Couple enjoys 5 years of roughing it on Pikes Peak
PIKE NATIONAL FOREST – After five years of living in the woods, Neal Taylor still hasn’t gotten around to reading the laundry manual.
So his wife, Teresa, washes all the clothes.
“Because she hasn’t offered to read the manual for the composting toilet,” he said with a laugh. Shoveling it out is just as disgusting as it sounds.
Time has a way of slipping by here at 10,200 feet, near timberline on Pikes Peak, miles from a phone, road or television. It seems like the Taylors just sold their print shop in Monument and abandoned the trappings of society to live in the rustic collection of cabins and campsites of Barr Camp.
The Gazette paid a visit to the Taylors last month to talk about their first five years on the mountain.
The newspaper is noting the anniversary, but the Taylors are not. Up here, things like anniversaries and schedules lack a certain relevance, and five years can disappear as quickly as a mountain thunderstorm rolling down to the plains.
“I don’t know where those (five years) have gone,” said Teresa, 50. “I’m glad you got older and I didn’t.”
By the time most hikers stagger into Barr Camp, they have already come 6.8 miles and gained 3,800 feet of elevation, from the dusty foothills of Manitou Springs to the cool pine forests. That’s more hiking and climbing than is required to summit many Colorado Fourteeners – mountains 14,000 feet or higher. But Barr Camp is only the halfway point on Pikes Peak.
“The main reason I come up there is because of them. That’s true of a lot of people,” said Spencer Johnston of Colorado Springs on one of his weekly hikes up to the camp. “To visit with them. They’re just real special people.”
“People who come in here on trips from far-off places, they want to know Neal and Teresa,” he said.
“And they make the best mocha,” said hiker Lola Mitchell.
The camp was built in the 1920s by Fred Barr, as a halfway stop during burro trips to the summit. After his death, it ran on and off until 1979, the year some hikers decided to live there and maintain it year-round.
About 2,500 of the 25,000 hikers who pass through the camp each year on Barr Trail sleep over, in cabins, open shelters or their own tents, for a fee. Neal and Teresa make breakfast and dinner, and also sell snacks and drinks. The camp is owned by a nonprofit, and proceeds go to operate it and pay the caretakers’ modest stipend.
When the Taylors first came up here, they thought they might stay a year, a break between jobs after selling their business. They already lived simply, with a television smaller than their coffee maker, and as hikers and trail runners, they were in good shape for it.
“We thought it was always something we’ve wanted to do, but how do two people leave the working world?” Teresa said.
Turns out, Barr Camp is very much a working world.
“Stinking bear,” muttered Teresa. “I fixed the door, but he just opened it.”
Shredded Gatorade bottles were scattered around the ripped-open shed, used to store food and supplies after they are dropped off by the Cog Railway once a week, until the caretakers can take them by ATV to the camp.
Supplies are a constant struggle, and the No. 1 question newcomers ask is how they arrive.
The train carries the heavy stuff, and the caretakers haul much of the rest by backpack on weekly trips to town. Many hikers bring them supplies, and pack garbage down the trail in exchange for a candy bar or drink.
Supplies don’t come from December to May, the slow season when they might see only a handful of hikers a day. These months are a struggle, with freezing pipes and the frozen creek that provides their water.
Summer is a different sort of struggle, when the Taylors are kept so busy cooking and cleaning and answering questions about how they get supplies here that husband and wife might go three days without having a personal conversation.
They have also become caretakers, in a way, of the entire trail. So many people hike the peak unprepared, the Taylors do their best to help struggling hikers and head off trouble – say, when someone is just passing through camp at 4 p.m. on the way to the summit.
Or the hiker who passed the camp at 12:30 p.m. in December 2008 and wound up reaching the frozen summit at dusk, breaking into the Summit House to survive.
“I hollered out to him and he ignored me. He had his earphones on,” Teresa said. “He’s one of those who didn’t stop in for advice.”
“We can say, ‘Look, you’re just not going to make it.’ We’re advice-givers. Take our five cents. We have no authority and we don’t want the responsibility,” said Neal.
They are, however, now card-carrying members of El Paso County Search and Rescue, and one of them responds to two dozen missions a year.
During the interview, a hiker wandered into the camp, his first time here.
His first question: “How do you get the supplies up here?”
“For about two years I missed ice cream something fierce. Now when we go to town, I don’t miss ice cream,” said Neal, 47.
So what do they miss about living in town?
“Being able to pick up the phone and say, ‘Let’s get together for pizza, for a beer,'” Teresa said.
“And indoor plumbing when it’s minus-20 degrees out.”
And, most of all, hot showers.
But this fall, Teresa will be asking herself what she misses about living at Barr Camp.
She has been accepted into Colorado College – the head of admissions hiked up to deliver the letter – and she will move into an apartment in town, coming to the camp on weekends only if she doesn’t have too much school work. Neal will remain, with temporary helpers.
“I’m going to miss, incredibly, the people,” Teresa said.
She doesn’t know what she’ll study – “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. How can you know?” – but she hopes to write about living at Barr Camp.
Running the camp has been “probably the greatest experience of our lives,” she said.
What makes it so great is the people they meet, new and old friends. Maybe it’s the exhaustion, or the thin air, but hikers have a way of pouring themselves out up here, sharing their life stories.
“The people. It wouldn’t be anything without the people. They’re why we’re here and that’s why it’s interesting,” Teresa said.
So what happens after college?
“To be determined. We’ll see you in three years,” Neal said.
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