“I am going to walk up to Barr Camp as my first hike”…what was I thinking?
Actually people run up to Barr Trail daily or at least weekly for exercise. One man, Frank, hikes up each Sunday with the paper for the caretakers there. Barr Camp is at 10,200′, nearly to tree line on Pikes Peak. The trailhead starts at 6600 feet so there is a healthy 3,600 elevation gain over 6.8 miles to reach the camp. An almost 14 mile round trip.
I just moved back to Colorado Springs after being gone 10 years and thought the trip that I had done numerous times would be a good test of my fitness. I started up at 7:00am and arrived at the camp at 9:45am, probably about 30-45 mins behind what I would have done it 10 years ago. The effort was humbling, but no more than any other mountain hike…none of them are easy… J Icy patches slowed me near the start as I wore my heavy hiking boots…they were no match for the packed slick ice and although the trekking poles helped, it was challenging. The middle part of the hike exposed to sunlight was mostly dry and then above 9,000’, the snow was present, which provided a bit more traction over the ice below. I kept up my normal pace, slowing down only during the last ¾ of a mile when my legs, although conditioned on the bike, had not hiked this distance in “awhile” and were tired.
I was looking for something on this hike other than a fitness mark though…
I was hoping the hike would set off other signals to me…that the mountains I had been away from for so long was what I wanted and my other activities in the intervening years had not dulled my senses or drive. I wondered if I would have the same feeling as when I was in the mountains in the past… that it is the best place to be most days and that I belonged there. And as an aside, I guess I wanted to start getting my mountain legs back, a process I reckoned would take a few months. I am not talking fitness here; I am talking a sense of what to do and when to do it in the mountains for safety, enjoyment and fulfillment.
As I hiked up, I thought about these thoughts and found myself stopping to take more pictures than I would have 10 years ago. 10 years ago when I heard a woodpecker knocking on the wood as I passed by, I would have passed by. Today I stopped and took a picture and watched him go about his business. (Note: Need better zoom digital camera) As I continued up I saw a few morning fitness folks doing the incline stairwell, trail return circle, most all in running shoes, some with instep crampons to keep their purchase on the ice.
My older mountaineering boots looked strangely out of place as these “fit” runners ran by me “down” the trail. Above snow line it was apparent I was probably only the 2nd hiker that am headed to the camp that morning judging on the marks in the snow.
Right before I reached Barr Camp, a gentleman whisked by me going down who I would later ID as “Frank”, having just delivered a Friday paper to Stephanie, one of the caretakers. As I reached the camp, it looked very similar to when I was there 10 years ago. The more things change, the more things seem the same…nothing much had changed at Barr Camp except the addition of two nice solar powered toilets down a snow-covered path.
I met Stephanie, who along with her fellow caretaker had been there since 1999…wow that is a long time to sleep in a sleeping bag! They had replaced a young family who was in residence during the mid-90’s when I was last there. I ate some banana bread and an energy bar, watching the birds alight next to me for their morning breakfast as well before joining Stephanie inside by the fire. We talked for about 20 minutes before I decided if I did not get my knees going again soon, I would be in deep trouble. Stephanie told me I would probably pass 5 friends of hers that come up each Thursday morning to spend some time with her. They were a day late this week due to work schedules.
I started down and quickly met in short succession, Michael, a light packer, and two gentlemen who had started out together but now were separated by about 10 mins on the trail. All wore trail running shoes and wire instep crampons. J I stopped and had a 3-4 min conversation with each about just returning to Colorado, after having retired, and this being a first time hike back. Each conversation was wonderful, due to the most part because of the people I met…all like-minded people who you could see it in their eyes, how much it meant to them to be out hiking in the mountains this day.
As I parted company with my last newest friend, it dawned on me that I had found that feeling I was wondering if I would get back. Being in the mountains with like-minded folks was exactly one of the best things about the outdoors. While most of my hike had been in solitude, these encounters brought Colorado home for me once again. A smile crossed my lips as I focused on the icy trail below my boots, vowing not to slip and fall…hey at my age I could break a hip! J
At about 9200” I met Stephanie’s five friends plus one. A wild bunch…J all very talkative, friendly, and fit. “Desperate housewives” of the Mtns? I hope they never surf to this page and see that analogy. They invited me along on their Thursday am hikes each week and I said I would, if I was off that day in the future. They continued up having more conversation then I could manage going down which showed their fitness and enthusiasm level!
Here is where my idea of going up to Barr Camp and back for my first hike seemed like a poor choice. Downhill has always been punishing for me and today it was worse…out of shape calf muscles reacted poorly to the 7 mile downhill journey, but the real killer were the heavy boots I had not had on my feet in at least 5 years. You know the drill… steep downhill when your toes hit the front of your boots with each step. Had I grown or had the boots gotten smaller? Did not matter as the familiar pain from past epics quickly became firmly implanted in my mind. The last three miles went slow and I reached the bottom in about 2.5 hours, gingerly walking to the Subaru to take the boots off for the short drive home.A great first day in the mountains for our new life in Colorado. More to come, including adventures with my daughter Kate, who got her first set of snowshoes yesterday. I had found what I was looking for in this first hike, in more ways than one.
Beta: < 14 Miles RT, 3600 elevation gain, 5.5 hours