2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  PIKE'S PEAK OR BUST!

TUESDAY, JUNE 1

 
"The most visited mountain in North America and the second most visited mountain
in the world behind Japan's Mt. Fuji, Pikes Peak forms a stunning backdrop for
Colorado Springs . . . It is the farthest east of the big peaks in the Rocky Mountain chain,
which contributed to its early fame among explorers, pioneers and immigrants and made it
the symbol of the 1859 gold rush to Colorado with the slogan, 'Pikes Peak or Bust!'"
 
 ~ from the Pikes Peak Country Attractions Association website
 
 
Pike's Peak or Bust! has become my personal slogan since we've been in the Colorado Springs area. I am determined to hike up the mountain on the 13-mile long Barr Trail from Manitou Springs to the summit, an elevation gain of over 7,400 feet.

Hike up the mountain, you ask?

Yes. It wouldn't be in the best interest of my Granny Knees to hike down the trail, which is 'way more popular, but I can go uphill until the cows come home. Or longer.


Beginning of the  Barr Trail at the base of Pike's Peak in Manitou Springs

I can count on one hand the number of 14,000+ foot mountains in the continental United States that I can climb and then get a ride back down. Pike's Peak is one of them. There's a paved-turned-dirt/gravel road that goes to the top and also a cog railway that does the same.

Runners and hikers have several choices -- going up and back down on foot (~26 miles total), climbing up and riding back down in a vehicle or the cog, or riding up one way or the other and hoofing it back down.

Jim is game to drop me off at the Barr Trail trailhead in Manitou Springs (picture above, elev. 6,700 feet), drive up to the Summit House (elev. 14,110 feet), and run down the Barr Trail until he meets me. Then we'd hike the rest of the way to the summit together and I'd ride back down in the truck with him.

By then it'd probably be too late in the day for Jim to run down, but we've also considered that. It would probably take him about four hours to run down, with some stops.

In good weather conditions, I estimate it will take me about eight hours to hike up the mountain, including stops for photos, etc. If I have to wait out a storm (I've had to do that before, about a mile from the summit) it could take longer. I don't know if I'd take Cody with me or not.

There's only one problem: too much snow in the upper elevations right now.

Rats. The rangers tell us we'd need ice picks and crampons to make it through the ice and snow the last couple miles to the summit. We don't have ice picks and crampons, and I don't need that extra challenge anyway.

I've considered another option while we're here: hiking about seven miles up to Barr Camp (10,200 feet elevation) on the Barr Trail, then taking the Elk Park Trail about six miles to its juncture with the Pike's Peak Highway at just under 12,000 feet elevation. Jim could drive to that trailhead about fourteen miles up the mountain, then run over to meet me.


The Elk Park trailhead parking area is just above the arrow on this colorful map
section of the Pike's Peak Hwy. The old brochure used to feature this map.

I've done that before but Jim hasn't. Locating that pull-off is a major trick if you've never done it before. In fact, it's a major trick if you have done it before. You have to know exactly where you're turning left and even then, it looks like you're driving off the side of the mountain until you can see the little dirt road over your hood!

It's like making a left turn right here (next photo), without being able to see the side road. This isn't the exact spot; I'm using it for illustrative purposes:

You can spot the turnoff more easily coming down the mountain but the turn is too sharp to make in our truck. I guess Jim could back in if no one is following closely . . . but it'd still be impossible to see where he's going.

You don't want to drive off a cliff at 11,900 feet!

I've also run down from the top about seven miles to Barr Camp and back up. But I've never hiked all the way up or run all the way down before. It's just one of those "Bucket List" things I want to do while I'm still at least moderately ambulatory.

PUNCTUATION POLICE

There's something that's bugging me with this entry -- is it Pike's Peak or Pikes Peak??

I've been accused many times of being the grammar/punctuation police but I know my grammar and punctuation are not always proper. For example, I love to use occasional sentences without a subject and verb, for emphasis. It's called literary license. But this Pike's business has me scratching my head. It seems so obvious to me.


Pike's Peak in the distance; even in late spring it can be difficult to summit on foot.

