September 2008: Pikes Peak


Colorado Springs, Colorado

Pikes Peak, with its height and position in the Front Range, was the first landmark seen by settlers heading west. Explorer Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, on assignment by Thomas Jefferson, first saw the mountain in 1806. He was thwarted by a blizzard in his attempt to scale the "GreatPeak." The first recorded successful ascent was made by a scientist named Edwin James in 1820. In 1858 Julia Archibald - sporting bloomers - became the first woman to tag the summit and spent two days on top. The footpath up the eastern face was re-worked and built by Fred Barr between 1914 and 1918. It was pick-and-shovel duty, with an occasional dash of black powder for moving rocks and trees.

Dogs are welcome to tackle the Barr National Recreation Trail all the way to the summit. Near the top there are rock steps that most dogs can negotiate. The 13-mile pull to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak begins in Manitou Springs at an elevation of 6,300 feet. It is the biggest elevation gain of any trail in Colorado, with an average grade of 11%. Serious canine hiking indeed. Barr Camp, where Fred ran a burro concession, is at the halfway point and makes a handy turn-around point for those not prepared to make the assault on the summit. There are three miles of hiking above the treeline and the peak gets afternoon storms nearly daily so come prepared. The Barr Trail is well-trod and well-marked. It gets extremely hot in the mid-summer and there is no natural water for your dog on Pikes Peak.

Pikes Peak is the most-visited mountain in the United States - a half-million people make their way to the summit every year, most in their cars. When it opened in the Fall of 1888, the 14-foot wide Pikes Peak Carriage Road was billed as the highest road in the world. The first automobile chugged to the summit in 1901 - today the climb is 6,710 feet over 19 miles on the toll road. Not many people go through the toll to hike. But at the base of Pikes Peak is a one hour out-and-back ramble through the aspen groves, pine forests and impressive boulders of Crowe Gulch. This land was opened to homesteading in 1862 and the Crowe family was one that tried but farming was difficult in a place where snow could come in July. The Crowes abandoned their 160-acre parcel before the five years of residency required for ownership. There is no charge for this peaceful canine hike; just tell the folks at the toll booth that you don't want to drive to the top, just hike in Crowe Gulch. 

In Colorado Springs, take Colorado Boulevard into Manitou Springs and turn left onto Ruxton at the west end of town. Follow Ruxton past the cog railway and turn right up a short hill to the Barr Trail parking lot.