Four Easy Summits on Pikes Peak

Climbing Pikes Peak (14,115) is a big day no matter which trail you take. Most people do the classic Barr Trail route from Manitou Springs (about 26 miles roundtrip), or the shorter Crags route from Divide (about 13 miles).

I’ve done it both ways (once on Barr and six times via the Crags), and also hiked it from Gillet on the old Gillet Trail (shorter than Barr Trail and less steep than the Crags route). In 2006, as part of the Zebulon Pike Bicentennial Climb, I did it over three days and 26 miles one way, starting in southeast Colorado Springs and climbing over several other mountains along the way, presumably following Pike’s 1806 path.

If you want to skip the long hike up America’s Mountain, you can drive to the top on the paved Pikes Peak Highway. The new summit house is open, complete with gift shop, cafe, and exhibits, and the wraparound viewing decks are complete. All you need from late-May through the end of September is a permit. A few miles up the road, you’ll hit the entrance station, where you have to pay another $15 per adult, less for kids.

Last week, I decided to take the easy route up Pikes Peak. I drove. To make the most of my day (and my money), I added a few easy hikes to the trip: four unranked summits off the highway on the west side of the peak. I’d done two of them before, but two others were new to me. I’d discovered them in Stewart M. Green’s book Climbing Pikes Peak: A Hiker’s Guide to the Peak.

I’ll give you a summary of the directions. If you want more details, pick up the book. It has other hikes including more summit hikes too, plus a bunch of route descriptions to the top of Pikes Peak.

Spencer’s Rest (12,939′) and Bob Ormes Points (13,119′) Unranked

This hike starts on the north side of the Pikes Peak Highway between mile markers 17 and 18. If you’re driving up the road, it’s the pullout on the left just below “Little Pikes Peak.” After you cross the road, look for the faint Gillett Trail. I’d been on the trail a couple of times: in 2005, when I hiked to the summit of Pikes from Gillett, and in 2013, to climb “McReynolds Peak.” Seldom used except by peakbaggers trying to finish all the ranked summits in Teller County (McReynolds), the trail is overgrown but it’s there. If you lose it, step on rocks and slabs to avoid damaging mountain tundra until you locate it again. Spencer’s Rest is west-southwest of the pullout.

Spencer’s Rest is a short easy hike off the Pikes Peak Highway on the west side of Pikes Peak. Photo by Stewart M. Green.

Next, descend the peak and hike east to the northernmost highpoint of a long ridge of summits, Bob Ormes Points. Alternatively, you can start at the southernmost point and hike the ridge to the highest point.

The whole hike is short, less than three miles, and with less than 1,000 feet of elevation gain you can do both Spencer’s Rest and Bob Ormes Points and be back to you car in an hour. You’ll want to linger on the summits, though – the views are stupendous!

Bob Ormes Points are a short hike from Spencer’s Rest. Photo by Stewart M. Green.

“Little Pikes Peak” (13,363′) Unranked

Back at your car, you can either do “Little Pikes Peak,” located near the pullout, or drive to the summit for doughnuts and more views, like I did. On the way back down the highway, park at the same pullout (between mile markers 17 and 18, this time on the right side of the road). “Little Pikes Peak” is the obvious rocky summit west of the pullout. I hadn’t done this hike since 2008 and it hadn’t changed: still short, still steep, and still bouldery on top. Again, avoid the tundra and look for rocks and slabs for your footing.

Little Pikes Peak viewed from the Gillett Trail. Photo by Stewart M. Green.

Next, continue driving down the road for another 1.6 miles to the Devils Playground parking lot on the left side of the road.

“Devils Playground Peak” (13,070′) Unranked

If you’ve ever climbed Pikes Peak from the Crags Trailhead in Divide, you know that the Devils Playground parking lot is where you leave the trail and cross the Pikes Peak Highway for the final 2.6 miles to the summit. County highpointers know it as where to park to get the highpoint of Teller County, “Devils Playground Peak.” This little summit used to be a bit of a scramble, but now there’s a trail. I’ve done it three times – in 2008, 2012, and last week – and for some reason, I failed to take a photo on any of those hikes. The peak is hard to miss – it’s the obvious bump on the west edge of the lot. There’s a trail.

There you have it. Four easy summits and a lovely drive to the top of America’s Mountain. Not a bad day!

