We climbed the left and right branch of the Y Couloir on the north face of Pikes Peak from the Crags Campground Trailhead. This was a big day for me that left me totally wasted. The Y Couloir is the premier mountaineering route on Pikes Peak. I was up at 1:30, out the door at 2:00, and off to our designated meeting point. Brian, Kevin, and John picked me up around 2:30 and we were at the Crags Campground shortly after 4:00. Mark, Sara, and Rebecca quickly arrived, and we were hiking by 4:40. The Crags Trail to the Devil's Playground was in generally good condition and was only covered by snow in a couple of sections. We made good time and soon found ourselves on the 13,110' saddle near Rumdoodle Ridge.
We weren't able to preview the conditions of the Railroad Couloir and Y Couloir as well as we expected from the saddle. Rebecca had previously decided to complete the northwest slopes route and started towards Pikes Peak. The rest of us dropped north off the saddle, gained Rumdoodle Ridge, and had a fun 0.7 mile scramble on solid class 3 rock to saddle 12070. Route-finding wasn't as difficult as expected, but it still took us approximately one hour to make the descent. From the saddle is was a short hike to the Bottomless Pit at 11,640'. At this point, we had gained approximately 3,000', but just dropped 1,500'.
The amphitheater that surrounds the Bottomless Pit is beautiful. Although many people look into the pit from atop Pikes Peak, fewer get to look up at the incredible cirque. The climbing team regrouped at the base of Pike Peak's north face and started our final ascent. The first 500'-600' was melted out on the bottom, so there was a lot of boulder hopping. We reached consistent snow at the site of an old car that must have been pushed off the summit of Pikes years ago. Everyone quickly changed into crampons and pulled out their axes anxious to see what conditions were like.
The snow was in fair condition. A recent light dusting of snow that covered portions of the previously existing snow field was melting and caused our crampons to ball up significantly. Leading and kicking steps was the most difficult position to be in. Once the first person removed the soft layer, it was easier for the following climbers. John and Kevin led for the first portion of the climb as Mark had some initial mechanical difficulties with his crampon. We hung a right at the first branch to enter the Y Couloir. The Railroad Couloir is easier and less steep, and it didn't look as though it had much snow left in it.
The Y Couloir got steeper, and we finally took a group break at around 13,200' below where the Y Couloir branches again. I led the next section as we front pointed with our axes in a high dagger position much of the time. We had decided to climb the left branch of the couloir, but wanted to avoid the ice bubble blocking its entrance. At this point, we split the Y thinking we could climb the rock and gain the couloir again above the bubble. Almost immediately, I was on low class 4 rock with mountaineering boots and crampons. As we contemplated our situation, the group divided. I found a way to reenter the left branch. Brian, Kevin, and Mark followed. Sara and John down climbed approximately 100' and started up the right branch.
After I found a relatively obvious way to pass the bubble in the left branch, Brian took over kicking steps and leading us. Sara and John were paralleling us in the opposite branch as we climbed with them simultaneously. We topped out in the Pikes Peak parking lot after 8 hours and 10 minutes of hiking. We walked over and watched Sara and John finish the last few hundred feet of their climb. The left branch was melted out about 100' from the summit, while the right branch held snow almost all the way to the parking lot.
The souvenir shop was open, so we all went in and ate and hydrated while the tourists stared at us. Rebecca had been waiting on the summit for quite some time and was very happy to see that we had safely made it. The hike out was difficult, but we covered the standard route in 2 hours and 50 minutes. Counting our 1 hour and 20 minutes on the summit, it was 12 hour day with most of us only getting little sleep the night before.