Climbing Pikes & Bierstadt Fast and Cheap

Clouds Glower at the Summit of Pikes Peak

This is a little bit of a retrospective... from early October. I had a longing to see the mountains, of which my little corner has none. I flew out of Chicago around 10pm headed for Denver. I landed at midnight, rented a car, and drove down to Manitou Springs. I slept for an hour or so in the parking lot at the base of Pikes Peak and around 3am set out. I took the incline up. It saves a couple of miles but ends up being a net loss because it is so taxing. Near the top I came into a layer of clouds that were very wet and yielded about two feet visibility. At 11,000 feet or so the clouds cleared and I was able to enjoy the sunrise. It was colder than I thought it would be and I wasn't adjusted yet. My gear was not adequate and my toes got pretty numb. 10 miles in, near the summit, was another cloud layer. I took stock of my toes, fatigue and available gear and decided to turn around short of the top. I hadn't seen a soul all morning so I figured it would be deserted anyway.
The Second Layer of Clouds at the Summit

As I descended my head cleared and my strength came back. I was able to run the last few miles of the Barr Trail. I was back at my car by 9am or so. I had a coffee in Manitou Springs then showered at Planet Fitness. Tip #1: Planet Fitness black card is the budget adventurer's best friend. For $20/mo. you can get a hot shower almost anywhere. Then I headed north through the Rockies to Mt. Bierstadt. The web said it was 5 miles to the summit. It was starting to snow but I figured there was enough daylight to summit. The problem was that I was bone tired. At 2.5 miles I was done and again, turned around. Back at the trailhead I noticed the sign said 3 miles to the summit (!) I had been so close—and thought it looked awfully close. I figured it was a false summit.
Mt Bierstadt

Bierstadt is close to Georgetown so I had dinner their then stayed in my favorite little hotel in Silver Plume, the Windsor. I had business in the area the next day, otherwise I would have just flown out Sunday night. I've done this before and it actually works out well.


To stay inexpensive you have to fly economy. I've gotten tickets <$100 before. One 20L pack has to carry all your gear. Here's my list:

Pack - Deuter Speed Lite 20. Unfortunately the newer version of this pack lacks much of what makes it so functional, the gear straps and waist cinch. It has plenty of room but has enough options to tighten everything down that you can run with it at a pretty good clip.

Bladder - This was okay but I am going back to bottles on future expeditions. The bladder is more trouble than it's worth and the hassle causes you to end up drinking less than you should. I just acquired some Salomon collapsible bottles and am anxious to try them out.

Headlamp - Petzl Tikka

Light (150) wool shirt

Fleece Beanie

Gloves (weather dependent, and if I'll be scrambling I bring some $5 work gloves from Home Depot)


Moisturizer (face and lips get chapped by the wind and even on my best days my nose runs at elevation). Keep this accessible!

Phone and extra charger.

Rain jacket.

Puffy (I opted to leave it in the car this trip—it's worth the bulk. I stay warm by moving fast but if elevation or injury slow me down I'm in serious trouble without the puffy. Right now I have a Patagonia Nano Puff that is the most versatile jacket ever).

Plastic bag for gear if it rains

Space Blanket

Advil (just in case)

Light climbing pants (I wear tights or shorts but near the summit when I'm moving slow the pants are appreciated)

Snickers (it really doesn't matter—one of my best ascents up Longs I brought baloney sandwiches).

Extra stuff sack - this is for the non-essential stuff you have along so you can leave it in the car.

And that's it. This trip I had to have a change of clothes and shoes so I could work the next day. That's where the Speed Lite's straps come in handy--my pack still counts as a "personal item" with my running shoes strapped to the back.


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