August 15, 2013 Updated: August 15, 2013 at 12:05 pm
Renee Labor thought she was working her dream job.
So when the Denver resident heard a radio report about a vacancy at some place called "Barr Camp," she found it interesting but didn't seriously consider applying.
Ideas have a way of germinating, however, and the next thing she knew, she was asking her boyfriend about dropping out of society to go live on Pikes Peak. Then they were applying for the job, then interviewing, then accepting.
Next month, Labor and Anthony Duricy will leave everything behind and take over as the caretakers at the camp, where they'll greet 25,000 hikers a year 6.5 miles along the trail up Pikes Peak.
"I don't think in a million years I would have ever imagined myself in this position, but it's turning out that it's the dream job that I didn't even know I was dreaming about," Labor said.
Neither Labor nor Duricy have climbed Pikes Peak, and they've only hiked to Barr Camp twice - once to check it out before the interview and the second time to interview.
You could say it was love at first sight.
"I love it. It's such a cute, little place," Labor said. "I remember saying, 'I'd be really disappointed if we didn't get this.' We didn't even know we were going to get interviewed yet."
Fred Barr built the trail up the peak and, in 1922, the camp, as a halfway stopover for burro trips up the mountain. The camp, owned by a nonprofit, has had year-round caretakers since 1979. Hikers can rent a cabin, lean-to shelters or bunks in the main building, as well as get pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners. Solar panels provide a little power, but it's rustic otherwise, with pit toilets and no showers.
Most overnight visitors stay while trying to summit the peak, though some make Barr Camp their destination, a night in the backcountry without carrying all the gear. Many others are day hikers, who stop to relax and chat before returning to town.
There are no roads so everything is either carried by hikers or hauled by the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which has a stop 1.5 miles away. Drinking water is filtered from a creek.
Neal and Teresa Taylor came down from the mountain this summer after eight years as caretakers and oversaw the hiring of their replacements.
This is not a traditional job, and they didn't use traditional recruiting, relying on word of mouth among hikers. News reports in The Gazette and on public radio generated most applications, Neal Taylor said.
About half of the applicants dropped out after learning more about the job. Though living in a pine forest at 10,200 feet might seem peaceful, it's a lot of work, from maintenance at the camp to feeding hikers, which on busy summer weekends can be enough work for two.
There are no days off unless you train someone to watch the camp for you, and about the only times there aren't hikers are during snowstorms or brutal cold spells.
For these reasons, Taylor preferred to hire a couple and eventually interviewed five couples, all from Colorado. None ever had done anything like this.
'All the stars aligned'
Before landing this dream job, Labor's dream job was as a social worker for the Veterans Administration in Denver, helping former service members integrate into society.
The 35-year-old sees being a caretaker as an extension of that, just working with people in a different setting.
"It's the kind of job that brings together all the things I love," she said. "Working so close together with people is really appealing. Being in this really amazing place up on the mountain. Being able to do it with someone I love and care about so much. It seemed like all the stars aligned and everything kind of came together."
"Ditto," said Duricy, 39.
The two met through mutual friends a year ago, and Duricy moved to Colorado from Utah to be nearer to her. While Labor is leaving behind a life in town, Duricy said he's been living in a trailer in Idaho Springs with no running water, so he doesn't have many creature comforts to miss.
A carpenter by profession, he's spent the past several years working various seasonal jobs, at ski resorts and golf courses. He's spending the summer helping to remodel a house and instantly was attracted to the caretaker job for the chance to get away from the rat race. He looks forward to the slow time at the camp.
"I love snow. I love mountains. Just to be able to sit up there and have nobody around but Renee, that's its own dream right there," said Duricy, who with long hair and a bushy beard looks the part of a mountain man.
Taylor credited the couple's experience working with people as well as Duricy's handyman skills with winning them the job.
"They were the whole package. We felt like as a couple they could hang with it. They seemed strong enough and supportive of each other enough to be able to stick with caretaking," Taylor said.
Not daunted by adventure
Neither Duricy nor Labor have a television, so they won't be missing any favorite shows while at the camp.
There is Internet service so they can keep in touch with friends and family. As avid campers and hikers, they aren't worried about leaving behind the comforts of home.
While there will be new faces at the camp, taking over for temporary caretakers who have been there all summer, not much else will change. Spaghetti will be served for dinner. Breakfast will be pancakes. Fortunately, Labor and Duricy both like spaghetti.
The couple will receive help from the Taylors as they transition into the job through August and September, then they will have it to themselves for the long mountain winter.
Sitting in a conference room at The Gazette, neither seemed daunted by the adventure. Duricy said he was more nervous about an interview with this reporter than anything else.
They committed to staying at least a year, with no idea if they will stay longer.
"We're just going to communicate about it and see what feels right. If it feels right to be there 10 years, then we'll be there 10 years," Duricy said.
Neal Taylor said it's impossible to know how much they will enjoy the unique job. He and his wife only meant to stay a year or two.
"You find whoever might be interested and see if by chance they might fit, but there's no way to really know until somebody gets up there. We fell in love with it, but it could just as easily go the other way," Taylor said.
"They're going to have the experience of a lifetime, no matter what. Good, bad or indifferent, it will be experiences they never counted on and we can't prepare them for that."
Said Labor: "I'm hoping we can do as good a job as they did. There are some big shoes to fill."