This mountain is named after a real person, Lt. Zebulon Pike, who was the first Anglo to find it (in late November, 1806). He saw it while surveying part of the newly-acquired Louisiana Purchase; unfortunately, he wasn't able to reach the summit then due to a blizzard.

When something is named after a person, it is proper to use an apostrophe. However, all of the printed promotional literature I've collected about Pike's Peak and the Pike's Peak Region, and most of the websites I've found in an internet search (OK, just the first batch of 20 sites), call it Pikes Peak without the possessive apostrophe.


No apostrophe on summit sign

To my great amusement, Wikipedia does use the apostrophe. Wikipedia! Go figure.

Anyway, if you're from around the area and never use the apostrophe, that's my rationale for using it. 

BETTER THAN NOT GOING UP AT ALL

In the interest of scratching my itch to get to the top of Pike's Peak NOW (since it's been several yeas), I talked Jim into driving up the highway today in our truck. A ride up and back on the cog railway is $33 per adult. Driving up in your own vehicle is $12 per adult. That option gave us more flexibility to come and go as we pleased than riding the train and Cody could go, too.

The current Pike's Peak Highway was built in 1915, although folks were using a primitive carriage road to get to the top for almost thirty years before that. The 19-mile long highway cost a whopping quarter million dollars to build, a substantial sum in those days. (Heck, that's a substantial chunk of change even now, 95 years later!)


I marked the road on this colorful highway sign in bright orange to show it even better.

According to the glossy color brochure* we got at the toll booth the last time we went up in the early 2000s, the highway is among the most costly 19 miles of roadway in the world to maintain. It is operated in the Pike National Forest by the City of Colorado Springs, not the Forest Service. No local, state, or federal tax money is used to operate, maintain, or improve the highway. That's what the tolls are for.

(*Today we received only a cheap imitation of that nice brochure, just a black-&-white photocopy on dull printer paper, with less text and fewer photos and graphics. The brochure must be a victim of the recession.)


If this is June 1, imagine how deep it is on February 1!  (See van in distance for perspective.)

Not only is there a substantial amount of snow removal required to keep a road open on a mountain this lofty, there is also continual maintenance and repair required because of the runoff from melting snow in the spring. And then there are the frequent summer thunderstorms that bring more snow, hail, sleet, and rain to cause additional problems. Today crews were grading and repairing the road in two places in the upper three miles of the highway but we weren't delayed in either direction (next photo).

It's hard to believe the road is open most days of the year, even in the winter.

I'd love to be able to drive to the top in the winter. As beautiful as the views were today of the long chain of snow-capped mountains forming the Continental Divide to the west, I think the winter views from the summit would be totally awesome!!

GEARING DOWN

The highway begins off US 24 in the town of Cascade (below)


Ute Pass has served as a passage from the mountains to the high plains for at least 10,000 years.

at an elevation of 7,400 feet and climbs at an average grade of 6.7% to 14,110 feet at the summit, a gain of 6,710 feet in nineteen miles. In some places the grade is a little over 10%.

Note that the gain to hike up the mountain from the Barr Trail trailhead in Manitou Springs to the summit is 700 feet more than that.

Both Jim and I have previously driven to the summit of Pike's Peak at least four or five times each. It's a pretty easy road to drive up, with 6 miles of pavement (above) that morph into another 12 miles of dirt and gravel road as you get higher. You may find it easier to use a lower gear on steeper parts of the climb to keep your engine cooler (works while running and hiking, too!).

Coming down is trickier, absolutely requiring driving in a low gear to avoid frying your brakes. There is a mandatory brake check at Glen Cove Inn (elev. 11,425 feet) six miles from the top:

A ranger (wo)mans the little shack in the middle of the road and stops you on the way down. If your brakes are too hot, you'll have to wait for about half an hour to let them cool down. We've never had this problem so I don't think they just pull people over in hopes they'll buy something in the restaurant or gift shop there!

WARNING: BUNDLE UP

We arrived at the entrance station around 9 this morning and immediately noticed the sign that said it was only 30F. at the top -- with a 16F. wind chill. Yikes!

