Katie and I went on what turned to be an epic ascent up Cameron Cone
(Cameron on the right, Pike's Peak on the left) near Colorado Springs, and in executing a pedestrian hiking trip turned into unplanned struggle for survival, she completed another milestone on the path to spending time with me.
We planned going up Cameron a few weeks ago, and I had read three different trail reports. I knew there were going to be some challenges finding the trail, and unfortunately, I didn't have a trail map better than the USGS
. But visibility is excellent in the Rockies, and I was confident. We brought 3 L of water and powerade, two cliff bars, plenty of extra clothing, two cell phones, and a head lamp. As expeditions go, I was less prepared than usual. The route from the Barr trailhead is about 10-12 km round trip with with 1.25 km of vertical.
After a massive breakfast buffet at the Broadmoor and a short trip to pick up the rental car, we set out from the Barr trailhead at about 1:30 PM. I was projecting a 4 hour round trip. The first part went smoothly - we followed the route guide successfully, and made it up to Magog Rock after about an hour. Weather conditions and visibility were excellent, and we were in good spirits. We ran into a pair of unleashed dogs (one of which was hilariously small) on the way to the summit, and I took a picture in case they were missing.
The last 1700 feet of vertical proved to be particularly steep and arduous. We were both suffering from the lack of oxygen. Despite Katie's inexperience with hiking, she was a trooper and persevered in the face of adversity. I unwisely set 5:15p as our turn around time, and we summited
just before then. As the trail was clear and open, I figured the descent would be a straightforward 2 hours. Pike's Peak
from Cameron Cone (note sun is low).
Unfortunately, that was incorrect. Our first epic challenge was that I elected to descent by an alternate route (we summited via the SE ridge) - descending the NW ridge. The trail deviated from the route description, and I was concerned we would have to backtrack. However, it was a better trail than the SE ridge and blazed, and we ultimately rejoined the original route without difficulty. Our second moment of concern was when we hit Magog Rock at about 7:00, just as darkness descended. Despite hitting the rock perfectly, we couldn't find the trail descending. I parked Katie with the powerade and scouted with the headlamp for about five uneasy minutes surrounded by perilous falls before I found the route again. While we had the two cell phones, I elected to only use the headlamp for the descent to conserve resources; Katie wore the headlamp, and I walked in front of her. My experience with Night-O was helpful, and we trudged cheerfully down the mountain.
Our final ordeal was the most involved and concerning. After making it down to the cog railway, we figured we were nearly home, but the original route had had a complicated traverse from the Barr trail across the railway that we couldn't find again. We descended the (closed for the day) railway all the way to the rail yard, but we couldn't figure out how to get across the river to the street and parking area. At this point, we were perhaps 100m from houses and could have called for help, but there was some concern about being arrested for trespassing on the railway. Ultimately, I parked Katie by the railway with the food and cell phone and scouted through dense bushes to find a passable crossing of the river. The last twenty minutes were almost silly, but we finally made it back to the car at about 9 PM.
Ironically, during the ascent, we had talked at length about how getting to the top was only the halfway point. While we made it out ok and in good spirits, the main problem was that I grossly underestimated how long it would take us to complete an arduous climb and descent. I suspect that in full daylight, the trip would have taken an hour less time. One headlamp per person is also a necessity whenever I'm on a trip. I was genuinely concerned when we lost the route at Magog. Ultimately, I have a lot of confidence in myself, which can become a problem when you consistently exceed the safe parameters of your trip and have to rely on your ability to wing it.
Fortunately, Katie was undeterred, and we celebrated our survival with pizza and sparkling water. I will be better prepared in the future.