2 Days, 3 14ers or A perfect week in Colorado

For years we had a standing invitation to visit our friends in Colorado Springs. We always thought we'd take our the truck out there for a 4x4/camping/hiking trip, but with the two day approach that would require a two week trip. So we decided to fly out there for a trip focused on hiking. After agreeing on some dates our friends came up with a plan which resulted in a perfect week in Colorado!

The photo gallery for this report can be found here: Colorado July 2010 gallery

Day 1: July 17, 2010
  • Arrive from San Diego around noon, get rental car and head south to Co-Springs.
  • Afternoon hang out with friends and family.
  • Visit evening finale of the 70th Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo.
Day 2: July 18, 2010
  • Visit Garden of the Gods state park
  • Lunch at the Trading Post in the park
  • After a nice cooling thunderstorm we went to Manitou Springs for some ice cream and shopping
Day 3: July 19, 2010

Drive up Pikes Peak. The road is mostly paved and the going is rather slow with the 20MpH speed limit. While on top we experienced a good t-storm. We were pleased to learn that the altitude did not effect us beyond the expected light headedness when moving too fast.

Day 4: July 20, 2010
Incline - Barr Trail Stats:

  • Distance hiked: 12.6 miles
  • Time on trail: 7h (incl. 30 min t-storm break, 30 min break at hut, 15min break at overlook)
  • Elevation gain: 3700ft (1600ft on Incline)

Time to do some hiking. We asked our friends for a nice hike that would prepare us for the more serious hiking we had planned for later in the week. They suggested "The Incline". This is an abandoned cog rail track which starts in Manitou Springs and goes straight up for about 2000ft. It's an incredibly steep climb on the old cog rail ties. At the top there is a connector trail to the Barr Trail which leads from Manitou Springs to Pikes Peak. This is the preferred route down. Since it was early in the day we decided to take a different trail to connect to the Barr trail a little further up. The map indicated a loop trail around some meadows and a lake. We never found this trail and decided to just continue up to Barr Camp. There is cabin at the camp and hikers use it as an overnight stop on the way to Pikes Peak. Besides camp sides bunk beds are offered. Less than 0.5 miles from the camp the afternoon t-storm caught up with us and we ended up hunkering down in the forest while the storm passed directly over us. Through all the hail and rain the trees provided surprisingly good shelter and we stayed almost completely dry. After the storm had moved far enough for us to feel comfortable again we hiked up to the camp where bought some hot chocolate and snack. After chatting with the host we headed to an overlook and then back down towards our car.

Day 5: July 21, 2010
  • Drive from Co-Springs to Halfmoon Creek for a couple of nights of camping and some 14er attempts
  • Encountered a lot of rain during drive, but conditions at the campground were pleasant and we found a nice site right at the creek.
  • After setting up camp we drove up the road to the 2nd Mt. Massive trail head and walked up the trail a little.
  • The road from the camp is a little rougher and we all rode in our friends 4Runner
  • On the way back we stopped at the Mt. Elbert trailhead to check out any postings for our attempt of this 14er the next day
Day 6: July 22, 2010

Today we wanted to attempt our first 14er: Mt. Elbert. This is a very busy mountain and even on a Thursday with not the best weather conditions we meet quite a few people.

Mt. Elbert Stats:

  • Distance hiked: 9 miles
  • Time on trail: 7.5h (incl. 40 min break on summit; 3h 50min to reach top)
  • Elevation gain: 4300ft

Originally our friend Birgit and I wanted to do this hike together, but after feeling so good and strong during the hike two days earlier Srisuda decided to give it a shot also. The three of us left the trail head at 6:30am with our friend's dog Sombre. We made good progress and soon reached the timberline. At this point we got a good view of the cloudy sky and the rain storms moving around in the area. It did not take long and we were hit by some rain. We kept on climbing, the rain stopped and our clothes dried in the moderate wind. We reached the peak at around 10:20am. After taking the required pictures we settled behind a rock wind shelter and had some lunch. Due to the wet and cold conditions we did not stay too long, but rather started our decent before cooling down too much. At about 13000ft the rains started again and by the time we reached the timberline we heard thunder and saw some lightning. The remainder of the hike was in light rain which only stopped about half a mile before we got back to the trail head.

Trivia: Mt. Elbert is Colorado's highest mountain. Along the way we realized that the three of us had climbed New Mexico's highest mountain together 21 years earlier. During that climb we also got soaked by a thunder storm on the way down.

