America’s Mountain

It was so hot in Colorado last week that we decided on the Sunday that we were down in the Springs to try to find somewhere a little cooler to hang out for a while before heading back to Pueblo, which was even more toasty.

Angie had previously asked me if I wanted to do something else (other than riding) while we were in the area for the Starlight Spectacular. I’d thought about visiting Pikes Peak after hearing all the Colorado Springs folks talking about it at the Colorado tourism listening meeting I’d been to a few weeks back. Given how hot it was, it seemed like maybe a good idea to get up to 14,000 feet and maybe have some cooler air. Angie was receptive to the idea, but did have some reservations about my lungs at such a high elevation but we decided I would wear a compression stocking on both legs and be aware of how I felt. Going up to that height from around 7,000 feet was not as risky as going up from sea level.

So after a late but hearty breakfast at the hotel, we set off. As Angie anticipated, there was a long line of cars to get past the gateway, where you have to pay a toll that is used to help maintain the road to the top of America’s mountain. At the toll booth, we were given some instructions about climbing the mountain, including that we should not run the air conditioning and on the way back down we should minimize use of our brakes.

The 20-mile drive to the summit was more intense than I had even anticipated. Angie was driving because she’s more comfortable in the driver’s seat on mountain roads, but that was ok with me. It was pretty curvy, but some of the views were great, although it was a hazy day. We didn’t stop on the way up, though we did see a marmot on the way up. This was kind of exciting for me, since I had never seen a marmot in the flesh before and didn’t know they were so big.

We actually climbed the last few hundred feet quite quickly, and before we knew it, we were at the summit, along with several dozen other cars. The air was definitely thin, and I did feel it but I didn’t have any major concerns about the impact on my compromised vascular system. I’ve probably been at 11,000 feet before, but I don’t think I’ve been as high as the summit of Pikes Peak. Pike’s Peak is known as America’s Mountain and is the inspiration behind “America the Beautiful,” written by Katherine Lee Bates. The views were quite something. We apparently were not up there at a time when there was a “Meet the Ranger” session.

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There is also a visitor’s center at the summit. It’s pretty commercialized but we went in for a look around. We had been told that we should try the donuts, which were supposed to be special because of the atmosphere at the top of the mountain. As a note, the concession at the summit is run by Aramark. Kind of tells you all we need to know. So yes, the donuts were somewhat disappointing.

After checking out the views from various points atop the summit, we began the careful drive down. Despite the haze, the views were quite spectacular. We stopped at the 11-mile marker since there is a checkpoint there at Glen Cove (11,440 feet) where Pikes Peak staff stop each car descending the mountain. They have some sort of device that measures the heat of the brake pads. If your pads are over a certain temperature (300F I think) they ask you to pull over for at least 15 minutes and also to pop the hood and let the engine cool down. We were not in a rush and were definitely not in a rush to have our brakes burn out, so we were happy to stop for a little bit and have a look around the area. They have a pseudo gold-panning set up and some lovely rock faces to admire. Angie wandered a bit further afield, and managed to spy a pika.

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We also checked out the gift shop, which wasn’t really any different from the one at the summit. Adequate time killed, we continued our descent. When we completed our descent, we noticed that the line at the gateway was pretty much gone. Of course, those of us who live in this beautiful state know that in the summer time, it can be risky to head up a mountain too late in the day, since summer storms may come in, but in addition, Pikes Peak does close the summit at 7 and expect all visitors to be off the mountain by 8 pm.

The trip up the mountain was a nice little excursion and a bit of a challenge for me, but it was nice to do this after our very late night (about which Angie wrote, here).

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