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On Walkabout On: Pikes Peak via the Barr Trail

Basic Information

  • Name: Pikes Peak
  • Where: Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Elevation: 14,115
  • Distance: 12.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 7,431 feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • More Information: Trails and Open Space Coalition

Route Up Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak Route

Topographic Map of Barr Trail

Barr Trail Topo Map

Note: You can print bigger images of this map by going to this link and then right clicking with your mouse and then saving the map to your computer for printing.

Narrative

Last year I hiked up Pikes Peak’s western face via the Crags Trailhead and this year I have been meaning to hike up the mountain via the famed Barr Trail that ascends the mountain’s eastern face.  Recently I had the chance to hike up Barr Trail with a group of co-workers as a team building activity.  So we met up at the Barr Trail parking lot at 5AM in the morning to begin our ascent up the mountain.  Even though it was early in the morning there was already quite a few cars in the lot, but fortunately I found a spot.  There is a parking meter in the lot that requires hikers to pay $5 to park.  Since it was pitch black out I actually found it hard to see the buttons and had to go back to my truck to get a light.  After each of us paid our parking fee we began to head up the mountain.  Since it was dark out, here is a picture of the trailhead I took last year from a previous hike up to Barr Camp:

Something the Forest Service makes very clear to people at the trailhead is that you are responsible for coordinating your own way off of the mountain:

The group I was hiking with had a van coordinated to pick us up at the top of the mountain.  The hike is a long one that my Garmin Fenix measured out to be 12.76 miles which is a little bit longer than what the sign says.  I also measured an elevation gain of 7,431 which makes Pikes Peak via the Barr Trail the longest and highest ascent of any 14er in Colorado.

Something else unusual about Pikes Peak is that one of the hardest parts of the hike begins at the start of the trail.  For approximately 3 miles from the trailhead, Barr Trail switchbacks up the side of Mt. Manitou to gain about 3,000 feet in elevation.  The distance of this hike can actually be reduced by avoiding most of the switchbacks and walking up The Incline.  I have featured The Incline before on this site and you can read more about it at the below link:

Be warned though that The Incline is very steep and may wear out your legs early in the hike.  So know what your body can handle.  On the topographic map above I have left the trail for The Incline on the map for those interested in using that route instead of the standard Barr Trail switchbacks.

Since I was hiking the switchbacks in the early morning the only thing I could see was the rising sun in the distance to the east:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

However, below is a picture I took from an earlier hike that shows that when the sun is out there are some really nice views from Barr Trail of Ruxton Canyon down below and the impressive 10,707 foot Cameron Cone:

Once the switchbacks have ended this sign pointing towards Pikes Peak will keep you on the right trail:

As the topographic map above shows there are a lot of trails that intersect with Barr Trail so it is important to follow the signs or risk getting way off course.  After this sign begins the easiest portion of the hike.  It is literally just a nice walk through a forest of pines and aspen trees:

This section of the hike across this vast forested plateau is also the first part of the hike where views of the impressive eastern face of Pikes Peak can be seen:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Besides Pikes Peak its neighbor the 12,367 foot Almagre Mountain provides some nice views as well:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

You can read more about my previous hike up Almagre Mountain at the below link:

The trail crosses this high forested plateau until it reaches Barr Camp that sits at 10,200 feet in elevation and is the official halfway point of the hike:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Barr Camp is located approximately 6.5 miles up the mountain and is operated under a special permit from the US Forest Service.  The cabin here was built in 1921 by the founder of this trail Fred Barr.  The local Gazette newspaper has a pretty interesting article about Fred Barr that highlights how he built the trail and the cabin all by himself and even today no one is really sure how he did it:

Morath called Barr “a true mountain man who loved the high rock country with all his heart.”

Barr built his trail by hand, using burros and blasting powder to make his path up the mountain and spending days and sometimes weeks looking for the right route.

No one disputes that Barr finished his project. But no one really knows how he did it.

“I’ve found nothing written by Fred Barr,” says Slaughter, who has been working on a history of Barr Camp and its founder. “I’ve been trying to piece together how he built the main cabin and the trail, but there isn’t a note, a plan, a request to be found.”

