By Ashley Miller, Gordon ’13
You would be hard pressed to find a Sherpa who paddled the Raquette River and cannot remember meeting caretaker Gary Valentine. For many, Gary provided a much needed uplifting conversation as well as delicious popcorn – stumbling upon his cabin after what was sometimes a horrendous portage was arguably the best part of the Long Lake itinerary. Having experienced this joyful respite more than once as a Sherpa at La Vida, I was somewhat overwhelmed to be offered a caretaking position on Pike’s Peak in Colorado last spring.
Thankfully, I do not have to measure up to Gary Valentine’s caretaking abilities as the job at Barr Camp takes on many different forms, but the task of greeting hikers and hopefully making their adventure more enjoyable is definitely in the job description. Nearly 7 months ago, Nathan Josephs (also a former La Vida employee), my brother, and I began caretaking at Barr Camp which is located approximately 6.2 miles up the Barr Trail. Nestled in the Ponderosa Pines at 10,200 feet with a wood stove for heat, solar panels for electricity, and a mountain stream for all of our water needs – the three of us have settled in here to take care of the cabin and any hikers who pass through. We operate not only as a place of rest for day-hikers, but also as a back country bed and breakfast. Similar to some of the hut systems along the AT, we have a hostel style bunk house, a separate private cabin for rent, 3 lean-tos, and plenty of tent sites. Visitors planning to extend their hike up the 13 mile trail to the summit have the option of paying to stay with us for a night. During their stay we provide an all you can eat dinner and breakfast.
The days at Barr Camp vary tremendously depending on the season and weather forecast. In the summers we spend most of our time answering questions about trail conditions and weather at the summit – as well as cooking for hundreds of people a week. Additionally we have the option of helping with Search and Rescue calls. Since the summer months bring a lot of tourists and novice hikers, we go out on a rescue nearly every week in the summer. Autumn is dedicated to bigger projects and preparing for winter, gathering and chopping wood, completing cabin maintenance, painting, shoveling out the composting toilets and generally making sure we are ready for the colder temperatures. The winter and spring are much slower – we have fewer hikers so we have a lot more time to hike and explore the mountain, read books, and rest up for another crazy summer.
While leading trips in the Adirondacks I never would have imagined that one day I would be living in a cabin much like Gary Valentine’s taking care of hikers passing through Colorado. My time at La Vida however, definitely laid a solid foundation for this experience in numerous ways. Many of the skills we learned at La Vida are relevant as many of the hikers that come to Pike’s Peak are brand new to hiking. Pike’s Peak is incredibly accessible and because the trail is not technical, people of all experience levels walk through our doors. We talk to our guests extensively about leave no trace principles, how to filter water (and the importance of doing so properly), occasionally fix a camp-stove that is not working, and of course take our Sherpa Stew skills to a new level every day making dinner and breakfast. The Wilderness First Responder training we received at La Vida has also been incredibly helpful as we often go out to find lost hikers and complete a primary assessment before the SAR team arrives.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of our job, but also the most rewarding, is continually practicing “be here now” with each guest that comes through the door. From 7am until about 9pm our doors are open for anyone who may be wandering the mountain and part of our job is to ensure that each hiker feels welcomed and informed about the hike and current conditions. I am certainly thankful for the practice I received at La Vida in being present, and am continuing to learn what a hard and life-giving work it is to be present on a daily basis, moment by moment.
I am so grateful to have this unique opportunity to live and work in such a beautiful place – and grateful for the ways that my time at La Vida prepared the way for me to get here. If any of you La Vida alums are ever in the Pike’s Peak area, you are more than welcome to hike up and practice being present with us, too! We’d love to have you.