Sucking air on this steep scramble, we looked enviously at a few pairs of hikers who had already reached the top and were now on their way down.
We finally reached the top of this immense rock pile and a short hike led us to food and refreshments at Summit House near the highest point on Pikes Peak.
The summit was crowded with tourists who either had driven up or taken the cog railway from Manitou Springs. We spent about an hour luxuriating in the snack bar, tossing back food and hydration.
Our hiking gear and disheveled appearance made us stand out in the crowd of mostly families and fresh-faced youngsters milling around. We headed back down around 1:30 p.m., an hour or so later than we had planned to start our descent.
The huge rock pile that had tortured us as we approached the summit was easily navigated with gravity now working for us.
Heading into the Devil's Playground, the dark clouds rolling in from the north began to worry us. We kept up our pace and agreed not to take any water breaks until we were clear of the exposed area.
A distant flash of lightning was disconcerting, but we made it past the Devil's Playground without further excitement. Several steep descents on the return route were hard on my battered knees, and I desperately leaned on my trekking poles to absorb the shock.
My companion had less trouble with these descents but slowed down to accommodate my dawdling pace in the steeper areas.
We returned to our car at the trailhead about 6 p.m. and felt a little disheartened that it had taken us nearly 11 hours to complete this hike.
Still, the day had turned out to be quite an adventure. And a “fourteener” climbed is a “fourteener” climbed — no matter how slow the pace.
IF YOU GO
To get to the Crags trailhead to climb Pikes Peak, take U.S. Hwy. 24 west from Manitou Springs about 22 miles to the town of Divide.
Turn south on Colorado 67 for about four miles. Just past the entrance to Mueller State Park look for a sign on the left for the Mennonite Camp/Crags Campground.
Take this left turn and follow the dirt road about three miles to the Mennonite Camp. Continue past the camp another mile or so until you come to the trailhead parking lot for hikers just before the Crags Campground.