This story has been archived from the Sunday, August 14, 2005

Fred Barr: The trailmaster

Before anyone thought to run to the top of Pikes Peak Barr was clearing the way


This much we know: Fred Barr loved Pikes Peak, he loved to work, he loved to explore and he loved to show people his work.

But he didn’t talk much about his most well-known project, the Barr Trail, an 8-mile route he built up the eastern flank of Pikes Peak.


Fred Barr
Barr spent years surveying the mountain and building the trail, and his progress was reported regularly in the Gazette Telegraph newspaper, but he never was quoted.

By the 1930s, newspaper accounts referred to him as the “Trailmaster of the Rockies,” but still, Barr wasn’t talking.

Instead, he was plotting, planning, working on even more trails on the flank of his favorite mountain.

He built nearly 100 miles of trail and a collection of cabins called Barr’s Camp. Barr had a reason for wanting to cover the mountain with trails — in the summer months, he led tourists on mule trips up the mountain. And he was on the mountain in the winters as well, as one of five original members of the AdAmAn Club that climbed the Peak each New Year’s Eve to set off fireworks from the summit.

“He was certainly an ambitious guy,” says Bill Slaughter, a member of the Barr Camp board of directors who has walked the length of the Barr Trail nearly 200 times.

“Barr was a miner and led his burro trips. When he wasn’t working at those jobs, he was spending his own money — $38,000 altogether — to build the trail.”

Work was an important part of Barr’s life, and if the work took place on Pikes Peak, he was all the more dedicated.

AdAmAn co-founder Fred Morath remembered him in a letter written decades ago:

“(Fred) always carried the heaviest pack . . . he was always first man in line of the climbers breaking trail through deep snow drifts and laying out the route through the rocks at timberline. . . . Up at 5 a.m. at Barr’s Camp, where the climbing party spent the first night, Barr built up the fire in the freezing cold cabin, broke the ice in the nearby stream and made strong mountain coffee in his famous 20-gallon coffee pot.”

Morath called Barr “a true mountain man who loved the high rock country with all his heart.”

Barr built his trail by hand, using burros and blasting powder to make his path up the mountain and spending days and sometimes weeks looking for the right route.

No one disputes that Barr finished his project. But no one really knows how he did it.

“I’ve found nothing written by Fred Barr,” says Slaughter, who has been working on a history of Barr Camp and its founder. “I’ve been trying to piece together how he built the main cabin and the trail, but there isn’t a note, a plan, a request to be found.”

Slaughter is puzzled by the logs used for the cabin, which still stands at the midway point on the trail.

“I’ve seen photographs from back then, and there wasn’t a tree anywhere in sight of the present-day cabin that was anywhere big enough to be used.”

He believes Barr salvaged the logs used for the building from cabins that were dismantled in nearby Ruxton and Englemann canyons and carried them on a mule train road to the site.

That would have added to the effort required to finish the cabins, but Slaughter and others who have researched Barr’s work believe the miner would have relished the challenge.

Barr finished his trail in 1921, the same year the state established a highway department and crews began building the state’s first concrete highways. As construction crews made their way across the state, Barr continued to plot out paths on Pikes Peak.

Fred Barr signed his final AdAmAn register in 1939. On April 3, 1940, he died of a heart attack while he and his wife visited relatives in New Mexico. He was 58.

His obituary in the Gazette Telegraph praised him as a “trail blazer,” calling him “a firm believer in trails thru the mountains of the region, his opinion being that the best views of the beauty offered by the Pikes Peak mountain area are to be obtained from hikes along trails, rather than by driving over highways in automobiles.”


Copyright 2005, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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