Winter is NOT the time to climb Pikes Peak, but don’t take our word for it. Local hiking expert, “Hiking Bob” Falcone has been a Colorado Springs resident for 27 years. He’s a retire firefighter, avid hiker and outdoorsman, and leads group hikes for fitness, business and pleasure. Check out his site for more info.
I get questions about our favorite mountain all the time. People want to know all about Pikes Peak…How big is it? (14,115’). Can you drive up it? (Yes). Can I take a train up to the top? (Yes, except it is currently closed due to renovations). Is it the biggest mountain in Colorado? (No. There are 29 that are even taller). Who was Pike? (An Army soldier with a bad sense of direction). And the granddaddy of them all…I’m coming to Colorado to go skiing. Can I hike to the top of Pikes Peak while I’m there? (Short answer…NO). Keep reading…
So, let’s talk about hiking up Pikes Peak on the Barr Trail, the most common route up to the summit. It’s a 13 mile one-way hike with 7800’ of elevation gain. Although the trail isn’t particularly technically difficult, it’s length makes it one of the most difficult trails in the state. The weather change from the top to the bottom can be dramatic. I’ve been snowed on while on the trail—in August. Cold, winter weather at the trailhead can become very cold, bone chilling weather long before you reach the summit, and even before getting above tree-line at a mere 12,000’. Even in early spring, you will likely encounter deep snow on the trail. It takes the average Colorado hiker (someone who is acclimated to the altitude here), around 6 to 8 hours to hike to the summit, and that’s in good weather. In the summer. It’s a hike that one trains for, not just decides to do at the spur of the moment. And that is especially true for someone who’s not used to hiking at these elevations.
Logistically, this is a difficult hike to accomplish in the winter. With the short amount of daylight in the winter, you’ll likely barely have any daylight when you reach the top. And you still have to get down. Sure, you can hike back down, but after hiking up 13 miles, do you really want to hike back down? You’ll be tired and sore, and in the dark (did you think about bringing a headlight?), so you won’t gain a lot of time going downhill. Once the sun goes down, the temperatures drop dramatically, so you’ll be colder. Did you think about extra clothing (and the weight it brings)? You can arrange for a ride back down the mountain on the Pikes Peak Highway, but in the winter months, the uphill gates close at 3pm, and the exit gates at the bottom close at 5pm. If you end up calling for the Pikes Peak Rangers during off hours to give you a ride down, you’ll have to pay $500 to have a Ranger retrieve you and drive you down to the end of the road. And of course, in inclement weather the road may not be open all the way to the summit, meaning that no one may be able to get to the top to retrieve you.
Finally, in the event of an emergency, it takes longer for search and rescue personnel to get to you on the trail, which could mean the difference between life and death. Our search and rescue people are well-trained, dedicated and equipped, but they can’t control the weather. Most people who need to be rescued on the Barr Trail get in trouble because they underestimate the difficulty of the hike, overestimate their abilities, and are often under-equipped for the conditions. It’s important to note that even most locals don’t hike to the top of Pikes Peak in the winter months. See the AdAmAn blog for the few crazy enough to hike in winter!
If your first opportunity for your first hike to the top of Pikes Peak is in the winter, do yourself, your friends and family, and our dedicated rangers and Search and Rescue volunteers a favor, and take a pass. Come back in the summer, when the days are longer and the weather is better, and your chance of success is better.
Click here for other great hikes in the area.