Barneys Dome stands sentinel over U.S. 24, a bulging rock that's clearly seen but hardly ventured. We are there, somewhere above 9,000 feet after clutching roots up a steep, loose pitch and maneuvering through stone slots to the top, where we rest, sweaty, flipping through a hidden log book in which someone seven years ago noted the falcon that wanted him gone. Also we admire Pikes Peak before us, its whole mighty form scraping the sky, cast in faint maroon by the rising sun.
This is not our destination.
"See that dark slash right there?" says Kent Drummond, one longtime mountaineer in this group of bushwacking route-finders. He's pointing across to a wall of jagged granite cloaked in shadow.
"That's Hurricane Canyon."
That's where we're going. And from this perspective, it looks like a row of sharp teeth. It looks like an evil sanctum. It looks as dark and foreboding as the stories suggest.
"It's a dangerous, dangerous place, with three exclamation points, a dangerous, dangerous place," I'd heard months ago from Allen Owen, a Barr Camp caretaker in the 1970s who made it his mission to uncover Pikes Peak's secret sectors.
He and his role model from those days, Monte Barrett, reminisced about the canyon, how extremely green and rugged and narrow it was, how the north and south forks of the French Creek met and roared between soaring rock faces, how the water rushed under mossy boulders into subterranean lairs.
"Slip, fall, you're gone," Barrett said.
Then the two talked about the "magic" of the place. About crystals and glowing mushrooms.
Suspicious, to say the least.
But I knew their assessment of America's Mountain was right: "Full of mysteries."
Tucked into the peak's eastern foothills, Hurricane Canyon is not exactly a mystery. It's a known fixture of the Pike National Forest, even announced with an arrow pointing its direction off Heizer Trail. It can also be reached by following another well-marked path, North French Creek Trail, No. 703, which is the way preferred by Robert Houdek, the Pikes Peak Atlas custodian. Not that he recommends the journey.
"Over the years of PPA editions, I have continued to degrade the Hurricane Canyon trail to mere dots, in part to discourage the casual hiker," he writes in an email. "But also to instill some personal responsibility in taking it."
The area has the utmost attention of federal land managers. Surveyors long marveled at its wildness, leading to the U.S. Forest Service designating it in 1931 a natural research area, an exclusive category for environments that should never be changed by man. No trail building, no camping, no logging, no digging, no grazing - none of that in a research area.
Hurricane Canyon is for observance only, states the 1931 declaration kept at the Pikes Peak Ranger District office.
The words are fading on a flimsy piece of rice paper: "It is difficult to say that it is fortunate or unfortunate that the only areas available for such use are rough and relatively inaccessible. It is unfortunate because of the hardship and difficulty encountered in seeing the area. It is fortunate because this hardship and difficulty tend to discourage those who do not have a real interest in nature and who are more apt to destroy the natural beauty."
Hurricane Canyon is the kind of place for people like Mary Mourar - "fearless," Tom Mourar recalls of his wife. But also, she had a keen interest in preservation. That's why she annually trekked into the canyon as a government volunteer, to pull invasive weeds and to record all the flowers, birds, insects and mammals she saw there until her death last January.
On her survey sheets, she proudly checked "No" beside the question of trash. "No," she checked in regards to any trails appearing. "No" to signs of vehicle tracks and "No" to signs of fires.
She was proud to report most every year: "No evidence of recent human visitors."
"It's probably a little bit of a glimpse into the past, the way it was without being impacted," Mourar says of why his wife appreciates the place. "It's very peaceful and very natural."
Listening to this group return to the area, "peaceful" is not the impression. Bob Lojewski says a friend he once escorted into the canyon cried in discomfort. Tony Eichstadt tucks away his new gloves so as not to destroy them.
Eventually, the gray, castle-like walls appear. The ground turns bright green with moss, but most of it looks covered with huge, ancient trees - as if a gale-force wind screamed through. The only sound is roaring water.
We descend into the canyon, and it becomes clear that we are not welcome.
We choose our steps carefully on the side of a harsh slope, gripping whatever branch or rock we can to fight gravity's pull. We bend and twist and curl, contorting our bodies in whatever way necessary to fit through spaces of downed logs or stone piles. We spot mountain lion tracks, making me wonder about the lurking places all around: the shadows between boulders, the stacks of old logs and twigs.
We find deep, dark holes in the ground. They are breathing. The water runs somewhere beneath, sending up cold wind - close enough to magic.
We proceed on, back through the canyon's chew before we are finally spit out. We escape to flat ground, slightly bloodied, but mostly with mere scrapes and bruises. And we feel fortunate indeed.
Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332