Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pikes Peak Colorado

I drove to the top of Pikes Peak on the longest Roadtrip I've ever driven, the same Roadtrip I wrote about yesterday, where I talked about the London Bridge and Lake Havasu. But before I got to Arizona, on this particular Roadtrip, I was in Colorado.

Click here to watch video of the Roadtrip to the top of Pikes Peak along with other information about what you can see and do at Pikes Peak.

The pitstop the day before driving to the top of Pikes Peak had been in a campground besides a roaring creek near Rocky Mountain National Park. Driving through Rocky Mountain NP you get to some high elevations, but you don't drive to the top of any of the, what Colorado natives call, fourteeners, fourteeners being the 54 mountains in Colorado over 14,000 feet.

Being from the northwest and being used to seeing mountains, like Mount Rainier, from sea level, the Cascade Mountains look taller than the Rockies. This surprised me, til I realized the base elevation chops off a mile, as in Denver sits at 5,280 feet above sea level. That makes Pikes Peak about 9,000 higher. When you are in Seattle, Mount Rainier is over 14,000 feet higher than your sea level location.

Pikes Peak Highway is what takes you to the summit of the mountain. It's a 19 mile drive. You pay a fee for the privilege. The highway is paved to about the halfway point, then it's a gravel road to the top. The road has a lot of switchbacks, nicknamed "The W's," because of the design they seem to carve on the mountain when viewed from a distance. You will want to be sure you have good brakes before you climb up and down this steep, twisting road.

There are 3 visitor centers on the Pikes Peak Highway, located at the 6 and 12 miles marks and at the summit. The visitors center at the summit is quite large. There is a snack bar. When I was there fresh donuts were available. Somehow that seemed strange to me. But it smelled good.

Pikes Peak is the easternmost 14,000 foot mountain in the United States. Pikes Peak stands alone, unlike the other fourteeners in Colorado, thus it serves as a landmark visible for many miles to the east. You start seeing Pikes Peak soon after you cross into Colorado from Kansas. On a clear day Pikes Peak is visible from Denver.

Pikes Peak is the highest elevation I have ever had to breathe. There is 40% less oxygen than one gets at sea level. Just climbing up a few steps caused heavy breathing. Years later I would experience this again, at Silverton, Colorado, which is above 9,000 feet. I tried to pedal my bike up a mountain there. I've never breathed so hard, ever. Pikes Peak would have been much worse than Silverton if I tried to pedal my bike at 14,115 feet.

The drive down Pikes Peak is more nerve wracking than the drive up. My brakes overheated, slightly. The gravel does not provide the best traction. If driving to the top seems daunting, there are other means to the summit. One is the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway. This is a cog railroad operating out of Manitou Springs, going to the summit year round, weather permitting.

You can hike to the summit of Pikes Peak via the Barr Trail, climbing to the summit from the east. The trailhead for the Barr Trail is by the rail station in Manitou Springs. Another trail to the top starts in Crags Campground and reaches the top of Pikes Peak from the west. I can't see myself doing such a hike in such rarefied air.

The pitstop for this leg of the Roadtrip was outside Fort Union, north of Las Vegas, New Mexico, on the way to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, but not before driving across the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge.


Joe Young said...

My family went up the Peak back in 197. We did this in a 6-cyl. Chevy van. What a climb. On the way down, there was a roadblock where a ranger felt the wheels to see if the brakes were hot. Ours were, so we had to sit until they cooled off. I wonder if they still do this?We did not have to pay to make the trip.

Ievgeniia said...

Yeah, they do it now too, because overheated brakes do not work. One of my friends had to tow their car from there because their brakes failed (they were lucky to stop, using the curb and not to cause a serious accident). We have been there on September 12-th this year and they check brakes and put you on 20 minute rest if overheated.