Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Rocky Mountain and Mount Manitou

30 May, 2007: Summer’s just about here, but not quite. There’s still snow in the high country, and the time hasn’t quite come for the first 14er trip of the season, yet. (But don’t change that dial; it’s coming soon!) But there’s no snow left below timberline (at least around here), and the weather has started to warm up (at least in the mornings). So I’m out looking for new nearby peaks to climb and new places to run in my “backyard.”
With the kids out of school already, the car is a little more available to me, so I found something new, starting from a trailhead that’s not in Cheyenne Cañon. I’d tackled the well-known “Mt. Manitou” incline once before last winter. This long staircase made out of railroad ties has been a popular workout for runners and climbers ever since the tracks were torn out in 1990. Starting right next to the Barr Trail (Pikes Peak) trailhead at the top of Ruxton Avenue in Manitou Springs, the incline runs straight up the east side of Rocky Mountain (9,250 ft.) (yes; that’s the mountain’s real name!), rising 1900 feet in 0.9 miles. It does not ascend the slopes of Mount Manitou (9,460 ft.), which is actually the next peak to the northwest of Rocky Mountain.
In fact, it stops several hundred feet short of even Rocky’s summit, leaving an interesting run and/or scramble (depending on the route one selects) to reach the summit. But both these local peaks had been on my to-do list for some time, so I decided that Tuesday, the 29th was the ideal opportunity.
I arrived at the trailhead just before 8 am, and found exactly one available spot in the parking lot. (No surprise; I counted myself lucky to find any, and not to have to drive a ways back down Ruxton Ave. to park.) Exiting the car in beautiful sunshine, I immediately took off the long-sleeved shirt I had put over my basic summer running clothes, and stowed it in my belt pack (along with lightweight earmuffs and gloves), just in case the weather turned cool or windy before I got back. I didn’t really know how long this route would take me, and I was prepared to head up for up to three hours if necessary.
I felt fairly energetic as I started up the incline and, sure enough, I passed half a dozen or so people on my way up, and no one passed me. There were plenty of others on the incline, but the weird thing was that the women outnumbered the men by at least six or eight to one. All ages, but very few guys. Go figure.
I made it to the top of the incline in just under 40 minutes. I felt pretty good about this, as this translates into over 2,800 feet per hour, one of the best rates I’ve ever recorded. Of course, I’d gone less than a mile, and still had plenty of distance in front of me, but I’d already done most of the climbing!
After the incline, there’s a choice. A wide and gently sloped trail leads left and around the south side of the summit, while a more rustic, and steeper, trail leads right and basically blasts straight up toward the summit. Naturally, I went right. After the first switchback, another version of the same choice presents itself. A sign pointing to the right directs the climber to the east face of a rock formation called the “Eagle’s Nest,” and a more mundane trail again goes off to the left. I took the challenge of the Eagle’s Nest.
This proved to provide the highest class scrambling of the day. After a while, all semblance of a trail goes away, and it becomes just a scramble up through large boulders, at an ever-increasing slope. The crux was a narrow (thankfully!) cleft between two house-sized boulders just below the top. The rocks are fairly smooth, but solid, so I pressed myself between them and carefully observed the rule of three to friction myself up 15 feet or so of very steep climbing. It was worth it, as that brought me almost to the top of the rocks. I didn’t attempt to climb the high point of the outcropping, which is a rounded boulder standing 20 feet or so over its supports. It reminded me a lot of the summit of Mount Buckskin, and this time I had neither ropes nor ladder. So I just slipped between the smaller boulders near its base, and dropped down a few feet on the other side to needle-covered ground. Then it was on to the northwest, in pursuit of the actual summit.
I actually went over two more ridge points before finding that summit, where the ground clearly drops away on the other (north/northwest) side. With the help of a tree growing in contact with its side, I worked my way up to the top of the rock which is the actual highest point. The views aren’t much, owing to all the trees, except that Pikes Peak is fairly close from here, and can at least be glimpsed through the gaps in the forest. It had taken me an hour and seven minutes total to get to this point. I lingered only a few minutes, mostly to scope out the remaining ridge route over to Mt. Manitou. It’s actually fairly visible, and unmistakable, although much of the route in between has to be guessed at, hidden in the trees.
Dodging numerous small rock outcroppings (some of which would have entailed significant drops if I had tried to go right over them), I simply tried to stay basically on the gently rounded ridge crest while heading over to the other summit. It didn’t take very long to get past the saddle. A clearing in the trees provided me a good close-up view of the summit block from its bottom.
The going was somewhat slower once I started up, as the ground quickly became rockier, plus there was a lot of downed timber. I either had to dodge it, or climb over it. Still, I got the hang of it fairly quickly, taking advantage of the many natural ledges and terraces between the rocks, and a series of free-lance switchback moves quickly brought me out onto the surprisingly flat summit area.
There, a small clump of trees surround, again, a little pile of rocks which is the actual top. To my delight, I found that a set of small stones had been used to wedge a jar containing a register between the summit rock and a small tree! It had been placed only the month before, and held only three previous entries. Unfortunately, whoever placed it hadn’t left his or her name, so I didn’t know who to thank. But I quickly added my own entry, with some notes on conditions and my route, since there was plenty of room.
It had taken me only 1:23 to get there, so I spend five minutes on that summit, and headed down with the intention of being a little more leisurely in my exploring on the way down.
I climbed one of the rock outcroppings on the north side of Rocky Mtn. (which I had noticed but just passed by on the way out), but otherwise basically retraced my steps until I got back to the vicinity of the Eagle’s Nest.
At that point, I deliberately detoured around the south side of the rocks, knowing that I would eventually encounter the trail. I did, but it actually took longer than I expected. That was because my route led me into an area of rather large boulders. The size of the rocks, together with the amount of downed timber, made for some rather interesting downclimbing with some big steps. A few years ago, this might have worried me. No longer. I scrambled on, confident in my ability to handle the rocks, and in the eventual appearance of the trail in front of me.
After reaching the trail, it was just a short run back to the Eagle’s Nest sign, and then the top of the incline. To my surprise, there was no one in sight. You can usually find at least one or two people sitting there, recovering their breath after the trip up.
I toyed briefly with the idea of going down the incline, but, since I had had precious little actual trail running to that point, I opted instead to dash down the roughly four miles of the Barr Trail, as I had when I climbed the incline before (and as, in fact, most runners who climb the incline do).
Passing numerous hikers going both directions, I made it back to the trailhead in just about 45 minutes, for a total time of 2:45. The sunshine had persisted the whole time, I felt great, and I had two new peaks to record! My biggest regret is that I have no pictures to share on this one. Halfway up the incline, it occurred to me that I had never even thought about packing my camera; I had just assembled my basic running gear and taken off! Maybe next time...
Long life and many peaks!


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