making their way to Barr Camp, intending on summiting the next day. They all had snow shoes, and said they’d gotten advice from someone on “14ners.com” indicating they were needed. We assured them they weren’t. The girls we met who were hiking up were all intrigued and started in on conversation, asking about trail conditions, etc. The men all seemed amused and acted like they knew better than we did. The conversation stopped with them there. Hmmm….
We also saw a hiker on his way up rather late in the day (6pm) with nothing but skis and a water jug. He looked extremely fit and like he knew what he was doing, but not prepared at all for sleeping overnight, which he’d need to do in order to reach an area with enough snow to ski.
We never did see that church group on the way back down, and their vans were gone by the time we made it to the parking lot, 13 hours and 26 miles later!
My final comments to the girls: Remember, you can do ANYTHING guys can do, one handed (I summited with a camera in my left hand), bleeding. Many times while wearing heels..
Pikes Peak is an INTENSE hike, made even more so by backpacking. We are all tired and extremely sore, but proud of our accomplishment!
I grow as a person every time we Girl Scouts get together!
Thank you Girl Scout Troop 931 for teaching me about teamwork, patience, FUN, goals, perseverance, and awesomeness!!! Oh, and for those interested, YES they did help rescue someone on this trip too: a hiker with a broken ankle about a quarter mile from the summit. Troop 931 ROCKS!!!
This wasn’t our first rodeo (we did the same hike last summer and saved some hikers. You can read that story here: http://lauramclark.tumblr.com/post/95826650834/girl-scout-troop-931-backpacking-pikes-peak-and ) so we started before the sunrise to get an early start on the hike. The weather changes frequently on the mountain, and we knew it would start out cold, get really hot, then back to cold again as we made it past the tree line. Here are the girls, all ready to go in their “warm” clothes. We just layer for hikes like these. Also notice how happy and fresh they look.
Along the way we saw different flowers than last time (since we were hiking two months earlier in the season). I love seeing columbines growing in nature!
This is a really tough hike. About 6 miles in there’s a place called Barr Camp where a lot of hikers stay the night. Our overnight spot was still another 3 miles up the trail. Here’s Kayla passed out as we took a lunch break. Poor girl! This was a much harder hike than she’d anticipated. She was doing great though!
Notice this sign posted as you leave Barr Camp. Unfortunately, too many hikers either don’t see this sign, or don’t take it seriously.
About half a mile past Barr Camp we split into two teams. Jordan, Ruth Ann, and Tristina were hiking fast, so they went on up ahead and were to meet Kayla and I at the “A-frame”. Kayla was exhausted by this point, but kept on going. We all knew it would be easier if we separated, and we wanted to make sure we had a spot to sleep tonight since it’s first come (so getting there first was our best option).
Kayla and I made it to the A-Frame about 2 hours after the other girls. They had already set up camp and rested by the time we got there.
Kayla immediately unpacked her sleeping bag, and fell asleep.
The other girls had already rested, so by this point they were ready to talk. I walked around the campsite to get some pictures.
The A-Frame isn’t very big, and we didn’t want to put our things on the ground because there were a lot of critters around, so we weren’t as “tidy” as we could have been.
Jordan and Tristina got to work sanitizing water and making dinner. The site has a running creek year long, so this time we decided not to hike with as much water (conserving weight), and we planned to filter water at the top. The girls boiled the water, then placed the container of water in the stream to cool down before drinking it. I just have to say, as I was talking this picture I kept thinking to myself what awesome ladies these girls are! They were totally able to do everything themselves on this trip, and they did so without complaining. They have skills and they were having fun!
I mentioned earlier we weren’t very tidy in the A-Frame. However, we are Girl Scouts, so we do leave places cleaner than we find them. We brought trash bags to haul trash down the mountain (yes, even stuff that wasn’t ours), but we realized there was so much trash we couldn’t bring it all down. This was odd/not cool because we’d camped in the same spot less than a year before and totally cleared it of all trash. We decided to make the best of the situation and just burned as much as possible. Since there isn’t any wood to burn at the site (you have to haul it up from down the mountain) this had the added benefit of keeping us warm.
