Kenichiro Maemura @2008 Pikes Peak Marathon and Pikes Peak Ascent

Kenichiro Maemura, left, of Novi, Mich., got congratulated by Mike Sandil as he was one of the last to reach the summit of Pikes Peak.
Kenichiro Maemura, left, of Novi, Mich., got congratulated by Mike Sandil as he was one of the last to reach the summit of Pikes Peak.

FAR FROM PEAK CONDITIONS

Rain and hail make finishing even more of an accomplishment

By KATE CRANDALL
THE GAZETTE

Simon Gutierrez had won the Pikes Peak Ascent before, but on Saturday he had to earn it.

Drizzle fell as Gutierrez leapt out to an early lead in Manitou Springs.

 

PHOTO BY KIRK SPEER
Simon Gutierrez, 42, of Alamosa was the first finisher at the Pikes Peak Ascent. He had also won the race previously.
Simon Gutierrez, 42, of Alamosa was the first finisher at the Pikes Peak Ascent. He had also won the race previously.

 

“You knew it was going to get worse,” he said of the start, with temperatures in the low 50s. “At first it wasn’t so bad. Then, it just got bad.”

With 4 miles left in the 13.32-mile slog up Barr Trail, bulletsized hail began pelting him in the face. Frigid wind whipped against his soaked body and bare legs.

As he crossed the finish line, the banner nearly obscured by a mix of snow and fog, Gutierrez lifted his arms in weary celebration. About 23 minutes after Gutierrez reached the 14,115-foot summit, first-timer Brandy Erholtz, 30, of Bailey, captured the women’s title, her blond, braided pigtails crusted with chunks of ice.

“This was the hardest,” said Gutierrez, a 42-year-old from Alamosa. Gutierrez has won three of the four As cents he’s entered, also capturing titles in 2003 and 2006. “Pikes Peak has always been nice, sunny and warm for me.”

On Saturday — with temperatures at the summit hovering around freezing — the Peak reared its ugly head, turning back more than half of those who started.

 

PHOTO BY KIRK SPEER
Samuel Fancher, left, of Colorado Springs gave first aid to his brother Lincoln Fancher of Lacona, N.Y., after the race.
Samuel Fancher, left, of Colorado Springs gave first aid to his brother Lincoln Fancher of Lacona, N.Y., after the race.

 

“We’re talking carnage!” yelled one finisher, his skin chapped and ruddy-colored.
Just after 10 a.m., with an imminent threat of lightning and worsening winter-like conditions, race director Ron Ilgen made the call to stop runners at A-Frame, a structure about 3 miles from the top.

“It was very quick,” he said. “It was, ‘We have to do this now,’ not ‘We can wait 10 more minutes.’ All of a sudden, the weather kicked in and the forecast got worse. ... I hate calling it off. It hurts.”

Of the 760 who finished, at least 80 were treated for hypothermia, said Dr. Robert Hamilton, who oversaw medical care at the summit. Some of them were among the first to finish.

Huddled under blankets and Gutierrez’s red down jacket, second-place finisher Tim Parr, 26, sat with an oxygen tube in his nostrils, his blue lips locked in a dazed smile.

“If it had just been a little colder earlier on, we would have had snow instead of rain closer to the start,” said Parr, a former Hilltop Baptist High School distance runner who lives in Gunnison. “At least then we wouldn’t have been so wet.”

Parr, who finished more than a minute behind Gutierrez’s winning mark of 2 hours, 18 minutes, 9 seconds, caught Gutierrez in the middle of the race and led until A-Frame, where Gutierrez found a higher gear.

 

PHOTO BY KIRK SPEER
Second-place male finisher tim Parr of gunnison shivered uncontrollably while waiting for a shuttle to take him down from the mountain.
Second-place male finisher tim Parr of gunnison shivered uncontrollably while waiting for a shuttle to take him down from the mountain.

 

“I could see him behind me as long as he wasn’t more than 20 seconds behind,” Gutierrez said of the disorienting, snowy haze.

Erholtz — who bested runner-up Lisa Goldsmith, 43, of Nederland, by nearly 10 minutes — said she took four wrong turns on the trail, her eyes focused on the ground to avoid slipping.

“In the last 3 miles, I couldn’t go any faster. I was just so cold,” said Erholtz, who posted a 2:41:26. “I couldn’t zip my jacket because my hands were numb. I didn’t know how far Lisa was behind me, so I just wanted to keep moving.”

The Minnesota native, a former marathoner who was named to the U.S. Mountain Running team, said the only thing that prepared her for the conditions was running the Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run last January in International Falls, Minn.

“It’s usually 40- to 50-below with the wind chill. That’s cold,” said Erholtz, a special education teacher at Evergreen High. “But here, you’re up so high and the wind’s blowing. ... The last mile was cold and slippery. I just wanted to be done.”

So did those who had to make an agonizing journey down the mountain, without the reward of reaching the summit.

“Part of me was sad that I was that close,” said Kat Jahnigan, 28, of Castle Rock, who learned just below A-Frame that she would have to turn around. “But it’s supposed to be fun. I’ll definitely be back next year.”

 

 

PHOTO BY KIRK SPEER