Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hagerman Tunnel

Journal Entry: Twenty three, Hagerman Tunnel Hike

This is one of the hikes we repeat every year because we enjoy it so. My hiking buddies and I always marvel at how we never grow tired or bored with some of the repeatable hikes. This is one of them. This is also a generously climbing rail bed that crosses the Continental Divide. This hike is labeled easy and is 5.5 miles round trip. This tunnel was the highest railroad tunnel in the world at the time of its completion in 1887 and it was 2,161ft. in length. The tunnel itself sits at an altitude of 11,528 ft. This hike starts on Hagerman Pass road, very near Turquoise Lake outside of Leadville. The trail of to the tunnel follows the old railroad grade for part of the way. The beginning is a wet trek, stepping over old embedded railroad ties that still lie there. This was the Colorado Midland Railroad that was the first standard gauge railroad to traverse the Colorado Rockies. This venture though, like many others like it, was never profitable and did not last long. The hike ascends into an old ghost town, Douglass City. It is not really a town anymore, just remnants of it with signs posted that describe what life was like then. This settlement was mostly full of the Italian workers who built the railroad. It was a very vivacious community with eight saloons, a dance hall, and a post office. From Douglass City you climb up about 0.5 miles where you will reach the Hagerman Tunnel. One of the interesting things about this train tunnel is that the entrance is still open. Hikers can walk right up to the mouth of the huge tunnel. There is however, a large “glacier” or sheet of solid ice that covers the bottom flooring. This sheet of ice looks like it is about six feet deep and the top layer is a snowy, slush.

It is obvious that at this altitude, this ice never melts. Jazz, walked into the opening as far as she could go and exited with her shirt front full of snowballs she had created and started to pummel us all with them. We of course, responded in return, and picked them up to toss at her and continue the fight. When was the last time you had a snow ball fight in the middle of July?

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