Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My Pikes Peak adventure

On Sunday, I did the hour-long trek down to Manitou Springs (perhaps the most charming town I've been in since we left Chagrin Falls) to run with the Incline Club. The route for the day was the Barr Trail to Barr Camp (elevation 10,200 feet) and back. My goal was to get to at least 11,000 feet on Pikes Peak. Here's a photo of the members of the Incline Club signing in at Memorial Park, right on the outskirts of downtown Manitou Springs, before our run:

We left promptly at 8 a.m., with the temperature at about 50 degrees and the sky very much overcast. I heard a few members talking about the conditions, with one saying he felt the sun would "burn away" the clouds soon enough. He was right. Within an hour of the start the clouds disappeared and for the rest of the morning and day we were blessed with blue skies. In anticipation of the sunnier conditions and rising temperatures, I wore a tight, thin long-sleeve base layer and short-sleeve technical tee-shirt, complete with thin mittens to keep my hands warm. I also wore my brand-new, 70-ounce Camelbak--definitely preferred gear when you're running on mountain trails in dry conditions.

Now for the box score for the day: I made it past Barr Camp, elevation 10,200 feet and about 6-point-something miles up the trail, and proceeded about 2 additional miles past the camp to 11,200 feet--about 8 miles up the trail. That's the highest I've ever been not counting airplane trips. For the day, I logged 18 miles over about 3.5 hours on the mountain. I was the third one into Barr Camp, running fairly aggressively up the mountain with only a few very brief walk breaks.

I was very pleased with how I handled the vertical and how I was running. I actually felt like a mountain runner and kept thinking a lifelong flatlander shouldn't be able to do this like I was doing it. It wasn't until I got above 10,000 feet that I really started to feel the elevation and remember that only two months ago I was an Ohioan who could barely comprehend 10,000+ feet. By the time I was back down from the mountain, I had logged 91 miles for the week, capping it all off with the single greatest trail running experience of my life on a mountain many dream of visiting...and I hadn't even gotten to the top!

It's hard to put into words my thoughts on and feeling of Pikes Peak, because it is such a magnificent natural wonder that is full of surprises. Pikes Peak soars to 14,100 feet. From where I live in Parker, it looks like a huge mountain out there by itself. The photo directly above kind of gives you an idea of what I'm talking about. But Pikes Peak isn't alone. Pikes Peak is located amongst many mountains and on the edge of the Rockies, but it is the biggest in the immediate area and probably the most celebrated and famous of Colorado's 14'ers. On sunny mornings, it practically glows. The Barr Trail forms the longest base-to-summit trail in Colorado. You can read a short history of Pikes Peak here, but the foremost authority on Pikes Peak as a big playground for runners and outdoor enthusiasts is none other than Matt Carpenter, co-founder of the Incline Club who has written the most detailed description of the trail that you'll ever come across.

To get a sense of the challenge of the Barr Trail, here's the sign that greets you at the trailhead:

I've posted this photo before and am re-posting it for effect. Intense, yes?

The Barr Trail affords the most spectacular views I've ever experienced and delivers the ultimate trail running experience. The first few miles up the Barr Trail are totally vertical as you navigate challenging switchbacks on Rocky Mountain. There are some fairly flat sections after Rocky Mountain where you can catch your breath and prepare for the next climb while appreciating the aspen forests, meadows, rock formations and views all around you. At a number of points you can see the peak itself--a breathtaking site. Here's one such example:

At 10,200 feet you come upon a welcome site--Barr Camp. Barr Camp has been there since 1921 and is operated by a very nice couple, Teresa and Neal Taylor. When I arrived there I felt like I'd come home. As I didn't have cash to buy a few pancakes and make a donation (though I'm sure they'd have given me a pancake if I asked, but I didn't because I wasn't that desperate), I didn't stick around long--just long enough to say hello to the Taylors, quickly converse with another Incline Club runner and head back to the trail. With my Camelbak backpack still quite full and two gels, I didn't need to refuel at Barr Camp, though pancakes would have been nice. Here's a photo of the Barr Camp sign that greets you:

The journey became increasingly challenging after Barr Camp as my breathing became more labored and I encountered very rocky, technical trail, especially near the Bottomless Pit area. (Next time I'm on the trail I'm going to check out Bottomless Pit for the views. It is also the unfortunate site of a number of suicides.) Here's a photo showing what I mean by rocky and technical:

I continued for a little while longer and then decided to turn at 11,200 feet as I didn't have limitless time and I wanted to get home to be with my family. Part of me wanted to push for the summit but I realized that I didn't have quite enough water or calories on me to do it. And so I ran back down the mountain. And did I run hard. I made it back down in about half the time it took me to climb to 11,200 feet. Along the way I snapped a few additional photos and tried to really take in what was all around me. I also worked hard on my downhill running form, trying to be aggressive and run confidently. The last few miles my quads were fatigued but I stayed strong and had a wonderful time every second of this epic journey.

This Sunday I plan to return to Pikes Peak and make a summit push. I want so badly to stand at the top of the mountain, to run above treeline and really experience Pikes Peak. There is something about this mountain that has gotten to me--even as early as our first trip to Denver in January to figure out if this place was where we wanted to live. But now I see Pikes Peak everyday and feel pulled to it everyday. I wish we could live in Manitou Springs, which feels so much like home and is the ultimate mountain town, but it's too far from our jobs. I'm sure it's this way with many others, because don't we all want an adventure that will change our lives?

1 comment:

  1. Good on ya for getting down there before race day (BTMR) ... that down is sure fun on that day.