Pikes Peak – often called America’s most famous mountain. Katharine Lee Bates was inspired by the mountain and included it in her famous poem America the Beautiful in 1893. "Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain; For purple mountains' majesty above the fruited plain." The anthem has been taught to millions of school children across America. And so it is, on the warm winter morning of January 25, that we stand at a crowded trailhead and gazed up toward Pike’s hidden summit. At our feet is the famous Barr Trail, a sinuous 13 mile track leading to the top of Pikes Peak. On the way is a remarkable place called Barr Camp, where warm food and rustic accommodations would be had.
Anna and I plan to meet some friends at Barr Camp tonight, where we will spend the night with other guests, many strangers, but all sharing a love for mountains. The year-round caretakers at Barr Camp provide hot food, good conversation, and a really cool place to stay for a while. It’s a fantastic experience, and well worth the beautiful seven mile hike to visit.
From the trailhead, the path ascends steep scraggy switchbacks. I carry my sleeping gear in a backpack, along with an Oly 17mm f1.8. At my side is an E-M1 with 12-40.
We luck out with the winter weather. The day is warm and beautiful. Some neat rock formations appear in the distance.
The view above Manitou Springs.
Sand turns to snow.
The color always changes.
Our first view of Pikes Peak from the trail. The shy mountain pulls me in.
Behind us, and not the least bit shy, is the burgeoning city of Colorado Springs.
Into the trees we go.
The trees part and Pikes Peak comes into clear view.
A closer view of the monolithic mountain. Barr Trail ascends the eastern face seen here.
Rock flirts with sunset.
And just before dark, we arrive at Barr Camp.
Home sweet home.
The kids greet us in the guest’s quarters. We drop the heavy packs from our weary shoulders. We are glad to have arrived.
Yea…this will work.
When you have to go.
Our goal for tomorrow.
I sleep well considering cozy arrangements with a bunch of strangers. The cabin is a social event, and to be honest, I’m not all that social. The hosts and fellow guests were great people, but both Anna and I are eager to get moving in the morning.
Back into the trees we go.
Another beautiful day in the Rocky Mountains.
The trail twists through otherworldly terrain.
We approach tree line and the upper mountain comes into view.
To our left, a hundred yards off the trail, is a local landmark known as the A-Frame. It provides dual duty: refuge in bad weather, or just a comfortable place to sleep on a warm summer night. The view up here is pretty cool.
Next time, I’m coming with a sleeping bag and some beer, and I’m spending the night up here.
We sit back, relax, and rest our tired legs. We look up to where we need to go.
On the road again.
About to leave the comfort of trees.
Enjoying the views.
It’s a remarkably beautiful two miles to the summit.
Across snow and between rocks.
The trail continues its relentless climb.
The terrain becomes more rugged.
The trail switchbacks between steep slabs of rock.
The view back down the trail.
At the edge.
A little closer to the sun.
We encounter another memorial, this time for Fred Barr, who started construction of the trail back in 1914.
We approach the top of the mountain. I look back for one last look.
Strange antenna-like structures soon come into view.
Welcome to the summit.
Why the hell didn’t we just drive up here???
Hmmm...I wonder if the keys have been left in the ignition?
Our wild search for a running vehicle proves fruitless. Despondent, I walk over and snap a picture of the summit marker. It’s probably one of the most photographed signs in the entire world.
It can be cold above fourteen thousand feet in January and today is no exception. We need a break and find refuge in the summit house. Our reward: nachos at fourteen thousand feet. We wanted donuts but the famous donuts looked stale.
In warmer months, a train loaded with visitors comes up here every day from Manitou Springs.
No train is coming for us today.
It’s time to go home.
We have thirteen miles of trail to go.
It’s late in the day, and the light turns a little warmer.
The trail continues down the steep upper face.
Crossing time zones.
A long way down.
It’s near dark when we collect our stashed gear at the cabin. We stuff our backpacks full and say goodbye to the caretakers, Renee and Anthony. We turn and take one last look at Pikes Peak in the fading twilight. Purple mountains’ majesty. No doubt about it.
We hike the last four miles in the dark. Raging thoughts of pizza and beer keep my mind occupied. I see a flash of eyes on the right, and then high on the left - we walk a little faster. And soon enough we are back at the car, tired and hungry. We recline the front seats and relax in the satisfaction of hiking the Barr Trail to the summit and back, as steam rises from the tired boots that now sit empty at our feet. It’s time for dinner, let’s go home.
A quick note on processing: All pics were taken in RAW, converted to TIFF with Olympus Viewer 3, and then batch processed to JPEG using Nikon’s Capture NX2 with some added sharpening, saturation, Nik tonal contrast, and shadow lightening. Thanks for reading.