Leaving our home on Bonfoy.
This trail is extremely difficult.
This trail is not for unfit individuals.
It is not recommended that children attempt the incline.
For a successful experience, consult your physician.
This is considered an advanced hike.
Van Dyk Kids:
Hold our Gatorade.
That’s right! just two days after our hike had mom and dad questioning their calling as “good” parents, we took the kids to the Manitou Incline. 2,744 rail-road ties embedded in the side of a mountain for the sole (remaining) purpose to be climbed. For the Holland locals, it is kind of like Mt. Baldy, 10 times, with thinner air, and arguably better scenery.
Built as a funicular in 1907 the Manitou Incline was originally used to access water tanks at the top of the mountain. The tanks were to be used for gravity-fed water pressure to Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs. After a brief utilitarian life, it was naturally converted to a tourist destination with a summit house at the top to sell overprice trinkets and water. (Some of this data is from Wikipedia, the rest is opined by the author). In 1990 a rock slide washed out the rail bed and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway who had been running the track, decided not to repair it. Cue the enterprising mountain folk who decided to use it as a trail, training location, and likely the fodder of many late night brainstorming sessions at the local watering holes.
Team Van Dyk started off strong finishing the first 10-20% of the mountain with little trouble. We had spend time the night before preparing the kids for a challenge and encouraging them to push through the tough parts, because this was something difficult yet knew (did we????) they could do it. As we climbed we met people on the way down who were obviously training, how they RAN DOWN A MOUTNAIN with narrow steps is mind blowing because I would surely stumble and fly/roll down the rest of the hill. We also met people on the way up and offered (and received) words of encouragement. Kristi and I rarely got any positive feedback, our kids were all told they were special for their efforts. As the kids faced more fatigue we took stops every 10% up the mountain for water or snacks. In between we each had our own cadence of steps to rest that we employed to make the ascent easier. This was all Kristi’s idea, I would have just kept going and told the kids to toughen up.
2/3 up the mountain, roughly 1,800 steps up, is a bailout to the local Barr Trail which lets the weary hearted and weak willed (and I’ll allow for medically induced decisions) climbers to exit the trail safely and make their way back to the camp. As we climbed we were near a man in his early 30’s and what I can only assume was a family member or older friend. At first I thought he might be John Legere of T-Mobile, but John would have never taken the bailout, this guy did. Up we climbed until around the 2,400 step mark when we found a mother and her daughter who were also climbing up. Mom (Grandma) lived at the base of the trail, and the daughter came from Louisiana, so this must have been a real shock to her. We struck up a conversation and our kids did the rest. Mom went up ahead to get a picture of her daughter and in the process took a few of our kids as well which she shard with Kristi. Ben was the first to summit, then Madeleine, followed by Kayleigh, Kristi, Josh, and Steve. The record time up the roughly 1-mile hill is 17:25 which we just missed, coming in at just over 2.25 hours.
After what remained of our food supplies we started our trip down the Barr Trail which was nice, but it turns out the way down was mentally harder than the way up. I think the kids had just used up all their mental fortitude to get up the hill, and reverted to young kids/family on the way down. Regardless, Kristi and I were just so proud that they made it and no one tumbled their way too far down the mountain. The trip to the bottom took nearly as long as the hike up, but the kids were obviously thrilled to have it over with.
Before we could return to the house we had to find a shirt for Madeleine, so in to Manitou Spring we went for a post hike snack and some shopping. To help reclaim our “good” parent status we did make the kids model their new threads. All in all, a good day and we certainly earned our dinner.
As I sit to write this post and can reflect on the day from the comfort of my cozy clothes, sitting next to kristi on a semi-comfortable couch I can say with all the authority in the world that today was the perfect day. Today was the kind of day that makes all the hard, all the discomfort, all the junk involved in a family trip worth it. Why?
Because we didn’t die.