Find details to these hikes and many more in Climbing Pikes Peak.

Wheelchair- and Stroller-Friendly Waterfalls & Alpine Lakes in Colorado

We found three alpine lakes and four gushing waterfalls that offer refreshing, cool fun for the whole family, including those using strollers or wheelchairs.

Read my full story on Wheelchair- and Stroller-Friendly Waterfalls & Alpine Lakes in Colorado

A wide footbridge over Boulder Brook leads to the Sprague Lake Loop Trail, a 0.7-mile, hardpacked dirt and gravel trail in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, perfect for wheelchairs, strollers, and other mobility devices. Photo by Susan Joy Paul

Estes Park’s Quinn Brett Is a Champion for Adaptive Sports and Backcountry Access

Adventurer Quinn Brett, who is paralyzed from the waist down, thinks Colorado can do better when it comes to adaptive sports and recreational opportunities—and she’s helping to make that happen.

Read my full story on Estes Park’s Quinn Brett Is a Champion for Adaptive Sports and Backcountry Access

Quinn Brett advocates for the protection of public lands and improved access to it for adaptive sports enthusiasts like herself. Photo of Quinn by Andy Earl, courtesy of Quinn Brett

Trains, Pontoons & Hot Air Balloons: Hitch a Ride to Colorado’s Backcountry

Getting into the backcountry can be hard work, but not every adventure requires extreme exertion. We found six fun and easy ways to enjoy Colorado’s great outdoors without lifting a finger—or pulling a muscle.

Read my full story on Trains, Pontoons & Hot Air Balloons: Hitch a Ride to Colorado’s Backcountry

See the southern Front Range and Pikes Peak from a new perspective when you soar on a hot air balloon over Colorado Springs. Photo courtesy of Rainbow Ryders Hot Air Balloon Ride Co.

4 ADA-Compliant Colorado Hot Springs

From soaking facilities with ADA-compliant lifts to pools with ramps, handrails, and benches, we found a soothing Colorado hot springs experience for nearly every ability and mobility.

Read my full story on 4 ADA-Compliant Colorado Hot Springs

Ramps, lifts, railings, and benches ensure easy access for all at scenic Ouray Hot Springs Pool. Photo by Stewart M. Green

5 Scenic Overlooks in Colorado You Can Reach in Your Prius

From 14,000-foot mountaintops to roadside pulloffs and a lofty memorial site, passenger cars will have no trouble reaching these five scenic overlooks located within about two hours of Denver, from Rocky Mountain National Park to Pueblo.

Read my full story on 5 Scenic Overlooks in Colorado You Can Reach in Your Prius

The Forest Canyon scenic overlook in Rocky Mountain National Park is just steps from Trail Ridge Road. Photo by Susan Joy Paul

Everything Is Beautiful

When I moved to Colorado Springs twenty-five years ago, I didn’t get a chance to see much of the city. Settling my two kids, then 11 and 4, into a new apartment, new school, and new daycare – while I figured out my new job as a Unix systems administrator at a high-tech firm – took all my time and focus. I was also a full-time college student (yes, working single moms have an unbelievable reserve of energy and resolve).

For the cross-country drive, I strapped my kids and computer into the Camry, arriving just ahead of a blizzard. The semitruck carrying the household goods got stranded on a mountain pass, and it would be days before any of that stuff made it to the apartment. With no furniture, I set up my computer on the living room floor and logged in to find that one of my college groupmates had dropped the ball on a team project, so I stayed up late to do his part and turn the paper in. With several feet of fresh snow on the ground, I couldn’t even make it out of the driveway for my first day of work, so that morning my new boss and her husband picked me up in their Subaru.

This is my long way of telling you that I had more on my mind than visiting all the sights of this fair city, Colorado Springs, and the state of Colorado back then. But the next year I vowed to see it all. That August, I took a week off from work and the kids and I went everywhere. We rode the cog railway to the summit of Pikes Peak, took the Lantern Tour at Cave of the Winds, walked the bridge over the Royal Gorge and rode every ride in the park. We did Elitch Gardens – the rides and the water park – hit the fine art and science museums and spent a day at the Downtown Aquarium. It was a crazy, hectic week, but my kids loved it. And I finally got to see a little more of Colorado beyond my cubicle and computer screen.