Slaughter is puzzled by the logs used for the cabin, which still stands at the midway point on the trail.

“I’ve seen photographs from back then, and there wasn’t a tree anywhere in sight of the present-day cabin that was anywhere big enough to be used.”

He believes Barr salvaged the logs used for the building from cabins that were dismantled in nearby Ruxton and Englemann canyons and carried them on a mule train road to the site.

That would have added to the effort required to finish the cabins, but Slaughter and others who have researched Barr’s work believe the miner would have relished the challenge.

Barr finished his trail in 1921, the same year the state established a highway department and crews began building the state’s first concrete highways. As construction crews made their way across the state, Barr continued to plot out paths on Pikes Peak.

Fred Barr signed his final AdAmAn register in 1939. On April 3, 1940, he died of a heart attack while he and his wife visited relatives in New Mexico. He was 58.  [The Gazette]

Barr Camp is where many people decide to either pay to stay in the bunkhouse here or camp out in the nearby campground in order to divide the hike into two days.  The folks that run the camp also cook meals.  So for people not wanting to haul a lot of gear up the mountain they could really travel pretty light by staying in the bunkhouse and eating at the cabin.  Barr Camp also has an outhouse which are the only ones along the trail for hikers to use until reaching the summit of the mountain.  Since this camp is so isolated there is no running water, but there is a creek that runs in front of the cabin that hikers can use a water filter to purify if they need water.  The bottom line is that Barr Camp really is a great place to stay and check out while on the trail.  You can learn more about the camp at this link.

People are not the only ones that enjoy stopping at Barr Camp, here are some hummingbirds I saw that looked like they were having a good time as well:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

From Barr Camp is about another 6 miles of hiking to the summit of Pikes Peak.  For the first three miles the trail switchbacks through the forest, but never gets too steep as it climbs up the eastern face of Pikes Peak:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

As the trail gets closer to treeline the trees begin to become smaller and the forest thins out a bit:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

There are also a lot more wildflowers that can be seen as they do not have to compete for sunlight with surrounding trees:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

The fields of wildflowers were quite beautiful:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

With about 3 miles to go to reach the summit the trail reaches treeline and the A-Frame shelter that campers can stay at comes into view:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

The A-Frame is another option for hikers to stay at if they want to get further up the mountain before deciding camp out instead of using Barr Camp.  There is a nearby creek that can be used for water but there is no outhouse facilities.  Here is the view from the A-Frame looking up towards the summit of Pikes Peak:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

From the A-Frame the trail continues to switchback up the eastern face of Pikes Peak and these were the last trees I saw for the remainder of the hike:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Here is the view from treeline looking towards the south where Almagre Mountain is the dominant landmark with Lake Moraine glimmering at its base:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Below is a view looking back to the east where the high, forested plateau where Barr Camp is located.  Also Ruxton Canyon where Barr Trail begins and Cameron Cone are both easily spotted:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Here is the view looking to the northeast where the Rampart Range and the Waldo Canyon Fire burn scar are visible:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

From this high up in elevation the damage on the burn scar was not really evident, but at lower altitudes especially when driving up Ute Pass the burn scar damage is quite visible.

As the trail continues up past treeline there is a marker commemorating the life of G. Inestine Roberts that comes into view:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

According to the marker Roberts died at age 88 on her 14th ascent of Pikes Peak.  It is unfortunate she died hiking a mountain she obviously loved, but the marker serves as a useful reminder to people that hiking Pikes Peak is dangerous.  The physical exertion and lack of air does put great stain on the body and can lead to heart attacks if people are not careful.  Another danger with hiking Pikes Peak is lightning.  During the summer nearly every afternoon there is a threat of thunderstorms hitting Pikes Peak.  This lightning threat is so serious that Backpacker magazine named Pikes Peak one of its 10 most dangerous hikes in America.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

Exhibit A Storm clouds were gathering over Pikes Peak by 1 p.m. on July 25, 2000, but no lightning had yet flashed from the clouds, so 18-year-old Frazee Waltman figured he still had time to scurry down off the summit before the daily afternoon electrical show. He didn’t. Waltman had only descended as far as the Golden Staircase, a rocky stretch of the Barr Trail 100 feet below the summit, when the storm’s first bolt fried him–but left his two buddies uninjured. Not even a thunderclap alerted the trio of the impending tragedy.

