A 0500 alarm clock wake-up started our day as we prepared to drive to Colorado Springs for an American Pilgrims on the Camino hike. The hike was organized by Stella Juarez who had recently completed the entire French Route of the Camino de Santiago. We departed Conifer at 0600 and drove through Pine Grove, Deckers, Woodland Park, Manitou Springs on our way to the designated meeting location. We arrived at our meeting point at the Starsmore Discovery Center just before 0800 where we were joined by five future peregrinos and our host Stella.
The group then caravanned past the discovery center and up Cheyenne Canyon Road to the uppermost parking lot. Sandy and I had never been to this area before and we were both amazed at the number of trails and natural beauty the open space park possessed. Our initial observation is that North Cheyenne Canyon has so many trails and old Gold mining roads it is probably a good idea to have a detailed trail map or a GPS handy when hiking.
We took the hike with our Camino packs, Sandy’s weighing in at 15 pounds and mine at 18. The St. Mary’s Falls trail begins on an old road/train bed and gradually climbs up into the canyon.
After about the half mile mark, the trail conditions went from dry to icy and snow packed. The group then all placed their Micro Spikes and/or Yak Tracks on for improved traction. My five year old Yack Tracks lasted about another 1/2 mile before snapping the side band. I was able to improvise a repair which looked funny but lasted the entire hike.
After a while, the road ended and we proceeded on the single track trail along side a icy creek, presumably St. Mary’s Creek. Hiking alongside a creek is always a real highlight.
As we began gaining altitude the views of the high plains and Colorado Springs began opening up. The vistas were amazing.
We hiked a bit over three miles up an oft times very steep grade (25+ percent) until we reached the falls. The falls were completely frozen over, but we were able to hear the roar when standing on top of the ice as the water flowed below us.
After a short break for snacks, we were treated to a very moving Camino de Santiago Shell Ceremony preformed by Stella and her father Roger. Roger read the ceremony in Spanish and Stella translated to English. Sandy and I were standing on top of the icy waterfall during the event. We were both touched by the words of encouragement, prayers and thoughtfulness of the ceremony.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, we were presented with our Camino scallop shells. Scallop shells are the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. The shell is seen frequently along the Camino’s trails. The shell is placed on posts and signs along the camino in order to guide pilgrims along the way. Also, wearing a shell denotes that you are a traveler on the Camino de Santiago. Most pilgrims receive a shell at the beginning of their journey and attach it to their backpacks.
After the conclusion of the ceremony and some nice conversation, we all began the slippery hike back down to the trail head. It is amazing how many different things you see when walking the opposite way on the same trail. I guess it is all about different views and orientation perspectives.
We made it down to the trailhead with a few slips but thankfully no falls. Once our gear was stowed we decided to go to the nearby Colorado Mountain Brewery for a lunch and some beers. It was great to sit down and listen to Stella’s unbelievable stories of her journey along the Camino.
As we were driving home and had some quiet time to think, we both agreed that today’s hike, the shell ceremony and lunchtime conversations were something we would never forget.
Today’s hike statistics:
Altitude gain: 1,812′
Moving time: 4:01 hours
Maximum Grade: 25.6%