Have I mentioned the view at night from tree line is absolutely amazing! If winter didn’t exist on the peak I could live there. Enough said.
The sunrise is equally beautiful. We set our alarm just so we could watch the morning glow.
After a breakfast of Mountain House eggs and bacon (gross by the way, we’re never doing that again), we were off to climb the peak!
About half a mile in we decided we’d split up again. Kayla was having a lot of difficulty with this hike, and we were at the part where you have to keep going or you’ll never get started again. This is a very mental hike, and you have to know how to psych yourself up to continue.
Even though it’s July there is still a lot of snow on the peak. These drifts are much larger in person than they look from Colorado Springs. They are about the size of a football field, and they are very slippery! We saw many people fall because they were over confident. Kayla fell on each one (there were 7 or 8), hard, but she kept going!
The 16 Golden Stairs are anything but. This is the hardest part of the hike, and it took us about 1.5 hours to do (even though it’s only about ¼ of a mile). We kept stopping every 2 or 3 feet because Kayla really didn’t want to continue. However, I wasn’t going to let her give up. She told me at the beginning of this hike she was doing it for her dad (who passed away the week before), and I wanted to help her reach her goal.
There were a lot of tears and frustrated words said (never towards another person), but Kayla kept going.
I’m very, very, very proud to say she made it!!! Many (ok, most) grown men cannot complete this hike. It was hard, it hurt, and she was tired, but she kept putting one foot in front of the other and made it to the top.
She was exhausted when we got there (we both were). As soon as she crossed the cog tracks she stopped, raised her hands, looked up, and started talking to her dad in heaven. I couldn’t help it, I started to cry.
All of the work to get to the top was totally worth it! When she was done she turned to me, gave me a big hug, and said “Thank you Ms. Laura for helping me get to the top. I’m sorry I yelled at you!”. I cried some more.
Then we walked the 20 or so feet to the Summit House and Kayla fell asleep for the next 45 minutes.
We met the other girls there, got some donuts, drinks, and fudge, and told about our separate climbs.
Jordan, Ruth Ann, and Tristina told me they had helped rescue a man who had broken his ankle about a quarter mile from the top. He wasn’t a hiker, so he wasn’t prepared. He had driven to the peak and was hiking down to take selfies when he tripped (yes, he had a selfie stick).
They tried to give him an ice pack, but it exploded so they did the next best thing: They used their ace bandage to wrap his ankle, then got a ziplock bag and filled it with ice.
Then the girls helped him up and he hopped on one foot (his good one) to the top with one of his arms around each of the girls shoulders. He thanked them profusely when they arrived, and promised to get in touch when he made it home.
I woke Kayla up after 45 minutes because her body needed a rest: You burn just as many calories sitting at 14,000+ feet as you do running at sea level, so she needed to move down the mountain so her body could rest properly. We also needed to finish our hike: it was only half over!
As Alison Levine says: “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory”.
We posed for a few pictures (we were too tired when we got there at first to take any), and were on our way down.
This is where the real teamwork began. Kayla was very tired from this hike. We all were. I run 5-10 miles a day, Jordan is captain of the Ice Hockey team, Tristina runs cross country, and Ruth Ann runs as well, so we were more conditioned for this hike (don’t get me wrong, we were still aching).
Kayla however wasn’t conditioned, and was exhausted. She wanted to stop and rest every 15 feet or so, and that just wasn’t possible if we wanted to make it down the mountain.
So the girls helped to keep her motivated. They held her hand as she navigated tough rocky areas and the slippery slopes of snow. They let her hold onto their backpacks for support, and held her hand to help keep up her momentum.
They also kept praising her progress and success!
When we got just about to the tree line we started seeing marmots. 3 or 4 were chirping to each other, and some stayed still long enough for us to get pictures!
I love this one: you can see the Garden of the Gods below!
At tree line Kayla remembered we forgot to take a picture of her celebrating at the peak, so we took one now:
She did it! Great job Kayla! She looks filthy but proud of her accomplishments! She probably lost 5-10 pounds as well from the beginning (did I mention this is an intense 26+ mile hike? We did a mountain marathon in less than 36 hours)