This story has been archived from the Sunday, August 21, 2005

Bad weather closes road for trip down

Some stuck on upper mountain; some are forced to turn around


At the start of the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday morning, runners at the start of the 13.32-mile run up the 14,115-foot mountain had reason to feel cheerful.

Not a cloud in the sky. A clear summit.

Then it all fell apart. About an hour after Ascent winner Ryan Hafer, 19, crossed the finish line shirtless in the warm weather, dark clouds blotted out the sun and the first beads of hail began to fall on the summit.

By the end of the day, up to 600 people, mostly spent and sweaty runners, were stranded in vans and buildings for hours atop the mountain when a summer storm dumped 6 inches of hail on Pikes Peak, forcing Pikes Peak Highway to close.

The highway, the only road to and from the summit, was closed from the top of the mountain to Devil’s Playground (about 3 miles down) from about 11:30 a.m.-3:40 p.m.

Operators of the cog railway used the train to help bring down about 220 runners from the summit, said Ron Ilgen, race director.

About 200 cars parked at Devil’s Playground were stuck from noon to about 1:30 p.m., when the lower section of road reopened.

Two U.S. Forest Service snowplows had to clear ice, snow and hail from the road.

An estimated 200 runners had to turn around on Barr Trail when officials closed the course at tree line at 11:50 a.m. because of severe weather and lightning strikes nearby, Ilgen said.

Competitors were forced to walk 10 miles back down the trail.

It’s the second straight year the cut-off time at A-frame had to be adjusted because of bad weather from its usual 4? hours after race start.

Is the race jinxed?

“I’m starting to wonder that,” Ilgen said.

Walking or running in exposed areas above tree line can be dangerous because there’s little protection from lightning. Rocks also can draw deadly electrical charges.

Got to be the shoes

When Paul Dunn crossed the Pikes Peak Ascent finish line, he got this question: How’d the shoes hold up?

“Fine,” said Dunn, who finished 18th in 2:47:51.

Dunn, 39, an electrical engineer from Colorado Springs, competed on homemade running shoes. Founder of a now-defunct orthotics company, Dunn experimented “because I knew I could make something that really light.”

Dunn’s size-11 shoes weigh about 5 ounces, he said, not much more than a pair of track spikes. He took his hard plastic orthotics, added specially made pressed foam at the heel and front, added a Lycra toe box and foam sock liner and presto! The “Simply Dunn” model is born. (Possible motto: “Just Glue It"?)

Dunn made his first pair in about four hours. Total cost in materials: about $30.

Inspiration found

Estes Park’s Bill Raitter finished third in the men’s Ascent after a wrenching month at Rocky Mountain National Park.

He’s a biological technician who identifies plants at Rocky Mountain National Park. But he was part of the crew who spent time searching for ranger Jeff Christensen, missing for eight days before his body was found. Authorities believe Christensen died of head trauma shortly after a fall while patrolling the mountainous woods July 29.

Searching for the ranger replaced workouts for Raitter, who said he hiked 17 miles a day for six days in hopes Christensen, 31, was still alive.

“It inspired me a little bit to race,” said Raitter, 35, who figured it was a way to honor the risks Christensen and others take when they make the mountains their workplace. “This is the only mountain race we have.”

Second thoughts

Darrell Weaver hails from Colorado Springs and has been running for the past 35 years. He has been competing at this race for the past 10 years and joked he “gets slower every year.” He is 59 years old now and claims he does the race just to fight off the ravages of old age. “Right now I’m starting to wonder why I’m really doing this,” he joked.


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

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