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|August 13- 19, 2009
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A dream job, bar none
Pikes Peak caretakers get away from it all
by Rich Blitz
Teresa and Neal Taylor live seven miles from the nearest road, yet they still have about 50,000 people trudge through their yard every year. But as caretakers at Barr Camp, high on the east face of Pikes Peak, it’s nothing unusual.
If you’ve ever dreamed of escaping what can be the dreadfulness of a claustrophobic cubicle, office politics, or working for “the man,” then you can begin to understand why the Taylor’s savor their lifestyle — albeit one rife with idiosyncrasies — at the mountain camp they share year-round with daytime and overnight visitors.
Barr Camp, located within the Pike National Forest at an elevation of 10,200 feet, was established in the early 1920s by Fred Barr as a rest stop for travelers on their way to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak. It’s a beautiful hike up to Barr Camp, located just past the halfway point of the 13-mile Barr Trail that starts in Manitou Springs and ends at the summit. The trail is so heavily used that even in winter one seldom needs snowshoes because the snow gets quickly packed down.
The heart of Barr Camp is a large log cabin that serves as common room, dining room and kitchen, supply shed, caretaker living quarters and bunkhouse. Overnight visitors can also rent lean-to shelters, a small private cabin or tent sites. Breakfast is included, dinner is optional. The overall effect of Barr Camp is stewardship of Pikes Peak. For example, camping is consolidated in one area, rather than having impact all over the mountain. As a result, during the summer, tent sites and the cabin are often full.
It’s not uncommon for guests at Barr Camp, chilling out while sitting next to the wood-burning stove, to dream of being the next caretaker. After all, it doesn’t look that hard. Process reservations by e-mail, chat up visitors, sweep the floor, make pancakes, brew coffee — all in an idyllic setting. Sure, you think, you’ll miss flush toilets, phone service and cable TV, but that’s part of the quaintness. You say to yourself, I’ll read more. I’ll sleep well.
But then reality sets in.
Former caretaker Stephanie Dennison says, “Most people, if they found out what it’s really like, would last about two weeks.”
And the job isn’t what you think.
“You don’t need a mountain-man type up here,” says Neal. “What you need is to be great at customer service. We’re dealing with the public every day, and we never have a closed sign up.”
“We take it as an indication that we’re doing things right if people, after seeing us, envision themselves being the caretakers because they think it looks easy. It’s not,” Teresa adds.
In addition to the recurring tasks inherent to being a B&B operator, the Taylor’s manage solar power, propane and composting systems. They are also first responders who participate in search and rescue operations on the mountain. The key customer service philosophy they aim to fulfill each and every day is to act as goodwill ambassadors for the mountain and Barr Camp.
And then there are the questions. More specifically, having to answer the same questions all the time. Over and over. Again.
Dennison, perhaps venting some burnout near the end of her tenure as caretaker, once remarked, “It’s like Groundhog Day up here most of the time, especially with the questions.”
Former caretaker Greg Carlson, who was Dennison’s partner, said, “In the summer, we got to where we knew not only what questions people would ask us, but we knew the order of the questions they would ask.”
One former caretaker tried putting up signs with answers to the 10 most asked questions. But people still asked. Among the more popular: “Where is the trash can?” (Answer: There is no trash can; visitors must pack out their own trash) and “How do you get supplies up here?” (Answer: The Pikes Peak Cog Railway takes them to about 1.5 miles from Barr Camp; from there, they are either carried on someone’s back, or transported by ATV).
Another former caretaker, Chuck Wilt, once said, “I can remember going to bed at night answering questions to voices I heard in my mind.”
Teresa says, “Yeah, we get asked the same questions all the time. But if the time comes when we don’t like answering them, then we’ll know it’s time for us to get a different job, that we shouldn’t be here.”
Even if they never hit that kind of burnout, Teresa and Neal know that at some point it will be time to move on. But not yet.
Meanwhile, the Taylor’s hold the record as the caretakers with the longest non-stop tenure. Currently in their fifth year, they had one 10-day break during their first four years. This is no small feat given that, as Neal said, “We’re by far the oldest [both in their late 40s] caretakers ever at Barr Camp.”
Gazing out the window as snow softly fell one night this past winter, sipping his mug of hot chocolate, Neal opined, “This is our life experience right now, and we don’t want to leave prematurely.” But he added with a wry chuckle, “We do wish people would stop quoting us lines from the movie The Shining before we go to bed at night.”
A weekend on Pikes Peak
The great escape — A perfect 14er weekend on Pikes Peak
In advance: Make overnight reservations at www.barrcamp.com
Pack: Clothing and gear appropriate for high altitude mountain hiking, toss in lunch and snacks and water, plus a sleeping bag, clothes to sleep in, toothbrush and toothpaste, personals, etc.
Saturday: Hike seven miles to Barr Camp. Dinner is served at 6 p.m.
Sunday: Breakfast is served at 7 a.m. Hike six miles to the summit. Hike back to Barr Camp, pick up your sleeping bag, etc., hike back down to your car.
Optional: Spend a second night at Barr Camp to avoid hiking 19 miles total (six up, 13 down) on summit day.
Directions to the trailhead:
I-25 to Colorado Springs, take Hwy 24 exit. Go West on Hwy 24 to the Manitou Ave. exit. From the off-ramp, veer right and drive into Manitou Springs. Once in town, look for the Cog Railway sign, and turn left onto Ruxton Ave. Follow Ruxton to where it ends at the Cog Railway. Hikers should drive past the Railway building, and turn at the sign labeled ‘Barr Trail Parking,’ go up a short little steep road (Hydro Street) to the gravel parking lot. New this year: An overnight parking fee.
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