After a quiet start to the day our plan of going to Pikes Peak was thwarted by snow up in the mountains. We aren’t going unless we can get to the TOP! So off to the 6 mile Catamount trail we went. We knew it would be a little rough, but we’d done nearly six miles yesterday so what could go wrong? So off we went with a before picture and then we started up the road to get to the trail head.
Upon reaching the trail head it was clear we’d have to do some climbing. Actually, we knew we’d have to do some climbing up and around obstacles before we left, it was in the description. When we saw the sign it seemed perfectly normal that the trail would look steep and a little challenging. In fact, the brochure promised only the “beginning” would be rough. The first few steps would have served as a bad omen to lesser individuals, but to Kristi and I it only emboldened our stubborn resolve to press on. So on we went.
The kids had a great time following the blue and yellow (GO BLUE!) trail markers to the top (which was right around the corner. Right?) of the trail where we were supposed to find the Garden of Eden. As we climbed the trail the kids found fun spots to hide in, and we took a few breaks as the ascent was a little steep. On more than one occasion Kristi and I thought to ourselves that going down was going to be fun… and not in the fun way. in the oh my goodness HOW kind of way. Yet again, we had started the trail and we were going to finish. The brochure even said “round-trip” so maybe there was an easy way out? The older two kids knew there was little use in whining, but when they asked “how far have we gone” and the answer was 1.8 miles their response was less than enthusiastic. I’m not sure why, surely most people only walk 1.8 miles in 90 minutes, what was wrong with our speed? Actually… Ben and I had run 2 miles earlier in the day in less than 24 total minutes, so I guess they had reason to be concerned. Now, I’ve mentioned the trail was a little steep and slow going but I’ve failed to mention that 98% of it was snow covered. Thankfully it was packed so we knew where to go, but that same packing made the trail slippery and probably a little dangerous, and again not the fun kind of dangerous. Yet on we went, we had started and we just had to be getting close… finally as we pressed on there was a small clearing of snow to mud and dirt, and we had reached the top of whatever it was we were climbing and reached the entrance to the “Garden of Eden”.
At the Garden of Eden we had to decide whether or not to press on, or to head back down the mountain. Knowing what it meant to head down the mountain, and still hanging on to the glimmer of hope that there might be an “easy button” waiting for us at the end, we pressed on. After crossing my bridge and continuing to climb up rocks next to the Catamount Creek, we made it to the dirt path! Only the dirt path led to some pretty steep inclines. Trudging along we finally made it to the South Catamount Reservoir with picnic tables, bathrooms, and a boat launch! Well… the reservoir was frozen over, the bathrooms were locked, and the ranger station said the ranger was making rounds, but I bet the sign has said that since late October. In truth, the place was as closed down and isolated from humanity as it could be. The only saving grace was the picnic table. After a quick glance at the map it was clear… in this case “round-trip” meant out and back. We were going back the same way we came. After a quick bite to eat and a few pictures to remember the day by we set out with a goal of doing the 3:15 minute hike home in 2:45.
Being the incredible parents we are (ha) we gave the kids a pep talk about falling on our backsides, taking it easy, and knowing that things were going to get hard before they got easy. They knew it wasn’t going to be fun, but to their credit they pushed on. The trail on the way back to our car was super slippery, and we did fall, we did hang on to trees for balance, some of us even fell on our backsides. I’m quite sure I smacked Joshua in the face once or twice losing my balance. For their efforts, Kayleigh and Ben came up with various riffs on Harry Potter names using them to their descent down the mountain. The most popular move is the Barty Crouch, which entails putting your butt inches from the ground and sliding down on your shoes.
After nearly 90-minutes of stressful, is this slip going to be the one to do us all in, we made it to the bottom of the trail. I can honestly say this was an occasion where I didn’t want to go back down the trail myself, much less with a child in tow. Yet with a little perseverance and a whole lot of prayer, we made it back down the mountain and safely to our van… at which point we immediately went to the play ground I promised Josh he could play on six hours earlier. Oops.