Now we're pretty wise to the ways of high mountains but we weren't prepared for that. It was already 68F. at 7,400 feet but we'd see the temperature steadily drop as we climbed steadily higher and higher. Jim had a sweatshirt to put on at our first stop six miles up at Crystal Dam and Reservoir. I needed my lightweight fleece jacket when I got out to take pictures:


No ice on the lake now, but plenty cold and windy in the bright sunshine.
Check out that beautiful mountain!

It was much colder on top, though. I took photos from inside the truck as we climbed toward the top and didn't get out again until we reached the Summit House. Even knowing it would be cold didn't prepare us for the wind chill we found up there! Thank goodness it was sunny.

How cold was it? So cold we didn't even notice the thin air at 14,110 feet!

This is a fairly light snow year (or early melt?) in the Rockies. We didn't see as much snow as I expected, which makes me wonder if I could have hiked to the summit today. There was still some snow in shady areas above 10,500 feet but the rocks near the top were mostly clear. Of course, there was the usual big pile of now-dirty snow that had been plowed to make room for vehicles in the parking lot (above). The rime ice on another pile was interesting.

FLORA & FAUNA

I've never seen much wildlife from either the Barr Trail, Elk Park Trail, or the highway. There are numerous animals that live on the mountain, however -- cottontails, prairie dogs, raccoons, coyotes, black bears, and mountain lions at the lower altitudes (foothills and Montane forests, up to about 9,500 feet), elk and mule deer in the sub alpine zone (9,500 to 11,500 feet), marmots and bighorn sheep in the alpine zone above the tree line (11,500 and above).

Due to the wide variety of habitats, about 225 species of birds live on the mountain.


Two miles up the highway, still at a relatively low elevation

What's more obvious is the change in the trees and other plants as you travel up or down the mountain. Ponderosa pine, juniper, cottonwood and mountain mahogany are found in the foothills, bristlecone pine, Engelmann spruce, aspen, and Douglas fir in the sub alpine zone,

and alpine flowers, cushion grasses, and lichens above tree line. Today I didn't see any flowers, grasses, or lichens from the road at any elevation, or at the summit, but they are probably visible from the trails.

KILLER VIEWS

The views going up the road are simply spectacular,


Scenic Crystal Reservoir has great views of Pike's Peak from the lower part of the highway.

especially after you get above tree line: 

 

You can see far into the valleys below and look down at several fishing lakes:

The lakes are still partially frozen at the higher elevations:

My favorite views up and down the mountain were looking west toward the Continental Divide. For as far as I could see north to south, there was a long line of snow-capped mountains (see middle of photo directly above and the one below).

I loved that incredible scene.


View west from the summit; Continental Divide in the distance

We walked around the large deck and on either side of the Summit House to check out the views in all directions:

 

 

From the summit on clear days it's possible to see four states, the Continental Divide, the cities of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Manitou Springs, the historic gold camps of Cripple Creek and Victor, and several nearby red rock parks.

These scenic vistas inspired Katherine Lee Bates to pen the words to the song, "America the Beautiful" the day she stood at the top of Pike's Peak. This handsome monument at the summit was erected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the song:

When we parked at the summit we saw this van with several bikes and folks who were going to ride them down the mountain. Brr! Cyclists and hikers/runners aren't allowed on the road but tour groups like this can ride down. It wasn't difficult to pass them as we descended.

We checked out the Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway cog train that was parked at the top. I suppose it'd fun to ride it up and down the mountain some day and see some different views than you find on the road or trail . . .



There's even an apostrophe in Pike's . . . although their website has it both ways.

We've both been up and down the Barr Trail at the summit and remember the trailhead being on the other side or end of the railway tracks, but we didn't see a sign for it.


"I know the trailhead is around here somewhere," Jim seems to be saying. "Is it to my right? left?"
No wonder he's cold -- he's in shorts!!  (Or as he says, "I'm on vacation.")
 


Maybe that's where the trail ends/begins?