Since then, I’ve seen much more. I credit hiking and mountaineering for that. Doing all the 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet above sea level) and county highpoints gets you out of the office and all over the state. Then I visited 47 hot springs, hiked to more than 100 lakes and more than 150 waterfalls, and summited over 700 mountaintops, and I’m still out there, camping, hiking, and climbing every week.

I always remind myself not to take this for granted. Don’t think everyone lives like this. Not everyone wakes up to a day like today, with blue skies, puffy white clouds, sparkling snow on America’s Mountain, and endless possibilities. I tell myself: “Enjoy this day, every minute of it, and don’t take it for granted. Somehow (don’t ask me how), you got really, really lucky, Susan.”

But no matter how many times I tell myself this, I do get used to it. I’ve camped and hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park so many times – three long weekends this year alone – I’ve lost count. Hiked every trail and climbed most of the rock formations in Garden of the Gods. And hit the trail to the summit of Pikes Peak nine times from four different routes – one time in snowshoes, in January. After a while, the beauty of this place fails to register. It’s as if I’m taking it in with all of my senses, but my brain doesn’t get it. My brain doesn’t say “Wow, this is amazing.”

Last fall, my sister, Carolyn, and her husband Andy came to visit. I hadn’t seen family in years, so it was quite a treat! They were doing a three-week cross-country loop, and only had one day to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park, and one day in Colorado Springs. Of course, I put together itineraries for them. I went online and got tickets to visit the new summit house on Pikes Peak. I got tickets to the new US Olympic and Paralympic Museum too. I found a doggy daycare for their pup, a nice dog-friendly trail in Garden of the Gods, and a restaurant that was both vegan-friendly (for me) and dog-friendly (for them).

It was a great day. Perfect, in fact. If you haven’t been to the summit house on Pikes Peak or the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum, I can’t recommend them enough. If you can, get weekday tickets and avoid the crowds. We did the peak on a Monday morning at 8 a.m. and stopped by the Devils Playground parking lot on the way down. There’s a trail there now to the top of Devils Playground Peak, the highpoint of Teller County. After lunch downtown, we hit the museum. My brother-in-law’s words as we entered the top floor sum up the experience: “I’m going to need a lot of time in here.” I agree. We spent two hours and could have easily spent three. It’s not your typical museum.

After picking up their pup for a walk around the Garden and watching the sun go down from the rocky ridge between Keyhole and Easter Rocks, we headed to Trinity Brewing. At an outdoor table, we dined on pizza and beer, and watched a lightning storm over the mountains to the west. They were leaving that night, headed out of town again, so I wanted to know how their trip had been.

“So, how was Rocky Mountain National Park,” I asked, “Did you enjoy the hikes and the waterfalls?”

“Um, we drove up Old Fall River Road and down Trail Ridge Road,” my sister said.

“And, where else?”

“That was it.”

I wondered whether they had the dog with them, because pets aren’t allowed on park trails, but no, they said, they had boarded him in Fort Collins that morning.

“You spent seven hours in Rocky Mountain National Park, and that’s all you did? How is that possible?” I thought about my weekends in the park and all the hikes I’d crammed in – Deer Mountain, Mount Ida, Flattop Mountain, Hallett Peak…not to mention all the lakes and waterfalls.

My sister smiled and told me about all the sights along the roadways. Just the views from the pullouts.

“We had to keep stopping. Everything was so beautiful.”

Ah, yeah. There it was. Everything is so beautiful. And sometimes just getting away from my computer to see it isn’t enough. Sometimes I need to see it through someone else’s eyes, someone who’s never seen it before, to be reminded of that. Maybe I need to retrain my eyes, my nose, my ears…my brain, too. Because we are very, very lucky to live here and I never want to take it for granted.

This blog first appeared as a column in the October 26, 2021, Gazette North Springs Edition.

Pikes Peak above Mason Reservoir, Colorado Springs. One of many hikes in Best Lakes Colorado, to be released summer 2022, by FalconGuides. Photo by Susan Joy Paul.

Don’t Get Stuck Redux

Coming up with 26 column ideas a year can be harder than you might think, especially after five years. I often look to my earlier columns for inspiration. About a year ago, I wrote “Don’t Get Stuck,” a story about 4×4 driving classes that could teach me safe backroad driving and recovery skills, and wouldn’t you know it: I attended a class like that this past November.