So why would I call this stressful, harrowing, irresponsible, and possibly downright dangerous day “perfect”? Because there is no amount of planning or money that could have made a memory like this. The kids will always have the “Catamount Trail Debacle”. They’ll remember stepping on rocks, finding deep snow for grip, finding secluded areas to answer nature’s call, and hopefully they’ll remember they had fun doing it. It is another hard thing that they had to do, but I’m glad they did it together. I’m proud of my kids, and Kristi too, for how we worked together to make it safely back home… and the $2.00 snack I promised they could each have when we got there.
Some more pictures and video of the day:
I’ve found in the last few days that when driving and camping with family in 4-6 hour segments, and children who are five years younger, that I had a lot more time to kill in a small camper with sleeping kids than I do now with old active kids. So I blog in the morning now instead of at night… or I could just be too pooped at the end of the day to think straight. Regardless, now you can read about the past today. I think that is called history.
The morning started out with a little bit of back and forth on whether or not to take Maddie to the doctor to have her toe looked at. We went and after examining the x-rays I determined there was no break. It was nice that the professionally trained doctor agreed with me. (I did have to Google toe bones to compare pictures). So after a toe cleaning and trip to a Walmart Supermarket (JUST THE GROCERIES) we were off for our first adventure of the day - Seven Bridges Trail. We were prepared for a 5-6 mile hike for the day so off we went. Kayleigh took her phone to get some pictures, and since I couldn’t keep track of all the kids on the trail I thought taking a group selfie would be a good way to remember which kids were ours.
It turns out about 3/4 a mile up the trail we zigged instead of zagged. Oops. We had gone nearly 1.25 miles in the wrong direction and had to convince our kids that turning around was the right thing to do. Thankfully the Internet said you should see your first of seven bridges very close the the start of the trail. So back we went and found the sign telling us where we should have turned. As you can see the kids were thrilled.
The first couple of bridges came up quickly, but since we were now pushing mile 3 of our hike it was time for some fuel, so we stopped for lunch along the trail to find a little energy. The trail was nice, but some of it was covered in snow which made it a little tricky to climb and descend. I didn’t check exact altitude, but the trail claims 1,600 feet of elevation, and it certainly felt like it. With a few more breaks and some good encouragement and patience we made it to bridge seven!
As we had entered the trail we came across some standing, or slowly moving water amongst some trees. Kayleigh mentioned it looked like Narnia so on the way home we stopped for a Gusher’s fruit snack break and a quick photo of the kids posing in Narnia, and another of some brotherly love on the way back to the van. Moments before he had his arm around her and I just missed it.
For an unprofessional review I’d say Seven Bridges lacks great signage, although maybe that is poor tourist behavior. However it was a great trail and even though they had their moments of being humans, the kids handled it very well.
After the bridges we had a little time to kill before we could go back to the house so off to Manitou Cliff Dwellings we went. It was a nice little detour on the way back, and the kids took time at each article to read about what they were seeing.
The rest of the day consisted of baking hamburgers, watching “The Sandlot”, and eating popcorn before bed. Everybody slept quite nicely… turns out physical activity is good for you.
Observations from the day:
Kayleigh: A great helper with Joshua on the hike, being his helper and guiding him safely down the hill.
Benjamin: A great encourager and friend, and he busted out “Elmo’s got jukes Dude!” I don’t know what it means, but it was funny at the time.
Madeleine: Tough as nails, and hates to disappoint. She had a chance to stop at bridge 6 but decided to keep on going. Also, her sneeze is something else. She has a normal person sneeze, but every so often you could swear a goose was dying nearby.
Joshua: He’s small but his motor is go go go. The only thing that might stop him is cold weather, but he usually rebounds.
So that is our day in a long winded nutshell. Today we are off to Pike’s Peak, assuming the road is fully open.