August 21, 1999 - from the Crags Campground
You want to see a crowded camping area, scope out the USFS Crags campground on an August weekend. I did not get a spot so I wandered back down the road to a commando camping area with a decent gap between the wood line and the camper already located in a meadow. Not a lot of room, but I purposely squeezed my tent as far from the camper as possible and, as it was nearly dark and I planned to bail out before dawn, I hoped not to raise the ire of my new neighbor.
The tent came down, very quietly, at 5:30 and I signed the trail register at six a.m. The trail was as described in the guides and I had no problem locating the cut off point, which is in fact delineated by some pipes, again as promised. The trail winds up through woods and past what must be the crags, some rock formations best viewed from above, before coming out of the trees at the base of a long climb to the ridgeline above. The climb deposited me in a meadow and I found the old Jeep trail (two ruts instead of one) and walked up and around the bend to sight the Pikes Peak auto road. The trail cuts the road at a wide gravel pull off, complete with shitters, and then proceeds along and just above the road until veering off to cut behind Pt. 13, 363 and then rejoining the road at the road’s next switchback. From this point, I took to the boulders, literally, climbing up the large (washer, refrigerator, bigger) boulders that form the final pitch before arriving at the summit.
The summit, well, it is Pikes Peak and there were tourists everywhere. I ate lunch on the rocks near the end of the cog railway line, outside the back door of the summit house, and then made a stop at the gift shop. The gift shop? It is a long story but I will give the short version. Family trip, 1971, folks drive to the top of Pikes in the station wagon and little sister wants one of those cedar boxes that every gift shop sells, you know, the one that says “Pikes Peak.” She was 7 years old and my parents would not buy her the box. She whined about that box for the rest of the trip, three weeks worth of whining. Now it is 1999 and I am standing in the gift shop, looking at the cedar boxes. Of course, I bought one! She received cedar box from Pikes Peak in September of 2000, 29 years after first setting eyes on it. That box sits on her dresser to this day. As I have written so many times before, there is more to climbing 14’ers than just getting to the top.
One the way up the Peak, I joined up with two other climbers so after lunch the three of us headed down. We hopped and picked our way to the base of the boulders and arrived at that switchback to the delight of a car full of tourists. They were fascinated that we climbed in lieu of driving and offered us each a cold one . . . root beer that is. We took them up on their offer and then continued our trip downward. At the road crossing, the sky finally started to cloud up and shifted to a bit higher gear in hopes of reaching the car dry. Down the slope, through the woods and sure enough, the raindrops did not come until we threw our stuff into the back of the trucks.
Pikes . . . how could climbing a peak with a road to the top be worth the effort? You meet folks along the way, you get a root beer on the road, you buy a cedar box at the top . . . it was a good climb.