We drove back to camp where we put our feet into the ice cold creek. The rest of the afternoon was spent snacking, drying our gear in the sun which had come out (had to move things around as the shadows of the trees were moving), and preparing for the next days hike.

After a big dinner we relaxed at the camp fire preparing smores and waiting for Bill who joined us just before dark. Bill and I prepared our gear for tomorrow's hike.

Day 7: July 23, 2010

Bill & I got up at 4:30, had some oatmeal for breakfast, grabbed out gear and convinced Sombre to come with us. She did not want to leave her comfortable pillow and probably got a little concerned seeing us in hiking gear when she was still recovering from the previous day's hike. Since the other's had planned a day that wasn't too dog friendly she had no choice. We finally headed out for the drive to the Missouri Gulch trailhead. Our goal for the day was to do a double 14er: Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford. During our breakfast we saw some lighting and heard some thunder, even got a light rain: Not too promising for hiking 14ers. We decided to drive to the trailhead anyway and see how much of a hike we could get in before the conditions would turn too uncomfortable or unsafe. When we looked back towards Halfmoon creek after reaching Hwy 24 we just saw a big wall of rain! The drive south was dry though and we even saw some peaks to the west of us.

At 6:15 am we hit the trailhead and started out climb. This climb does not mess around and starts with some steep switchbacks right away. We made good progress in the dense forest eventually crossing the stream we had heard along the way and reached an abanded cabin. From here we got a good view of the sky and it was quite clear with just a few small clouds way up there. This really got our hopes up and it started to look like it might become a great day after all. The trees get shorter and sparser after the cabin and soon end all together at the point where the trail climbs up a rather steep ridge.

We worked out way up the steep ridge at a nice steady pace and reached the peak of Mt. Belford around 10am. After a short break with a light snack we headed down the south side of the peak towards the ridge connecting Mt. Belford and Mt. Oxford. The ridge drops down rather steeply which results in an elevation loss of about 700ft. Of course this loss is made up on the climb up to Mt. Oxford. At around 11:45am we stood on our 2nd 14er for the day and my third within 25 hours. This time we took a little longer break and had a slightly more substantial snack. Not too heavy though since we still had a good climb back up that steep ridge we had come down before.

Mt. Belford & Mt. Oxford Stats:

  • Distance hiked: 12 miles
  • Time on trail: 11h (incl. 20 min on Belford summit, 45 min break on Oxford summit; 3h 45min to top of Belford)
  • Elevation gain: 5600ft (4450 to Belford, 600 to Oxford, 550 back to ridge below Oxford)

As can be seen on the photos conditions had developed nicely and it was a perfect day. After enjoying the views for a while it was time to head back. The climb up towards Mt. Belford turned out to be less of an issue than we had feared. We didn't actually go up all the way to the top of Mt. Belford since we had come up with an alternate route down while we were up there. Sitting up on Mt. Belford we noticed that the slopes towards Elkhorn pass looked rather gentle compared to what we had come up. Our map showed a trail from the trailhead to the pass, but not from the peak to the pass. Fortunately there was a hiker on the peak with us who was very familiar with the area and he told us that there in fact was a connecting trail which he thought would only add about a mile to our hike, but with a lot less knee-stressing steepness. So after climbing up the connecting ridge we headed down towards Elkhorn pass. It turned out to be a very nice trail which provided us with some nice views and ended up leading us through some meadows with lots of wild flowers. Overall well worth the extra distance and in fact I would recommend this route.

We returned to the car by around 5:15 pm after a superb day! We took the time to cool our feet in the creek for a little while before driving back home. Sombre was so worn out by now that she did not even join us at the creek but just sat on her pillow almost falling asleep immediately. Being somewhat tired ourselves we took turns driving on the way back to Co-Springs where we met up with the rest of our group who spent a nice day around camp and then a visit to Leadville.

Day 8: July 24, 2010 and Summary

This day came much too early, but it was time to return home.

As with any vacation the trip was much too short. We had a fantastic time and were already talking about going back next summer for some more hikes. Not having had much hiking experience over 11,000ft we were please to see that we had no issues with the extra altitude. It had been a concern since we live close to sea level. Slow acclimatizing to elevation may have been one reason: We spend 2.5 days at around 6,000ft with a few hours at 14K on Pikes Peak, then did a nice hike up to 10K on day 3, took a rest day and then tackled the 14ers after a night at 10K