Editor's note: Larry Floyd is an Oklahoma City resident and co-author of the guidebook, Oklahoma Hiking Trails (www.bestoklahomatrails.com)
Manitou Springs, Colo. — A regular hiking companion of mine, Howard Lucero, suggested earlier this summer that we climb the 14,110-foot Pikes Peak on the daunting Barr Trail from Manitou Springs, Colo., more than 12 miles in length and 7,800 feet of altitude gain.
With both of us starting to feel our years (I turned 60 on the day of our hike) and miles of hiking, I suggested a saner more scenic route to the summit, from the Crags Campground on the west side of Pikes Peak.
The more moderate 4,100 feet of elevation gain on this less crowded ascent provided an adventurous 13.6-mile, out-and-back day hike and gorgeous views of peaks along the Continental Divide
Our early morning start on this mid-July hike was well advised, as frequent afternoon thunderstorms on the peak can be a frightening and dangerous experience for exposed hikers.
From the Crags trailhead at 10,000 feet, we followed the meandering trail past the Crags Campground and generally eastward through heavy aspen-pine forest and across several log stream crossings. This route approaches the peak from the west-northwest.
As flatlanders, we immediately felt a familiar shortness of breath as the trail began to ascend. Early in the hike, the well-marked trail forked to the right following a sign denoting the route to the Devil's Playground.
About two miles from the trailhead the forest opened and we paused for photos of the stunning view of mountain ranges along the Continental Divide to the west.
About three miles into the route, we reached tree line near 12,000 feet. Several steep stretches zigzagged along switchbacks generally to the east and southeast.
The largely dirt trail was well marked and fairly smooth, but we were still glad to have worn our sturdy hiking boots on this strenuous climb.
We followed the trail amid high-pitched squeals of fat furry marmots and up a steep slop to a treeless, desolate ridgeline about three miles from the peak. Here the Pikes Peak summit first came into view.
The dark outline of the Summit House visitors center could be faintly seen as a small square on the peak. The paved road to the top could also be seen in the distance, and groups of descending cyclists crowded this roadway after their shuttle rides to the top.
From here the trail led into the Devil's Playground area and hugged the roadway for a short distance.
The Devil's Playground is strewn with striking rock formations and draws its name from the manner in which lightning jumps from rock to rock during storms. Although the area provided eye-candy in the morning, we knew it could be terrifying if we were caught in a thunderstorm that afternoon.