Crags to the Summit of Pikes Peak

The increasingly popular route up the west and northwest side of Pikes Peak to the summit, Forest Service trail 753 (664A), goes through Devil’s Playground.  The trailhead, created in 2009, is on Forest Service Road 383, right before the turn for the Crags campground.  The trail starts across the road from the parking lot.  The trail shares the route with the Crags trail, trail 664, until it joins the old route at a Y.  At the Y bear right and cross the bridge over the creek.  It reaches Devil’s Playground, crosses the highway, and continues to the summit.  A good description of the trail can be found at 14ers.com.

Friends of the Peak started work on this trail, as an alternative to the Barr Trail and also as a worthwhile trail in its own right, in 2000.  The Crags route to the summit was identified in the 1999 Pikes Peak Multi-Use Plan.  Friends of the Peak adopted the plan, and started implementation.  Work at first was to improve the trail below timberline, hiking in from the trailhead, which, at that time, was at the end of the Crags campground.  One of the first improvements was a rustic bridge across the creek.  Work also included improving drainage and stabilizing the trail.  Once the hike in became fairly long, work shifted to the section reachable from the Pikes Peak Highway, at Devil’s Playground, and down from there, in 2005.  When hiking in from either end became long, Friends of the Peak hired and directed a team of youth corps workers for a week for two summers, in 2007 and 2008, while also continuing to have volunteer days, 1 in 2006 and 5 in 2007, on the trail.  Some of the major work accomplished included building two switchbacks to route the trail around a steep section that had eroded so badly that the gully was 30 feet wide, and only growing.  With all that work, the trail from Crags to Devil’s Playground was in reasonable, mainly sustainable, shape. 

But the trail above Devil’s Playground also had some issues, although not as major as the problems addressed below there.  In 2002, VOC had had a project, which Friends of the Peak partnered on, creating a beautiful route through the boulder field just below the summit.  The large, relatively flat, tundra field behind Little Pikes Peak (Point 13,363) did not have a clear route.  At least a dozen routes across the tundra field were showing wear.  This was bad for the tundra, but also bad for the hikers, as they could not find what should be the correct trail, and responsible hikers also work to avoid killing plants, especially tundra, when they can.  So in 2009, Friends of the Peak had a project to build cairns, that is, large piles of rock, to mark one route across the tundra field and also up a slope above there.  Hikers could follow the cairns and no longer have that feeling of having lost the trail, and all the plants on all the many other routes could recover.  The project had an effect almost immediately, as the next year the route marked by the cairns was clearly worn and the other areas were recovering and the wear there barely visible.  In 2010, Friends of the Peak had another project on this route, this time in the boulder field, working in an area that the VOC project had not been able to complete, and also in some other areas in the boulder field that needed some clarification after the passing years.  After finishing that work, while they were there, the volunteers also repaired and improved the cairn work from the previous year.  In 2012, another area that did not have a clear trail, between the tundra field and the boulder field, gained cairns, as more volunteers worked on a project there.  A project in 2013 improved cairns that had shrunk or disappeared and also built cairns near Devil's Playground to guide winter hikers. 

Friends of the Peak continued improving this route in 2014 with 2 projects that addressed erosion and trail braiding on the trail below the ridge by Devil's Playground.  The trail is steep in spots, so water runs down the trail quickly and erodes away the dirt.  Worse, some trail users then walk alongside the trail, on the tundra plants, which will kill those plants and lead to more erosion.  Volunteers on these 2 projects created many drains to direct water off the trail, installed some steps to stabilize the trail and stop more erosion, and tried to discourage trail users from walking on the tundra plants.

2015 saw quite a bit of activity on this popular route to the summit.  An enthusiastic group of volunteers from Colorado College backpacked in two miles, carrying tools, to work the next two days to improve the trail.  They created many robust drains to direct water off the trail to reduce erosion along about a mile of trail.  The work was difficult in spots, requiring moving much dirt, where the trail is ten feet or so wide.  The next day, the group hiked the trail they had helped improve.  Everyone in the group reached the summit.  Friends of the Peak also had a regular Saturday project working on two sections not far below the summit boulder field.  One area had many switchback cuts.  Volunteers clarified the trail and worked to close the switchback cuts.  In another area, the bank above the trail had collapsed on the trail.  The volunteers rebuilt the trail in that section.  Also, Friends of the Peak installed a trail counter, provided by Forest Service, to determine how many people are using the trail and started working the Forest Service's 14er specialist to address the erosion problems long-term.  The counter, which did not distinguish between uphill and downhill traffic, was installed from early June through September, 2015, and counted nearly 14,000 people pass by.