As the excerpt demonstrates, there is no place for a hiker to hide from an electrical storm if above treeline.  That is why it is highly recommended not only on Pikes Peak, but any other mountain being climbed in Colorado to get up to the summit by lunch time so you are heading off the mountain before the afternoon thunderstorms.  This is a “best practice” that I always follow and was no different for my hike up Barr Trail.  That is why I left so early in the morning so I would reach the summit by lunch time.

The higher I climbed up the trail the more impressive the size of the various boulders on the mountain became:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Some of the rock formations were just extremely impressive to look at:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Here is a closer look at the one that I thought was the most impressive rock formation adjacent to the trail:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

As I continued up the mountain I could now see clouds starting to form on the summit:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Within 15 minutes the sky was suddenly filled with clouds obscuring most views unfortunately:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Near the end of the Barr Trail it passes this large rock wall where I met some guy who told me he was going to free climb it:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

He had a little crowd growing to watch him do a free climb, but with the weather turning I did not want to wait to watch him do his climb.  So I pushed on up the trail where I soon reached the 16 Golden Stairs:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

I do not know why this is called the 16 Golden Stairs because there was quite obviously much more than 16 steps here.  However, this last section of steep switchbacks was all that stood between me and the summit that was just a short distance above:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Near the end of the 16 Golden Steps there is this marker in commemoration of Fred Barr who as I previously explained constructed this great trail:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

As I got higher on the mountain the clouds became thicker and thicker:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

It actually began to rain a little near the end of the trail which cooled the temperature quite a bit, but fortunately the wind was not too bad:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

l have been on hikes before where the wind is so bad it drops the temperature to the freezing levels even in the summer months.  Fortunately that was not the case with this hike, but I was well prepared with the gear that I had packed to handle any poor weather thrown my way.

At the top of the 16 Golden Stairs the Summit House on Pikes Peak came into view thus ending my hike up to the summit of Pikes Peak:

Picture from Barr Trail, Colorado

Conclusion

On the summit I did not bother spending too much time because the views were non-existent due to the weather and it was an absolute madhouse up there with the number of tourists.  For those wanting to see pictures from the summit I recommend checking out these two prior postings of mine:

For example here is a prior picture I took of the view looking towards the south and Almagre Mountain:

The pointy peak on the left of the above picture is of the 11,499 foot Mt. Rosa which is the location that Zebulon Pike and a small group of his men climbed after a failed attempt to find a way to the summit of Pikes Peak in 1806.  Pike is the person generally credited with “discovering” Pikes Peak, but the Native-Americans, French fur trappers, and the Spanish explorers knew of the mountain long before Pike.  Considering the imposing challenge of climbing the peak back then I am sure Pike would be amazed that just over a 100 years later a highway has been constructed to the summit.  The first person to “climb” Pikes Peak was credited to botanist Dr. Edwin James in 1820 who was part of the Longs Expedition exploring and surveying the Rocky Mountains.  The expedition leader Major Stephen H. Long even named the mountain James Peak in his honor but by the 1850’s people were back calling it Pikes Peak again officially sending James back into historical obscurity.

Unlike Dr. James though after I climbed Pikes Peak I was able to go inside the Summit House and eat donuts.  After eating some of the famous Pikes Peak donuts my group then went and took a picture in front of the summit sign before loading up in a van and driving off the mountain.  In all I probably spent less than 15 minutes on the summit.  Without any views to take in it made no sense waiting around.  All in all though it was a great hike up the mountain despite the weather that rolled in at the last minute on the summit.  I highly encourage everyone that has the time while visiting the region to hike Barr Trail.  It really is a classic American hike that should be on every hiker’s bucket list of trails to complete.

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