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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

America's 10 Most Dangerous Hikes - Barr Trail, Pikes Peak, CO

A hair-raising hike

by: Kelly Bastone

The Hike As the state with America's highest average elevation (6,800 feet), Colorado and its mountains see a shocking amount of electrical activity, and 20 of the 48 lightning incidents reported in Colorado since 2000 have involved hikers and campers. The sparkiest spot surrounds 14,115-foot Pikes Peak. According to Stephen Hodanish, Senior Meteorologist with NOAA's Lightning Safety Team, Pikes Peak collects the relatively moist air currents of southern Colorado, swirls them around with turbulent winds off the plains, and creates a potent combination of moisture, lift, and instability that invites bolts. A road reaches the summit, but hikers enjoy no such easy route up: The Barr Trail, the most popular footpath, gains 7,400 vertical feet over 13 miles (one way), much of that through exposed meadows and boulderfields above treeline. Motorists can dodge lightning by ducking into their cars, but hikers often find themselves trapped with no fast escape from instant incineration.

Exhibit A Storm clouds were gathering over Pikes Peak by 1 p.m. on July 25, 2000, but no lightning had yet flashed from the clouds, so 18-year-old Frazee Waltman figured he still had time to scurry down off the summit before the daily afternoon electrical show. He didn't. Waltman had only descended as far as the Golden Staircase, a rocky stretch of the Barr Trail 100 feet below the summit, when the storm's first bolt fried him–but left his two buddies uninjured. Not even a thunderclap alerted the trio of the impending tragedy.

Survival Plan Don't wait to see lightning before retreating: The storm's first flash can prove fatal, so descend as soon as you see clouds thickening and darkening. "Be off the mountain by noon," warns Hodanish. "During the summer In Colorado, the first cloud-to-ground strikes typically occur around 11 a.m. over the high country." If escape is impossible, spread out so your whole group doesn't get fried.

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Reader Rating: -


Star Star Star Star Star
Aug 11, 2013

I ran the ascent twice at high competitive level in the late 80's and then, when my wife and I moved to CO when I retired in 1995, we hiked it. We hiked all over CO. Barr Trail is a good trail but the hike needs to be done by properly prepared and well equipped hikers; with full knowledge of the dangers of being above treeline after about noon in the summer. But this is true ANYPLACE in the mountains. As I write this there is snow on the top. Yes, it is August. Ya never know in the mountains. Be safe.

Star Star Star Star Star
Aug 06, 2013

going for the first time this weekend. moved from florida to colorado springs in may. going from +-5 above sea level to 6000+ hasnt bothered me a bit so we"ll see :)

Star Star Star Star Star
Turkey Lurkey
Jul 17, 2013

I'm about to do the round trip! Leaving my house in 10 minutes. Hopefully I'll be at the top in less than four hours from now! The hike definitely could be a little dangerous for anybody who is not physically conditioned for it. For somebody who exercises regularly and vigorously it should be ok. The trail itself is good all the way, but it is a long hike and gains a lot of elevation.

Star Star Star
Jun 11, 2013

hey guys..Be sure to wear the proper hiking gear and pack extra water, food, clothing, headlamp, safety kit and sunscreen. You may spend a cold night out in the mountains but you'll have food and water for the hike out in the morning. visit this to know more:

Kevin MacDermitt
Dec 15, 2012

Not dangerous. This has to be the easiest of easy 14'ers. Hell I've ran the full marathon 4 times are hiked it over 50 times, every once in awhile I'll pass people from the lowlands that are not acclimated, but have never seen even a skinned knee on this peak.
I moved to WA 10 years ago and as part of King County search and rescue I've hauled dozens of people off peak out here. Pikes Peak is the pussy cat of 14'ers....

Joe Seier
Nov 24, 2012

Hiked it to the top in late June this year after surviving and recovering from colon cancer. I did run out of steam above tree line and had to ditch some of my equipment. Hope somebody picked up and used the knife, gloves, and rain gear I had to leave behind!

Mountain Man
Nov 19, 2012

Pikes Peak is a physically easy and non-technical ascent on the Barr Trail. However, it could be classified among the most dangerous of the Colorado Fourteeners based on the high amount of traffic leading to common causes of deaths for outdoor recreation anywhere: heart attack, lightning strikes, slip-and-falls.


Colorado: Explore Pikes Peak with Kim Fenske:


Although a technically easy hike on the Barr Trail, Pikes Peak has led to the death of several people recreationally enjoying the area. James Slack fell from a slab near the summit in July, 1948, and subsequently died from injuries sustained. In August,1957, Inestine B. Roberts, 88 years old and on her fourteenth climb to the summit, descended in the night and fell down a slope leading to her death by hypothermia. A plaque was placed near tree-line on the Barr Trail in her memory.

Other deaths on Pikes Peak have been caused by heart attack during the Pikes Peak Marathon or injuries sustained during falls, avalanches, and lightning strikes. However, more fatalities occur on Longs, Maroon Bells, and the Crestone Peaks. This year, intermediate Fourteeners have taken more lives than usual. Princeton, Missouri, Torreys, Quandary, and Snowmass have been the site of falls, heart attack, and rock slide fatalities.

