User Experience: Pikes Peak Barr Trail

Sep 8, 2013 at 9:30
by Austin Anderson  
I have been called an adrenaline junky, a risk taker, and a crazy person. But to me I am just someone who likes to have fun. Just recently I have come to the realization that some of society views my particular breed of person as unstable or dodgy. I can agree with the latter, but in my honest opinion I am more stable and even minded then the average populist. I believe this most likely has to do to the fact that I know what I want out of life. I want to have fun! Most of the time that means being on two wheels or tinkering with things that relates to something far greater or epic then I can imagine.


Last summer during a mountain bike expedition to the Front Range, my friends and I decided that it would be fun to descend Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado. That morning our planning consisted of making sure there was indeed a trail leading down from the peak, and googling a few YouTube videos of riders on the trail we were planning on taking. As an individual I determined the ride was not going to just be possible, but it was going to be epic. Upon showing my best friend ,Noah, the videos, he agreed with me, and we began getting the car and bikes ready to go. As my mom was chaperoning us up the mountain I told her about the plan and she did not react positively. She knows me very well and so she knows the strong likelihood I will get into a situation that I very well may not be able to get out of. I showed her the videos to calm her down and told her “we had all ridden trails twice as steep”. She did not seem convinced but she agreed she would go up with us.

So there we were, all piled into my mom’s gargantuan SUV. I was driving, my mom sitting shotgun. In the back sat my older brother Parker and my best friends who would be riding down the mountain. Sarah, who I converted into a hardcore mountain biker two years earlier; Noah, who is in the eastern Pro GRT downhill racing events, and my twin brother Chris, who although could be a very accomplished rider, is on a rental bike.


Noah and I share the same drive and conviction towards extreme mountain biking, so I was not too worried about him. Chris is the one I know best because he is been my best (and worst) friend all my life. Despite the fact that he was the least experienced one in the group, I was certain that apart from a little bit of complaining he would be fine. It was Sarah that I was worried about. Although she is capable of many things on a bike she had never encountered an obstacle as vast and as intimidating as Pike Peak. But as long as we stayed together and did not suffer from any mechanical failures I was sure that she would be fine.

As soon as the road began to climb my mom began to get nervous. I knew my mom was afraid of heights, but I did not know to what extent. I soon found out as rolled up to the ranger admittance booth, the ranger noticed our four mountain bikes attached to the roof and asked us what we were planning on doing with them. I exclaimed with determined fervor, “We’re riding down Barr trail”. She looked at us all skeptically and said, “You know there is three feet of snow up there”. I then replied halfheartedly, “We’ll figure it out”. We continued up the tight twisty switchbacks through prairies of matte white aspen trees, through straits in the road almost blocked off by slushy snowdrifts. At this point in the drive my mom was wheezing, whimpering, and in every sense of the term “freaking out”.
We all tried to calm her down as the mountain’s peak loomed in the background. Now all the bikers in the car began sharing thoughts of how are we going to get through the snow? Later we were going to find out that for half of us the snow was going to be a blessing in disguise.


We finally made it to the freezing, wind-worn summit. My mom had almost suffered a heart attack on the way up, and the rest of us were dressed in short sleeve riding jerseys and biking shorts. Considering it was July none of us had accounted for the snowing conditions. We parked in a sea of tourists and looked official with our sponsor embezzled riding apparel. Despite our official look, we were still asked questions like, “What are you doing with bikes up here?” and, “Are you really about to ride down from the summit?” .To all these inquiries we responded with a hypothermic creed, “You bet!”


After snapping a few group pictures in front of a plaque reading “Pikes Peak Summit, elevation 14,100 feet”, we said our goodbyes to my Mom and Parker, who were still in disbelief at the expanse of our undertaking. Before leaving down the mountain in the car, my mom asked me in a pleading tone, “You sure you want to start up here? You could take the road and skip all the snow”. I assured her that it was going to fine, and if we took the road there was no way to connect to Barr trail.


