Pikes Peak from the Crags Hike — a Review for the No Longer Young

© 2012 Peter Free


20 June 2012



Whether this hike is worth doing depends on one’s physical limitations in relationship to one’s aesthetic goals


My abbreviated review of the details of this hike is covered under an evaluation of the Colorado Mountain Club’s guide to The Best Front Range Hikes, here.


As a Rocky Mountain person, I do not think much of the aesthetics of the last 40 percent of this Pikes Peak walk. That is the part from Devil’s Playground upward.


Overall, this is probably a route for people who want to bag a “fourteener” and do not much care whether the effort is aesthetically worth it.


In my case, given advanced age and a large number of more pleasing Colorado hikes, I will not be doing this one again.



In regard to physical limitations — the route’s two main challenges


For older people accustomed to altitude (hiking when the snow has gone) this shorter of the two routes up Pikes Peak poses two main physical challenges:


(i) It is long enough to allow arthritis’ inflammatory processes to kick in at full swing, even under medication.  Seven to eight hours, in my case.


(ii) And the Peak’s lengthy boulder-pile cap poses significant challenges for people who lack flexibility, dynamic balance, and an ability to jump short distances.


Gusts of wind on the rock pile can also come close to blowing one off.  Which potentially makes this excursion a little more exciting than decrepit people like me might wish.



Does what I say apply to you? — one way to assess your ability compared to my decrepitude


Young, altitude-acclimated people will have no trouble at all with this hike.  Folks with even mild disabilities might.


I wrote this review as a 65-year-old with:


(a) one of four needed joint replacements,


(b) relatively severe osteoarthritis,




(c) degenerative disk disease’s mild neurological complications.


You can judge your abilities compared to mine by reading an account of how I got myself into trouble on Blodgett Peak, here.


If I misjudge the length of an outing, I put myself in a position of being physically completely unable to get myself back to where I started.


The Blodgett Peak experience awakened me to the fact that no amount of psychic toughness — an attribute that has always served me well — is enough to keep me going, when uncontrolled inflammation locks my body up and prevents peripheral nerves from operating as they should.




This what elderly people are referring to, when they say that, “The spirit is willing, but the body is not.”


We wear out.  Psyche is no match for the decline.


That, incidentally, is probably why I sometimes like being in the company of old machines.  Their quirks and anthropomorphized grumpiness are companions to my own deficits.


For me, the primary limitation that arthritis brings is limited hiking range.


The inflammatory process eventually begins to shut my ability to walk down.  This usually starts in earnest at 6 to 7 medicated miles and 4 un-medicated ones.




These distances equate to 9.6 to 11.3 medicated kilometers and 6.4 un-medicated ones.


The Pikes Peak from the Crags route is reportedly 12 miles.  Although I could still walk at its Advil®-supported end, I probably only had another 2 to 3 miles in even emergency reserve.


Important here is the fact that it is not the relative strenuousness of the hike that matters.  It is simply the number of flexes that bone on bone needs to do.  So distance is the adversary, not cardiovascular or muscular effort per se.


A second aspect is that — as arthritic inflammation progresses — my already noticeable neurological complications (originating in the spine) are aggravated.


On steep or challenging ground, this poses significant hazard of falling.  Mild neurological incapacity gets me into trouble and simultaneously takes away my ability to react quickly enough to control or ameliorate falls.



Does this apply to you? — summed up


Going uphill, I can still outpace the majority of people decades younger than I.


Downhill, I am the butt of their concern.


And, throughout, I have to pay a whole lot more focused attention to what I am doing than they do.



The moral? — Pikes Peak may not be worth it for people who want aesthetic compensation for the physical pain of achieving it


Remember, you can drive to the top, instead.  And then admire the huge, ugly dirt parking lot on top.


The view east from Pikes will probably not especially please mountain-oriented people.  Meaning those who think that even humdrum Austria, Switzerland, Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, and central Idaho’s Sawtooths exemplify alpine splendor.


Young people, who still have years to invest in adventures and exploits, will not care.  The feeling of accomplishment alone will be worth it.


However, those of us who are older may want to measure their inflammatory escapades more carefully.  Keeping in mind that each of these arthritic episodes further reduces our future joint mobility.


With comparatively little time left, I will not do Pikes Peak again.  And, having done this shorter of two routes, I would advise other people in similarly compromised condition to pick an aesthetically more pleasing peak.