Cody C
Nov 17, 2012

Me and my buddy just did the trail on thursday 10/15 to the summit and back, all 26 miles in one day. started just before 6 in the morning and got done at about 6:30 in the evening. Awesome hike all the way but 26 miles with a 14er in the middle is far from easy. Be trained up/well prepared if you take this on.

Oct 12, 2012

Can a round trip on barr trail be done in one day if you start early enough?

Sep 16, 2012

Sure you and your runner friends can keep your running trail, and me and my runner/tourist friends will take our tourist money elsewhere! You wouldn't be there without us! Get over yourself! We make your community what it is.

Jun 18, 2012

My girlfriend and I are planning to hike to the summit late this summer or next. We spent a great deal of time talking to hikers as they were making their final ascent to the top. Most important for this hike (according to these kind hikers) was hydration first, proper clothing of course and enough nutritional food to last an entire day. Not many mentioned the lightning dangers but I don't believe they felt they had too. There were also cautions about altitude issues that anybody at any age and health level can experience. So....we plan on taking our time, starting early after substantial rest the night before, traveling lite but not leaving anything to chance and enjoying the gift of this mountain and that we are healthy enough to enjoy the experience. She is 51, I am 55....good thing age is only a number.

Jun 01, 2012

Its long and steep but no more dangerous than any other trails in CO except maybe the bike trail through Denver.

May 30, 2012

LOL. Yes, please don't come here. Stay off of Pikes Peak! Meanwhile, me and my runner friends will enjoy our trail without the tourists! Yay! ;D

May 29, 2012

This article seems to overhype the trail a bit. Lightning is a danger anywhere you are if you are outside during a lightning storm. This trail is as safe as a mountain trail could possibly ever be. The danger of lightning seems a little overblown around Colorado anyway. Of course its dangerous, but it doesn't kill or injure people near as often as you would think when you read articles like this. I don't seem to recall anytime in recent years where a climber or hiker was killed here in CO by lightning. The Barr trail simply is just not a dangerous one.

May 27, 2012

Don't hike in a storm (common sense), and there is nothing dangerous about Barr Trail. In fact, there are at least 25 other Colorado 14ers that are more dangerous. Even the backside trail up Pike's is more dangerous than Barr Trail -- and, you avoid the crowds.

May 24, 2012

I live here in C-Springs and have done the Barr trail many times. It's a long hike start very (preferably in the dark) to try to avoid afternoon storms. Other than that, there is really nothing to worry about. That goes for any 14er, I don't see how it's dangerous.

Colorado Pete
May 24, 2012

I have hiked the Peak (Barr Trail)3 times in my life, the most memorable was with my wife and 2 kids. We took 2 days to make this trip, camping overnight at Barr Camp. I was keenly aware of the probable electrical storms which occur each day, usually after noon, in that area, so we planned to climb to the top early the second day. We left our gear at the camp, took daypacks and headed up around 8 AM. From Barr Camp on to the top is mostly above timberline. My wife and children moved out ahead of me as usual and we made good time on the trail. Around 9:30 AM dark clouds began to form over the Peak and the wind picked up significantly, and I knew that we were in for some bad weather. By now my family was well ahead of me and out of my view, so I hoped that they were at the top and under shelter. I still had about 1/2 mile to the top when the first bolt of lightening hit nearby and the rain/sleet came down in buckets! I remembered the advice to keep as low as possible when such conditions were present. My action was to keep very low to the ground and wait until a bolt would hit, then move quickly forward for a few seconds and then repeat the action. I can't tell you how happy I was when I finally topped out and joined my family inside the visitor center. It was a very scary experience and one that I would just a soon not repeat. The point I want to make is that it's not IF it will storm in the high country but WHEN and to be prepared for it. To those who would suggest there is no danger in the high country (11,000 feet and above)I would say that you are providing foolish and false information which could lead some inexperienced people into extreme life threatening danger.

May 24, 2012

As a young soldier stationed at Ft Carson in the late 80s I attempted Pikes Peak in December. Thought it would be a good idea since I had just broken up with my girlfriend. I left the trailhead after final formation on Friday and made it to Barr Camp in the dark. The next morning I headed up and was at the A-frame at the tree line rather quickly and the snow clouds were piling up. I think I made it another 3 miles along the trail before I couldn't see any sign of the trail because of the blowing snow. I turned around and could barely see my footprints 10 feet behind me. By the time I made it back to Barr Camp I was in the early stages of hypothermia. I made it back down to my car and back to the barracks by nightfall and spent on hour in the shower trying to warm back up and stop shivering. One of my best trips. I still have a goal of getting to the top of that &@^* mountain.

May 24, 2012

Matt -
The train only costs $70 - not $80, and if the railway thought that you were in any danger, they wouldn't have taken you up there. "Pending death" is a bit much. Don't be so dramatic.

Matt Pentifallo
May 10, 2012

I don't recall the Cogway engineer telling us about pending death as we exited the railway cars at the summit under black skies at 3pm two weeks ago. Maybe wrapping my hands around the metal binoculars perched atop the Peak wasn't the best idea, but I guess since I payed $80 to get there, it wasn't worth telling me. I now know that only the poor hikers would have gotten struck, amidst the throngs of tourists who sat to get to the top.

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