I was invited to a 10-hour “off-roadeo” in Moab, Utah, and of course, I accepted (then again, I would say yes to a vegan weenie roast or a mud wrestling tournament in beautiful Moab, so this shouldn’t surprise you). Still, I was apprehensive. As an active outdoorsperson (because as Coloradans, aren’t we all?) I worried about the impact of 4×4 vehicles on the precious natural aspects of the backcountry. And I wasn’t alone, because among all the discussion about technique, the guides eventually got around to addressing that very subject.

The best part of the off-roadeo was that I didn’t have to bring my own vehicle, which was a good thing, because my little Suzuki SX4 isn’t exactly a rock-crawling machine. Instead, the vehicles were provided as loaners. Ten hours seems like a long time, and it is when you’re working, but on the backroads east of Arches National Park, north of the Colorado River, the time flew.

I got pretty good at controlled braking on steep, rutted sections of trail that tilted the 4×4 onto just three tires at the Bronco Off-Roadeo in Moab.

I was late out of the gate because I didn’t know that I had to have my foot on the brake to start the engine (not necessary in my Suzuki). And oh yeah, the off-road vehicle had a push-button start (this was also new to me). Among a party of eight, I trailed behind but with a guide up front and another bringing up the rear, there was no fear of getting lost.

Off the pavement and into the desert, I learned a lot more. First off, I couldn’t just flip from 2H, or 2-High, which I used to go fast in 2-wheel drive on the dry pavement, to 4L (4-Low) or even 4H or 4A (4-High, Advanced 4×4) without stopping the vehicle and shifting into neutral. My current vehicle has a rocker switch for AWD, so this was new to me. Also, unlike my little SX4, the locking differentials, or lockers, didn’t kick in automatically as needed – I had to use the hero switches on the dashboard to engage the front and rear lockers individually. Granted, this ability provided more control and was far superior; it was just new to me. I also learned how to use “trail control” which is like cruise control at very low speeds, as slow as 1 mph, which is as fast as I could go on some sections of the trail. By trail I mean road. The terminology was also new – I think of trail as something I walk on, not drive on.

The trail comprised a mix of dirt, gravel, rocks, and slickrock. I always thought slickrock was slick, but the guides explained that it was slick for original cross-country visitors to the West who drove wagons with wooden, metal-banded wheels. For bike tires, and 4×4 tires, it provides excellent traction. Speaking of traction: combined with momentum, it’s what’s required to get up the steep sections. So, less air pressure in the tires (we aired down from 30+ to 20 pounds per tire) gave us more traction.

My earlier worries about impact were addressed by the guides. Access to places like the Utah desert, they told us, depends on responsible off-roading. That means sticking to the trail and off the cryptobiotic soil. We were instructed to follow the main trail, even when easier routes appeared alongside it, to avoid widening the trail. We were also told, and reminded again after stopping for lunch, to pick up after ourselves and leave nothing behind. I couldn’t help thinking that the off-roading protocols sounded a lot like hiking protocols.

The other guidance was around recovery gear and methods. Here again, the conversation reminded me of the same rules I follow for hiking, rock climbing, and mountaineering: Have the right gear and know how to use it.

I went to the off-roadeo wondering if off-roading was for me, and my answer is no, not exactly. I had a blast, but I still prefer putting hand and foot (rather than wheel and tire) to rock and trail. However, the skills I learned from the guides and behind the wheel will come in handy to get me from home to trailhead and back again safely. It was worth the time, it was different than anything I’ve ever done, and it was a whole lot of fun.

This blog first appeared as a column in the November 23, 2021 Gazette North Springs Edition.

A few videos of my Moab Off-Roadeo adventure:

Super-Celebrating the New Bronco and Bronco Sport at Super Celebration West

Last fall, I headed to Buena Vista, Colorado to wander around a big field and look at a lot of used SUVs, crossovers, and 4x4s, plus a few new ones. This was different than your typical Sunday drive through dealership car lots though. None of the vehicles were for sale, and I had to pay $10 to get in. Why would I drive two hours and pay ten bucks just to look at a bunch of not-for-sale vehicles? Because the event was Bronco Super Celebration West, and the new vehicles were Ford’s latest additions to the world of 4x4s, SUVs, and crossovers: the all-new Bronco and Bronco Sport.