It was so dang cold and windy outside that we escaped inside the Summit House 

for a few minutes to use the restrooms and warm up. There was quite a crowd inside, however. It was too early for lunch and too cold to hang around outside, so about twenty minutes after our arrival at the summit we decided to head back down again.

THE DESCENT

That's always fun! The road is wide enough that it's not the scary ride you might think it is (not like the Million Dollar Highway or the Jeep roads near Silverton, for example). Jim used both low gears and our engine brakes on the truck to avoid using only the brake pedal.


Looking down toward a work crew


Continental Divide on the horizon

The ranger who checked the left front tire temperature at Glen Cove Inn seemed quite pleased that it was only 155F. He commented that we "must have been up here before" and he'd like to ride down with us because it'd be a safe ride without the brakes going out. He also noted the hitch for the 5th wheel and knew Jim must be experienced with proper braking in the mountains.

The ranger was a sociable guy who joked around with us before sending us on our merry way. He obviously enjoys his job and knows how to make it fun. That's pretty important, I think.

OXYGEN DEBT

What the ranger didn't know was that we were stressed out because the "check engine" light came on as soon as we began our descent.

Oh, no, not again. That happened upon our arrival in Colorado Springs last week and we had the service department at the local Dodge dealer check it out -- it was a problem with the oxygen sensor. The code indicated that resetting it would take care of the problem. The service guy reset it but recommended ordering a new sensor (it's under warranty) if the light came on again.

So here we are on a 14er and the doggone light is on again! Jim shut off the engine several times at overlooks as we descended (good photo ops for me) but the light stayed on the whole way down the mountain. 

 

We had no Verizon cell service to call the service department until we were back in the Colorado Springs metro area. It was lunchtime and we couldn't reach anyone. Jim turned the engine off a couple more times at Subway, REI, Sam's Club, and WalMart. By the time someone called back from the Dodge place, we'd been down at 6,000-7,000 feet long enough that the engine light was off and stayed off.

We didn't take the truck in. After Jim talked to one of the service guys on the phone, they determined jointly that apparently the problem was simply the lack of oxygen at 14,100 feet! I guess vehicles need oxygen to operate effectively, just like people do.

Crisis averted.

TWO CRISES IN TWO DAYS

That was our second crisis in two days.

Yesterday we got a distress call, our first ever since we started traveling for several months at a time, from one of our neighbors. He said he heard "a voice and a barking dog" inside our house in Virginia when he walked by a few minutes earlier. He wondered if we'd come home early?

Now just imagine how you'd react if you were 2,000 miles from home and suddenly concerned that someone had broken into your house . . . it's a pretty helpless feeling. We are more concerned about vandalism than theft when we're gone. Both Jim and the neighbor called 911 promptly. Jim told the dispatcher that he'd left his fire-EMS radio on so a potential burglar might hear voices and think someone was home.

We hoped that's what the neighbor heard.


Climbing toward the summit of Pike's Peak -- nowhere near Virginia!

We asked another neighbor who has our spare key to meet the Sheriff's deputies at the house and let them in, which she did.

Long story short, there was no one in or near the house when the deputies arrived, no signs of forced entry in any of the doors or windows, and no signs anyone had been inside since we left a month ago. Their only concern was the mini van in the garage with its side doors and hood open; I told them we deliberately left it that way. (We usually keep the side doors open even when we're there so we aren't opening and closing them so much, and Jim keeps the battery charged while we're traveling.)

We thanked our neighbor profusely for promptly calling us when he suspected something was amiss. Everyone on our rather remote rural road has been good about keeping an eye on things when we're off gallivanting around the country and we've never had any problems. We were pretty stressed out for about an hour, however, until the deputies called back and we talked with both neighbors a second time. Hopefully, we can let this go and get a good night's sleep!


These red rocks on the way up the Pike's Peak Hwy. are reminiscent of ones
at the nearby Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs.

Next entry: We intended to visit Miramont Castle and Garden of the Gods today but put that off because of the engine "problem." We've got just one more full day here in Colorado Springs, so those are on the list of things to do tomorrow.

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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