The Crater and the Bottomless Pit


I’d like to say that Pikes Peak is a well kept secret, a little known place of wonders. But, of course, the million visitors every year make it a widely appreciated sensation. However, there are certain places on the great mountain that still have few visitors, and qualify as rarely visited. My two favorite places are the Crater and the Bottomless Pit.

The Crater is a glacial lake, a tarn left behind as the glacier that carved the cirque above it retreated, leaving a couple of impressive moraines and a pit full of ice, which, after it melted, created a lake. But it’s an impermanent lake, evaporating on the driest years and reappearing with the snow melt the next.Summer 100_1.jpgLake.JPG

In my several overnight expeditions into the Crater I’ve never seen another person. In fact, there is no trail into or out of the Crater. On my first visit, the manager at Barr Camp, warning me of the high risk of this adventure, asked for my name and phone number.

The same is true of the Bottomless Pit. It is a long puff from Barr Camp, with a poorly marked trail that disappears in places into the rocks and treeline timber. Watch for cairns that mark the “trail.” On my first visit, I climbed down this cliff face with a full backpack, one of the more foolish decisions I’ve made in my life. But I survived it.Wall.JPG

The Bottomless Pit has a bottom, of course, but it can’t be seen from the top, thus the name. Here is the bottom of the Bottomless Pit.BP Bottom.JPG

The easier way into the Pit is down Rumdoodle Ridge from high up on the highway, and off the scree slope. But you have to pick a way that doesn’t have vertical drops as you go down. Good luck. Here’s how it looks from the top.Rumdoodle Ridge.jpg

Once in these places, you can hang out for hours and hours with the silence of the place, the occasional tweets of white throated sparrows or the cries of Clark’s nutcrackers. And of course, marmots, pikas, and a variety of chipmunks and ground squirrels.Marmot.jpgIMG_7955.jpgChipmunk.JPGDSC00213.jpg

And, of course, the wildflowers. Just as Pikes is poor in fauna, it is poor in flora, at least compared to the thousand acre fields of wildflowers of the San Juans. But here are a few beauties.Erysimum.JPGDSC02115.jpgScreen Shot 2017-01-29 at 4.50.05 PM.pngPICT0065.JPGQueen's crown sedum.jpg

So you have to go there. My advice: probably don’t go alone, be prepared for cold showers, and don’t camp below unstable rocks. One night about two o’clock in the morning I heard a huge rockfall, and, trembling, wondered if my tent were in the path of destruction. The photo below is a little trough above a boulder moraine a couple hundred meters above the Crater. In this little trough I found one of the rarest moth species in North America, an example of a species that isn’t different enough from the few examples from elsewhere on the continent to warrant a new name. Its picture made the monograph of the genus, though! A friend, Jeremy Sultenfuss, is standing at the ready.Fus.JPG

And here is the moth, Apamea alticola, on Silene flowers. I have seen thirteen of this species, and every one has been on these flowers! The population appears to be limited to an area about two hundred meters wide and perhaps 800 meters long. I continue to search for it in other places on Pikes Peak, but have failed to find it. I have made 21 trips up, and spent 62.5 hours on my feet, searching, not counting the time in the Crater area.PICT0404.JPG

Author: Samuel A. Johnson

This blog is about hiking, thinking, and writing.

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