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Pikes Peak region trail a wild place on the Front Range

Pikes Peak in Colorado for hiking that is. By Lance Benzel – The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) From the wind- and rain-carved rocks of Ice Cave Cliffs, it’s easy to imagine you’re lost in a wilderness of imponderable scale ‘” or peering somehow back in time. Like the best magic, it’s an illusion.  From the wind- and rain-carved rocks of Ice Cave Cliffs, it’s easy to imagine you’re lost in a wilderness of imponderable scale ‘” or peering somehow back in time. Like the best magic, it’s an illusion. +Pikes Peak region trail a wild place on the Front Range photo The first reservoir from the six-mile Ice Cave Creek Trail. The Colorado Mountain Club has completed a new 3,000-foot trail along … Read More ’You’re actually about 3 miles from civilization,’ said Tom Mowle of the Colorado Mountain Club, a conservation group dedicated to preserving this untamed slice of Rampart Range 20 miles north of Colorado Springs. Getting to the ancient-seeming summit ‘” perched at roughly 8,700 feet on a ridge overlooking Palmer Lake ‘” has been made dramatically easier by the construction of the Ice Cave Creek Trail, a 3,000-foot segment of winding singletrack designed and built by CMC and its partners, all with volunteer labor. Some three years in the making, the trail begins near the Palmer Lake reservoirs, which supply the town’s drinking water, and follows the boulder-filled Ice Cave Creek through aspen meadows and shaded groves until it reaches a network of user-created trails in Pike National Forest. There, hikers, cyclists and equestrians are free to explore what CMC calls ‘one of the last remaining wild places along the Front Range.’ Among the many attractions is Ice Cave Creek itself. At points along the way, it’s all but buried by huge granite boulders that form fissures, hollows and crevices in the creek bed. Every winter, the voids fill with snow and ice that survive late into spring ‘” leading to the mysterious name. Amateur explorers have charted underground routes through the rocks, but they run the risk of becoming trapped or worse. Parents are encouraged to keep a close eye on their children when hiking the area. From a few feet away, the creek can be safely admired as a striking example of Mother Nature’s raw beauty, surrounded by rounded rock bluffs reminiscent of the Lost Creek Wilderness west of Colorado Springs. Where the boulders subside, Ice Cave Creek flows gently over moss-covered banks. The area offers ridges with splendid views of Mt. Herman, Raspberry Mountain and Storm Peak, among others. Trails lead to an area that club members call Moonshine Gulch, after a collection of old barrels they believe were left over from Colorado’s Prohibition days. The Ice Cave Cliffs ‘” named by CMC ‘” are reached by hiking the duration of Ice Cave Creek Trail and venturing another couple of miles on a user-?created trail to the Palmer Divide, where a sharp left leads to a steep climb to a ridge and an off-trail amble to the cliffs. It’s a good idea to purchase a map before heading into the area, and to consult it frequently. Rampart Range Wildlands Trail Maps Nos. 13 and 14 can be purchased from the Covered Treasures Bookstore, 105 Second St., Monument. ’”’”’” The Ice Cave Creek Trail initiative is part of the club’s Rampart Wildlands Project, which seeks to encourage and protect nonmotorized use in a 30,000-acre swath east of Rampart Range Road even as more motorized trails get carved into slopes on the road’s west side. The east Rampart area is bordered by Balanced Rock Road to the south, Dakan Road to the north, Rampart Range Road to the west and private property to the east. While motorized use is mostly off-limits within those boundaries, the group hopes to secure protections to ensure the area remains wild for future generations. ’It’s kind of an oasis,’ said Phil Kummer, who belongs to the club’s Denver chapter, which is collaborating with the Colorado Springs chapter because of the large number of Denver-area residents who venture to northern El Paso County and Douglas County for recreation. Among the group’s goals is to persuade the U.S. Forest Service to recognize and adopt approximately 40 miles of user-created trails ‘” a measure the club believes will help reduce pressure on other popular hiking and biking areas. It’s an ambitious goal. Even though the trails are created, the Forest Service would require a taxing environmental review at a time when the agency is struggling to keep up with maintenance challenges on its most popular trails. It’s also controversial. During a public meeting last May, motorized users in Palmer Lake responded angrily to what they perceived as an attack on motorized use in the Rampart Range ‘” though CMC says it’s not looking to kick out motorized users in areas where they’re already permitted. Part of the controversy appeared to stem from CMC’s website, which identifies the east Rampart area as a candidate for wilderness protection. ’Wilderness is not our priority,’ Mowle said. ‘Theoretically it’s a possibility ‘” maybe it’s a dream ‘” but it’s not our priority.’ Said Kummer: ‘When you use the ‘˜wilderness’ word, it immediately raises the hackles of some people. Our intention was not to offend anybody or to be in anybody’s face. Our intention was to start a dialogue with the groups who use that area and who want to use that area.’ ’”’”’” The Ice Cave Creek Trail is on land owned by the town of Palmer Lake, which granted permission to build the trail without imposing burdensome requirements. The trail was designed by Paul Mead of Friends of the Peak, who Mowle called a ‘genius’ when it comes to scouting suitable grades for sustainable trails. Wherever possible, Mead used natural dips and rises in the landscape to direct water off the trail and curtail erosion. The design effort alone involved at least 10 full days of tromping around the woods, hanging flags and exploring route alternatives. ’The biggest challenges were just the physical obstacles ‘” rock outcrops, drop-offs and lots of blown-down trees,’ Mead said. When terrain got tough, trail builders used boulders to shore up the trail or picked a circuitous route to avoid trouble. ’The shortest distance between A and B is probably going to be miserable,’ Mowle said. Volunteers put in 2,000 hours to perform the necessary labor, completing a preliminary route by October 2013 and returning this summer for trail routes and finishing touches. Publicity has been limited, but the word is out among hikers from the Palmer Lake area. Among the trail’s early adopters is Josh DeLoach, who stopped to chat with a Gazette reporter and Mowle during a recent tour of the area. After learning that Mowle was one of the people behind the trail, DeLoach offered a nod and a quick smile. ’I come up here every day for exercise,’ he said. ‘It’s beautiful up here.’

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