Confession: I’m not, nor have I ever been, a “car person.” But Ford’s latest offerings have gotten my attention. It seems like, over the past few years, cars – crossovers and SUVs in particular – have all started to look alike. I’ve seen $30,000 vehicles behind $60,000 ones at stop lights, and if it weren’t for the make or model badge, I couldn’t tell them apart. So when Ford blasted commercials for their latest models in 2020, I had to take another look.

The Sport, which is based on Ford’s unitized body-and-chassis Escape crossover, just looked cooler. It had something called GOAT modes, which apparently stands for “goes over any type of terrain.” And the Sport’s big brother, the sixth-generation, body-on-frame Bronco, modeled after the Ranger pickup truck and available with factory options like front and rear lockers, sway-bar disconnect, HOSS suspension, Bilstein shocks, and 35” tires, was like a breath of fresh air from the past, but with all the tech of the modern age. Here was a vehicle that could stand up against the Jeep, the Defender, the 4Runner, and the FJ Cruiser, without modifications – and without breaking the bank. And more importantly, it did not look like anything else on the road.

Let’s back up a bit and talk about Bronco Super Celebration, or “Super Cel.” Produced by Bronco Driver Magazine, the annual event is a place for Bronco owners to showcase their vintage vehicles, vendors to show off their options, and fans to show up and check it all out. The western version debuted in Buena Vista in 2020, and apparently the magazine liked the location so much, they held it there again in 2021. The rodeo grounds on the south side of town provide plenty of open space to line up row after row of vintage Broncos, with mighty Mount Princeton serving up a dramatic backdrop for the four-day event.

Owners and enthusiasts turned out, and Broncos were judged and awarded prizes in generational categories ranging from 1966 LUBRs (lifted, uncut Bronco rides) to 1978 Bronco Stock vehicles, 1984 Bronco IIs and even the latest model. I admired the many vintage rigs and spent some time speaking with Jerry Phelps, a Ford product specialist, who answered my questions about the 2021 Bronco. A jerrycan line-up displayed the 2021 paint colors and 2022’s Eruption Green (the other 2022 color, Hot Pepper Red, was not on display).

Checking out the Bronco exterior color line-up including 2022’s “Eruption Green” at Super Cel West in Buena Vista.

The highlights of the event were the drive-alongs and ride-alongs. After checking in and signing a waiver, I went for a spin in one of the Bronco’s lower trims, a Race Red Big Bend. The ride took place on the twisting, turning backroads of Buena Vista’s Four Mile Area and the driver was none other than Mark Stahl, former NASCAR driver and four-time winner of the Baja 1000 off-road race. Needless to say, it was not the typical Sunday drive through the countryside. Mark demonstrated all the bells and whistles of the vehicle, from high-speed driving on gravel in Baja mode to doing doughnuts with Trail Turn Assist, where one rear wheel is locked and the Bronco pivots in place. He crept down a steep, rocky slope with one-pedal driving, then switched on the lockers and put it in 4 low for crawling over and between boulders. All the while, he regaled me with stories of his driving history, from slot car racing for money when he was ten years old to his latest experiences traveling the country as a Ford Pro Driver.

Pro driver Mark Stahl took attendees to 2021’s Super Celebration West for drives through Buena Vista’s Four Mile Area, and of course, he posed for photos too.

As if that weren’t enough fun, I test drove a Bronco Sport, the “baby Bronco,” with Ford driving specialist Jessica Morelli as my guide. She led a group of drivers on Buena Vista’s backroads and even over a minor stream crossing, returning through the paved downtown area. It was cool to see all the new Broncos and Bronco Sports driving through town. I felt like I was in a parade.

Highlights of Super Celebration West included test drives led by Ford driving specialist Jessica Morelli.

Super Celebration West will return to Buena Vista from September 7th through the 10th this year. If you’ve got your own rig to show off, be sure to register ahead of time. If you don’t own a rig but you want to check out some cool vintage models, chat with owners and drivers, and see what’s new, put Super Cel on your calendar. And if you can’t wait that long, check out the local car lots for all the latest models, and schedule a test drive if you like. They may not let you crawl over rocks or plow through streams with the borrowed ride, but just getting on the road in a new vehicle can make you feel like you’re driving in a parade.

Ford product specialist Jerry Phelps was on hand at Super Cel to answer questions and show off Ford paint colors, including 2022’s Eruption Green.

This blog first appeared as a column in the October 12th, 2021 Gazette North Springs Edition.