FAR FROM PEAK CONDITIONS
Rain and hail make finishing even more of an accomplishment
By KATE CRANDALL
Simon Gutierrez had won the Pikes Peak Ascent before, but on Saturday he had to earn it.
Drizzle fell as Gutierrez leapt out to an early lead in Manitou Springs.
You knew it was going to get worse, he said of the start, with temperatures in the low 50s. At first it wasnt so bad. Then, it just got bad.
With 4 miles left in the 13.32-mile slog up Barr Trail, bulletsized hail began pelting him in the face. Frigid wind whipped against his soaked body and bare legs.
As he crossed the finish line, the banner nearly obscured by a mix of snow and fog, Gutierrez lifted his arms in weary celebration. About 23 minutes after Gutierrez reached the 14,115-foot summit, first-timer Brandy Erholtz, 30, of Bailey, captured the womens title, her blond, braided pigtails crusted with chunks of ice.
This was the hardest, said Gutierrez, a 42-year-old from Alamosa. Gutierrez has won three of the four As cents hes entered, also capturing titles in 2003 and 2006. Pikes Peak has always been nice, sunny and warm for me.
On Saturday with temperatures at the summit hovering around freezing the Peak reared its ugly head, turning back more than half of those who started.
Were talking carnage! yelled one finisher, his skin chapped and ruddy-colored.
It was very quick, he said. It was, We have to do this now, not We can wait 10 more minutes. All of a sudden, the weather kicked in and the forecast got worse. ... I hate calling it off. It hurts.
Of the 760 who finished, at least 80 were treated for hypothermia, said Dr. Robert Hamilton, who oversaw medical care at the summit. Some of them were among the first to finish.
Huddled under blankets and Gutierrezs red down jacket, second-place finisher Tim Parr, 26, sat with an oxygen tube in his nostrils, his blue lips locked in a dazed smile.
If it had just been a little colder earlier on, we would have had snow instead of rain closer to the start, said Parr, a former Hilltop Baptist High School distance runner who lives in Gunnison. At least then we wouldnt have been so wet.
Parr, who finished more than a minute behind Gutierrezs winning mark of 2 hours, 18 minutes, 9 seconds, caught Gutierrez in the middle of the race and led until A-Frame, where Gutierrez found a higher gear.
I could see him behind me as long as he wasnt more than 20 seconds behind, Gutierrez said of the disorienting, snowy haze.
Erholtz who bested runner-up Lisa Goldsmith, 43, of Nederland, by nearly 10 minutes said she took four wrong turns on the trail, her eyes focused on the ground to avoid slipping.
In the last 3 miles, I couldnt go any faster. I was just so cold, said Erholtz, who posted a 2:41:26. I couldnt zip my jacket because my hands were numb. I didnt know how far Lisa was behind me, so I just wanted to keep moving.
The Minnesota native, a former marathoner who was named to the U.S. Mountain Running team, said the only thing that prepared her for the conditions was running the Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run last January in International Falls, Minn.
Its usually 40- to 50-below with the wind chill. Thats cold, said Erholtz, a special education teacher at Evergreen High. But here, youre up so high and the winds blowing. ... The last mile was cold and slippery. I just wanted to be done.
So did those who had to make an agonizing journey down the mountain, without the reward of reaching the summit.
Part of me was sad that I was that close, said Kat Jahnigan, 28, of Castle Rock, who learned just below A-Frame that she would have to turn around. But its supposed to be fun. Ill definitely be back next year.
Copyright 2008, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.