There we were, four freezing kids from Alabama clutching our bikes like lifelines peering over a rocky gulch atop the snowy summit of Pikes Peak.
From the left, Chris on some Unfortunate Giant reign rental, Me on my then brand new Commencal meta am 29er, Sarah on her Santa Cruz Blur TRc, And Noah on his Commencal meta am1


We had no idea what was to come. Visibility was limited to about 50 feet at the top because we were quite literally in a cloud. I quickly realized that the top of Barr trail was un-rideable. Even without the snow the path would have required “hike-a-biking” down 2000 vertical feet near sheer drops and tight switchbacks. The YouTube video failed to show this part of the trail. As a group we decided the best way down below the alpine line (the snow line) was to follow the tracks of the Pikes Peak Cable Car.

We descended about 400 vertical feet over railroad ties between the tracks until we found a break in the shear cliffs we had encountered at the top.
At this point my twin brother had begun to complain at the idea of actually riding in the snow. Before Chris could even think of turning back, Noah and I entered the snowy plains that led into a more forgiving gulch to hike down. Sarah soon followed, leaving Chris cussing and swearing at us all. Reluctantly he followed as well. At the end of this white plain we found the gulch to be about as long as we had predicted but much steeper.
To each side of the wash were large boulder fields that looked much less forgiving than the snowy middle section. After much trial and error, Noah and I terrifyingly succeeded at riding, or sliding, down the middle aboard our bikes. This technique involved leaning back almost to the point where my bottom was past the rear tire, holding the rear brake taught, and feathering the front brake for control. Unfortunately, once too much speed was gained in the slushy wet snow the only way to scrub it off was to bail off the bike and dig hand and foot into the ground. This was the way Noah and I descended about 1000 vertical wet damp feet. Still above the alpine line we waited on the rest of our party as they attempted to hike down the treacherous boulder fields. We tried yelling up to them to convince them to make the plunge and slide down the middle but to no avail. While we waited we sat in shock and awe of the expanse of this part of the mountain, snapping picture with our phones trying to replicate the steepness of the land.

After our twenty minute free fall down the slope and waiting another hour for Chris and Sarah to complete their hike down the boulders, we finally met up as a group and began hiking down what we thought was Barr trail.
Thankfully the snow began to thin out and eventually, after another 1000 vertical feet of only slightly ridable trail, we reached the tree line.

Sanctuary!! Upon reaching the tree line we spent a quiet hour drying out our clothes and basking in the newfound sunlight. The temperature had climbed to a reasonable 65 degrees and we all lay plastered to the granite rocks like a pack of salamanders trying to soak up every ray of sunlight. We munched down whatever Banana nut Clifbars my mom supplied with us earlier, and we sucked down the majority of our Camelbaks, trying to recover from the altitude sickness we had all undoubtedly succumb to while over-exerting ourselves during the most heart-rending journey of our lives.

Now, and only now, were we really able to start enjoying the trail that some great entity had laid out before us. We scoured down the forest floor as the foundation we were flying on transitioned from loose scaly granite that crumbled upon our desperately applying the brakes, to a rich dark chocolate that gripped our tires and safeguarded our turns.

The ride had finally begun! We chased each other down cavernous rooted switchbacks, challenging each other’s lines against our own, and stopping only to regroup and share with each other’s wondrous joy. We spent the next hour playing the games only true riders know how to play, pushing ourselves to preload the suspension harder over that rock or brake later into that turn! We stopped at one clearing to share with each other what water we had left, and we all agreed ecstatically that we would have to return to Barr trail.

After this meeting, the trail made another evolution from tight technical wandering single-track to an open racetrack where passing and sliding was made possible. The dirt was now a tan khaki texture baked into a perfect-bowled shape. Here we sped down the trail at gravity defying speeds sliding through turns and lofting thirty feet down the trail off the slightest of bumps.

We really were airborne, flying above all of Colorado Springs banking and double-backing until we reached our runway. Our runway being a good mile of washboard laden trail, embedded with cross members that succeeded only in jarring our sense back to earth and letting us know that we had indeed finished our ride. We exploded out of the forest that we had come to know and love into a small town just outside of Colorado Springs.

Finding a picnic table to rest I let my parents know we had in fact survived as we all conversed silently about what extraordinary feat we had accomplished.


3 Comments

  • + 1
 That was awesome, Austin!! You ought to take a go-pro along next time you go back.
  • + 1
 Sick write up man! Looks pretty amazing.
  • + 1
 Great Story!

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