We finally got back to our mystery hike over Fathers Day weekend. Enough snow had melted that we were able to make our way all the way to Oil Creek Tunnel. Kristina came with us as she was home for a visit. She rode the Amtrak train out from Osceola to Denver and spent the weekend. It was great to have her home and back out on the trail with us again.
Oil Creek Tunnel was constructed in the late 1890’s by a Cincinnati company as a prospecting venture. No, not for gold, but for flourine quartz. The tunnel bores straight into Pikes Peak right at the treeline at an elevation of 11,285 feet. It was not a particulary successful operation and they gave up after boring through 1,593 feet of solid granite. The tunnel is about six feet high and eight feet wide for the most part but there are sections that are lower and it’s easy to bonk your head since most of your attention is on where you are putting your feet.
We had a nice hike into the area and were able to find the cabin ruins without much trouble. But beyond the cabin the snow was still drifted pretty heavily and was not passable in many places. We knew the tunnel was in the rock face so we split up and started looking for it. Ronda was the first to spot it and we all converged on the area. The tunnel itself was still covered by the huge snow drifts coming down off the mountain, although there was a small hole from where the warmer air had melted through. The main giveaway was the old steam boiler that is still intact and the stream coming out of the snow.
I took a large stick and started busting the edges of the snow-hole to make it big enough so we could go inside. It was obvious we were going to be the first people to enter the tunnel in quite awhile.
We put on our jackets, turned on our flashlights and crawled through the snow-hole trying not to fall into the stream in the process. Poor Abby did not have a flashlight but had no intention of being left behind! The first hundred feet or so were pretty dicey as the stream of water was wide and we had to pick our way across the slippery old boards. A little further on the stream seemed content to run along the side of the tunnel and the footing improved considerably. There was obviously some sort of “track” laid at one time and although the rails are gone the ties are still there which provides a decent path to walk on.
The air, as expected, was cool but quite tolerable. Kristina took the lead and off we went to explore Oil Creek Tunnel. The tunnel is remarkably straight and even at 1,200 feet into the tunnel you can still see a small spot of light at the entrance. But, it bends a little after that and becomes completely dark. It was right around this point that the stream disappeared and it got extremely quiet.
The tunnel is remarkably uncluttered. We did pass a metal blast shield that would have been used by the miners to protect themselves while firing the dynamite. Around 1,324 feet or so the tunnel has suffered a partial collapse. There are some old rotten timbers shoring it up and we had to scramble over the rubble to get past it.
Just a short distance later a side tunnel branches off to the left and getting into it is a bit dicey. We decided to explore this tunnel and managed to get past the tricky entrance. Abby was still faithfully tagging along although we were wondering what she was thinking about her crazy owners.
The makeup of the tunnel changed from solid granite to a real crumbly stuff which was kind of unnerving but we did not see any sign of collapses so we kept going and it soon turned back to solid granite. The tunnel went for about 458 feet before it abruptly stopped. All in all we had come about 1/3 of a mile deep underneath Pikes Peak. We turned around and went back to the main tunnel and decided to leave. After all, one tunnel looks pretty much like any other tunnel. Kristina managed to lose her footing getting out of the side tunnel and dunked her foot into the cold water and I bonked my head once on the way out but other than that we came out unscathed.
Climbing back out of the snow-hole into the warm air and sunshine was a wonderful experience. We had a bit of lunch and explored a little before heading back. It was interesting to see the huge metal steam boiler and other heavy iron pieces which were brought in by wagon and assembled on-site.