August 20, 2008
Happy Trails Oil Creek Tunnel
By DAVE PHILIPPS,
Deep in a craggy cirque on Pikes Peak's north face, a secluded valley holds the ruins of the Oil Creek Tunnel. It's a gorgeous walk into the region's mining history and a cool, alpine walk for a hot summer day.
Drive up Pikes Peak Highway 14 miles to the Elk Park trailhead, an unmarked gate on the left of the road at tree line. The turnoff looks terrifying, but leads down a gentle dirt lane to a parking area.
Elk Park Trail starts at tree line at 11,800 feet and drops gradually as it weaves southeast along Pikes Peak's flanks. The trail crosses a wooded ridge in just under a mile and switchbacks down. At the bottom of the switchbacks at 11,100 feet, 1.4 miles from the trailhead, the trail forks at a sign for the Oil Creek Tunnel. Go right and climb for 0.4 mile to the ruins. The trail ends in a crowd of steep granite faces where the most curious detail of the ruins, called the Oil Creek Tunnel or the Cincinnati Mine, lies. Miners blasted this passage in 1899, hoping to strike precious metals. The endeavor killed two miners, but never hit pay dirt and eventually was abandoned. The tunnel remains open. Locals have followed it 1,593 feet to the end. But exploring old mines can be extremely dangerous, and a sign warns people to stay out. You can see what waits down the dark passage without going in: Colorado Springs trail runner Matt Carpenter has a great story about it and pictures on his Web site, www.skyrunner.com/story/oilcreek.htm. Hikers don't need to venture into the dark to find the richest part of this hike: the beauty of the soaring granite cirque, the trees and the shock of finding a place so remote and so nearby.
Pikes Peak Highway charges $10 per person. For conditions, call Pikes Peak Highway at 684-9383.
A scale of one to four boots. One is easiest, with little elevation gain, and it is at a reasonable altitude. Four is most difficult, with severe elevation gain, difficult terrain or extreme length or altitude.
(c) 2008 Gazette, The; Colorado Springs, Colo.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.