TRAIL AND TRIBULATION
Crews work to prepare eroded course for race
By MERI-JO BORZILLERI
Gail Allen stands 2 miles up Barr Trail, a week before the Pikes Peak Ascent, her mood bouncing between wonder and frustration.
She was helping head the Trail Dogs, a volunteer work crew trying to fix the trail just in time for 1,800 pairs of feet to trample it during todays 13.32-mile Pikes Peak Ascent.
On Sunday, another 800 entrants will run up, then down the trail for the Pikes Peak Marathon.
By the time you read this, the work put in by the crew including almost seven hours last weekend might have been washed out by last nights predicted deluge.
Thats par for the course. Allen, Mary Burger and their 24-person trail crew know theyre tilting against windmills.
This trail, she said and you can almost hear her teeth clench is unsustainable. The reason is the decomposing granite.
The whole mountain, she said, is trying to fall apart.
Minutes later, its back to the Sisyphean task of trying to stop rain from crumbling a mountain trail. Its a hopeless battle against Mother Nature and gravity. You cant win, but you can sweat trying. The crew grunts to remove rocks.
Saves about $40 going to the Y and getting exercise, said Hodgon Hodge Hartley, 78, a volunteer.
The volunteers install steps, dig out berms, outslope the trail so rainwater flows in sheets rather than a trail-gouging stream, and reposition and build new water bars, logs that redirect flow.
Its like putting a giant puzzle together, Allen said, her mind shifting to problem-solving. Wheres the water going to go?
Allen likes the races.
Shes a former race director who has run the Ascent or Marathon 22 times in the past 27 years.
She, and Pikes Peak competitors squeezing in their final days of training, dont like what a rainy summer has done to the trail, and what years of only intermittent care has wrought.
Careless people make it worse. Instead of following the trail on switchbacks, they cut through, eroding vegetation and creating more places for water to tear into the trail.
This summers frequent rain has scoured the trail, carving deep gullies in places as it washes away gravel and exposes even more rocks than those already there.
The trail does look rougher than it has in the past, said Jason Allemang of Kansas City, who with some friends encountered the crew on his Ascent training run last Saturday. We were thanking all of them on the way down.
Said running buddy Chris Bengert, also from Kansas City, There were a couple spots where I said, I cant imagine running through this.
This was deep ruts and scree. This week, the crews work showed in a vastly improved trail for todays runners.
But their work might go to waste. The forecast called for heavy rain Friday night, scattered showers race morning and heavy thunderstorms in the afternoon. Runners have been and will be turned around for lightning.
The crew has done what it could. The trail, said race director Ron Ilgen, is ready.
There are some gullies, but nothing bad at all, Ilgen said Friday.
That will have to be good enough.
THIS WEEKENDS RACES
When: 7 a.m. today (Ascent); 7 a.m. Sunday (Marathon)
Where: Manitou Springs
Who to watch:
Copyright 2006, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.