We awoke to a fresh blanket of fine, light snow covering the surrounding landscape. An alarm at 5 a.m. awoke the group and soon everyone was rustling in their tents, toying with headlamps, swatting snow off the vestibule and packing only what they needed to get to the summit.
The day before, five CC students gathered at the base of the Barr Trail in sunny, 40 degree weather, ready to work their way up 12 miles to the summit of Pikes Peak. Weather reports for the next day predicted a high of -8 degrees at the top, which was certainly alarming but added to the challenge of climbing our beloved fourteener in winter conditions. Starting from the Manitou parking lot at noon, we had little time to waste and set off, meeting questioning looks from others that questioned our sanity.
Upon arriving at the intersection of the Incline and Barr Trails, we sat down to enjoy the view while passing around a fresh ball of mozzarella and pesto. If anything can keep you going in cold weather, it’s the thought of mozzarella and pesto, and thankfully our fearless ORC leaders in training, Thomas Crowe ’15 and Ellen Smith ‘16, knew this.
Once we reached Barr Camp, we talked with Teresa, CC student and caretaker of Barr Camp, about the forecast for the next day. We promised we would play it safe – we had no intentions of repeating the mistakes of the Air Force group who were lifted off the mountain in a helicopter in blizzard conditions.
The miles passed quickly the next morning as we walked through the winter wonderland, adjusting our layers so as not to overheat and simultaneously preventing our water bottles from turning into frozen bricks by keeping them in our jackets. We eventually decided to split the group due to some leaky, cold boots, and three of us set out to see how high we could get up on the mountain. It was hard to stay on the snow-covered Barr Trail above treeline, but we soon found ourselves at the two miles to summit sign at 12,700 feet basking in -1 degree weather. The conditions weren’t optimal and visibility had started to deteriorate. In addition, the forecast predicted 30 mph wind gusts and a wind chill of -40 degrees at the top. We decided that we were very content where we were and had to give the mountain its due respect.
We rejoined the rest of the group at Barr Camp and promptly set off down the trail hoping to get to the van before nightfall. The fresh snow imbued the spirit of Christmas, and carols were sung as we descended the mountain.
Pikes Peak is a popular summer climb, but I encourage others to give it a go in the winter. There’s a sense of serenity and power that can often go unnoticed with the highway and Cog Rail traffic. Assophomore Alexandra Drew put it: “The best way to understand Colorado winter is to make a summit push in a snowstorm. [It’s] like living in a snow globe.”