Pikes Peak

My Peak FAQ

a.k.a., The Questions That People Frequently Ask Me, Personally, When They Find Out That I Like To Hike Pikes Peak

by Mike Melanson (mike at multimedia.cx)
Q. You hiked up Pikes Peak?
A. Yep.

Q. Wow, really?
A. Is it really that hard to believe?

Q. How far is it to the top?
A. That depends on where you start.

Q. Where do you start?
A. I usually start at the Barr Trail trailhead and parking lot near the Cog Railway Depot on Ruxton Avenue in Manitou Springs.

Q. How far is it from the trailhead to the summit?
A. About 13 miles.

Q. How long does it take to hike up?
A. That depends on what kind of shape you're in, how well you're prepared for the hike, how determined you are to make it up quickly, and other factors. The sign at the trailhead claims that it will take the average person about 8 hours to reach the summit from the trailhead. The course record for ascending the trail, set by Matt Carpenter during a Pikes Peak Marathon, is 2 hours, 1 minute, and some change. My time is somewhere in between.

Q. How do you get back down?
A. You have 3 options:

If you walk all the way up, I find that it helps to have a ride waiting for you at the top. Walking down the mountain really, really hurts, much more than walking up.

Q. Wait, there are races up the Peak?
A. Yep, and some of the races even run back down, too.

Q. Isn't that pretty crazy?
A. Yes, but it's the "fun" kind of crazy.

Q. What are these races?
A. There are presently 3 races:

The latter two races are held on the third weekend of August. The Ascent is run on Saturday and the Marathon on Sunday.

Q. So the Ascent and Marathon are held on two consecutive days. That means that no one could run both in the same year, right? Right?!
A. You'd be amazed. There are people who do this and they are referred to as "Doublers". Read all about them here: http://www.skyrunner.com/ppresults/ppdouble.htm

Q. So all of these races start at the Barr Trail trailhead and run up the Barr Trail?
A. Not exactly. The BTMR does start close to the trailhead, in the Cog Railway parking lot. The Ascent and Marathon races begin in front of Manitou City Hall on the main Manitou drag. All 3 races do not run directly up the trail from the trailhead. They run all the way up Ruxton Avenue and meet a section of trail known as the "Spur", which eventually merges with the main trail.

Q. Why do the races take this route?
A. I do not know for sure, but I suspect it has something to do with giving the waves of runners more time to thin out before reaching the narrow portions of the trail.

Q. Have you run any of the races?
A. Yes, all of them. I even have one Pikes Peak Double to my record.

Q. How were they? Were they hard? Did they hurt?
A. What do you think? Of course they were hard and they hurt. It's strenuous physical activity which is bound to have those side effects.

Q. Aren't there dangerous, wild animals on the Barr Trail, like bears and mountain lions?
A. I have never seen a bear on the mountain. And for the record, bears are not generally classified as dangerous. I have never seen a mountain lion either, though that's not to say that a mountain lion has not seen me. Still, I have dozens of journeys up the trail under my belt, at all hours of the day and night, and I have yet to be mauled. My guess is that most large animals would not want anything to do with such a heavily-trafficked trail. The animals you are likely to see include chipmunks, squirrels, and other small woodland rodents. There is a variety of avian wildlife as well and you will likely see more than a few bluejays. I once saw what I think was a pheasant (it was big and had a loud wingflap). And I have also seen a small lizard or 2 on the lower portions of the trail.

Q. Did you say that you hike at night?
A. Yep.

Q. What's that like?
A. Dark. Don't get me wrong, it's a lot of fun, too. But it's very dark if you don't do it at the right time.

Q. What's the right time?
A. As close to a full moon as you can manage. When the moon is slated to be full, you can count on it to be out all night, whereas a less-than-full moon is likely to vanish well before dawn and leave you in total darkness. Hiking when it's totally dark is no fun at all. Hiking during the full moon is a lot of fun and very spectacular, too.

Q. What's at the top of Pikes Peak?
A. A place called the Summit House. Here, you can purchase all sorts of exorbitantly-priced Peak-themed merchandise as well as high-fat food items such as the world-famous (and emotionally-scarring) Pikes Peak donuts.

Q. What's up with the donuts?
A. I wish I knew. People always told me that if I ever go to the top of Pikes Peak, I absolutely MUST eat the donuts. After eating (part of) one, I was convinced that these people were playing a cruel, practical joke. When I tried a Peak donut, I noticed a distinct trace of bratwurst flavor which, incidentally, they also sell at the Summit House. I couldn't get that experience out of my head for weeks afterwards.

Scenes From The Barr Trail