The third time turned out to be the charm for this trip – with us canceling the first attempt due to weather and the second attempt due to us both finally contracting COVID. But what better to do just a couple weeks after that illness than hike a Fourteener?!
And as it turned out, these postponements put us in the position of having two back-to-back trips just ahead of our anniversary – which seemed like a pretty fitting way to mark 12 years! It was also an opportunity to create an anniversary collage consisting of portraits from each trip, and I was really pleased with how well they paired:
two trips for 12 years
<<< part I: Pikes Peak • part II: New York City >>>
But back to this Colorado trip specifically, which in terms of inspiration had its start at the end of 2021, when Seth decided he’d like to hike Pikes Peak. I take some credit for that idea, since I’d hiked it twice – once in my teens and once in my 20s. But I was definitely on-board for adding a time in my 30s, so we decided we’d aim to schedule it in our travels in 2022. And at long last, we did squeeze it in and survived to tell about it!
– feature film –
See the occasion come alive in these video highlights!
day 1 • 09.21.22
Independence, MO >>> Colorado Springs, CO
I’m pretty sure most people in our area know what the drive across Kansas to Colorado is all about, and we’ve done it enough that I don’t do much in the way of documenting it at this point! But an excited stop at the state line is still a must.
day 2 • 09.22.22
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
Wanting to give ourselves a chance to acclimate a little to the elevation before attempting our big hike, a semi-restful day in Colorado Springs was in order. And with rain and clouds in the forecast all day, we knew the best views we were likely to get were of the animals at the zoo!
This giraffe herd is the largest at any zoo in the world. Feeding the giraffes was our first stop and definitely the highlight of the day – and after that experience, we can attest that although giraffes don’t seem to particularly enjoy being petted, they’ll tolerate it for some lettuce leaves.
Fun fact: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was voted the third-best zoo in North America in this year’s USA Today Readers’ Choice Awards. And its Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit received second place in the exhibit category.
This was my first time seeing a moose in a zoo, and as a moose lover, I was pretty excited. I also found it sort of funny to see an animal in a zoo I’d previously seen only in the wild – since usually, the experience is the other way around!
I wouldn’t normally publish images of someone giving the middle finger, but given that this is a gorilla, I’m hoping the humor overrides any offensiveness.
After the zoo, we headed to a tapas restaurant in Old Colorado City to fuel up for our big endeavor the next day!
With the first two days of this trip being so overcast, we hadn’t yet caught a glimpse of the mountain we’d be climbing. But this mural was a nice stand-in until we could see the real thing!
day 3 • 09.23.22
We greeted this day on just a few hours sleep, aiming for a 4 a.m. start to our Fourteener hike. We missed the mark just slightly – Note the 4:38 a.m. timestamp on our our parking pass – but still started well before sunrise.
A little info from www.pikes-peak.com: “Pikes Peak is one of many mountains in Colorado over 14,000 feet in elevation, and one of the tougher ones to climb. It’s a long, hard, 13.5-mile climb uphill with a gain of about 7,400 feet in elevation. Basically, it’s a half-marathon in hiking form. Please only attempt Pikes Peak if you are healthy, able to hike long distances, able to navigate difficult terrain and able to perform high-cardio activity with low oxygen. At its summit, the oxygen level is more than 40 percent lower than at sea level.”
Several miles in, we had our first view of the summit!
And farther up the trail, we reached Barr Camp – roughly the halfway point and a good spot for a snack break.
Three miles from the summit is the timberline, above which conditions are unsuitable for most plant life … and increasingly unsuitable for simple things like breathing, the closer you get to the top!
We may have required more rest breaks in the last mile than in all the others combined. But we fortunately had sun and clear skies all afternoon and thus weren’t racing against any inclement weather. That made this a notably different Pikes Peak experience than the same week two years earlier, when we drove to the summit as part of our 10th-anniversary adventure – not sure we’d even be allowed all the way up due to 50-mph wind gusts and wind chills in the 30s.
The 16 Golden Stairs are a series of switchbacks that make up the final push to the summit – and finally, we made it!
Above: Three fingers to designate my third successful Pikes Peak summiting, plus a step counter with a much higher number! And below: Us in the jump seats we were fortunate to snag for a train ride down the mountain. We could have purchased roundtrip tickets ahead of time but opted to live a little dangerously and save a little money – which thankfully didn’t backfire and require us to make the return trip on foot.
On our way back to our hotel, we finally had our first distant view of Pikes Peak this trip. It was an incredible end to the day to see it sun-kissed on top and to know we’d made it all the way up there, one step at a time.
day 4 • 09.24.22
Colorado Springs, CO
The best feeling the day after a hard hike is to look up at the mountain you summited and to know you stood on top of it entirely through your own physical effort. And if you’re not feeling too much pain that next day, that’s pretty awesome too! Other than stiffening up if we sat very long, we felt fairly normal and were able to enjoy a day out and about in Colorado Springs – starting with a pancake breakfast we’d definitely earned.
After looking around downtown a little, we went for a 2-mile hike at Red Rock Canyon Open Space. (And may have laughed about how much easier it is to walk on level ground, with abundant oxygen and without bags on our backs.)
I wasn’t throwing gang signs; I was just drawing attention to my “mountains are calling” shirt, which I don’t often wear with mountains behind me. And fun fact: Pikes Peak is known as America’s Mountain because it inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write “America the Beautiful” after she stood on its summit in 1893.
After our short hike, we walked some more around Old Colorado City before doing an outfit change and heading to Garden of the Gods for our first set of anniversary portraits. The sun was almost entirely behind Pikes Peak by the time we arrived – at which point I realized my Midwest sensibilities about light and the proper timing of sunset sessions weren’t exactly spot-on in the mountains. But we still made the most of the little bit of light and time we had:
I was especially happy to get this portrait of us with Pikes Peak behind us (above right), as it celebrates not only 12 years of marriage but also the hike we’d accomplished the day before. And the shot below with the kissing camels formation (near the top left side of the frame) seemed like a pretty fitting anniversary photo, too!
day 5 • 09.25.22
Colorado Springs, CO >>> Independence, MO
On the day of our return trip, we left Pikes Peak in our rearview mirror (and in the side mirrors, where it’s easier to photograph!). But we did have one more notable stop to make …
At 4,039 feet, Mount Sunflower is the highest natural point in Kansas. It’s located just east of the Colorado border and sits on private property, but visitors are allowed and greeted with this adorable signage. Since Seth and I have hiked to the highest points in Tennessee and Texas in the past year, we somewhat have our sights set on hitting the high points in as many states as possible – and Kansas was an easy one to add to our tally.
I really loved all the details here, and this question on the mailbox seems a fittingly philosophical end for a pretty monumental trip!
I'm a print-journalist-turned-wedding-photographer who fully believes in the value of telling true stories beautifully. By means of a camera, I am a curator so my clients can be keepers of their most important moments.
weddings over here:
take this quiz to create
a timeline for your day!
a nature trail
session in autumn
an elegant summer wedding at the elms
TIPS FOR TOP-NOTCH TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY
your wedding day