Here is an account of our visit to Pikes Peak, Colorado from our first road trip across America in 2009, originally published in The Journey Mom.
Maybe I should have listened to the woman who checked us into the Garden of the Gods Campground. She suggested that we take the train to the summit rather than brave the difficult road, but having earned my license driving in St. Thomas, where left hand driving takes you up and down some of the most twisted roads in the world, I thought I was up to the challenge.
So what if this mountain was a little taller – alright a lot taller in the high altitude desert than any hill in my Virgin Islands’ home – how hard could it be to get to the top of Pikes Peak by car?
Pikes Peak Tollgate – 8,000 Feet Above Sea Level
At the entrance to Pikes Peak, we cued in a CD audio tour of the park into the Chevy Suburban, and we were on our way. I highly recommend this 50 minute program. It entertained us all the way up the mountain, and gave a interesting overview of the Colorado mountain that inspired “America the Beautiful.” We learned all about Pikes Peak, from its Ute Indian heritage to all the many weird and wacky ways that people have found to make this climb (including the man who pushed a peanut all the way to the top with his nose. Yuck!)
We discovered that Pikes Peak was a beacon for miners during the Colorado Gold Rush who vowed “Pikes Peak or Bust.” Later, many changed their slogan to “Busted by Gosh.” My kids adopted the former cry, and hoped to avoid the latter.
There were two main stops before the peak, and I planned to hike at all three. I thought I was ready.
I was wearing my rugged new hiking boots, a hat, shorts, and I carried plenty of sunscreen, granola bars, water, and a light jacket. Still, I really didn’t know what I was getting into.
Just a few thousand feet can make a huge difference.
Pikes Peak Crystal Reservoir – Mile 6 – 9,400 Feet Above Sea Level
At our first stop, I found that my light jacket didn’t do diddlysquat to keep me warm, and Alex didn’t even have a sweater. Fortunately, the Visitor Center was well-stocked with warm sweatshirts.
I also found that hiking at altitude is a lot harder than I imagined. Any exertion left me huffing and puffing, frequently reaching for my inhaler. At this elevation, if you’re not accustomed to it, even a short hike around the reservoir is a strenuous activity.
Not that I would know as we didn’t make it all the way around.
First, Alex was freaked out by the signs alerting us of BUBONIC PLAGUE DANGER. We were being warned to avoid contact with the wildlife, but Alex worried that Psycho Killer Chipmunks, infected with the Plague, would chase on the trails.
I managed to persuade him that we would be safe, but he was a less than enthusiastic hiker. It wasn’t long before we headed back to the car.
Pikes Peak Glen Cove – Mile 13 – 11,425 Feet Above Sea Level
As we drove to our next stop, Alex started to experience symptoms from the higher elevation. Kayla and I were chewing on mint gum to help counteract the pressure, but Alex hates the taste of mint.
Again, we found a solution at the convenient Glen Cove Gift Shop. For just $5, we picked up a small bag of Swedish fish. This was supposed to last until we reached the top. Ha! I don’t think it lasted back to the parking lot.
It did, however, give him plenty of energy for throwing snowballs at his sister.
Pikes Peak Summit – Mile 19 – 14,100 Feet Above Sea Level
The next leg of the trip was where things got really dicey. Soon we were off the paved road and on a narrow, winding road with absolutely nothing between us and open sky.
Since my Chevy Suburban does not come equipped with the jet pack option, I was a bit unnerved by the lack of guard rails. My driving skills were not enhanced by Alex’s whimpers of pain as the elevation gave him a headache (that could only be soothed by promises of ice cream.)
Still, I remembered that every year, racers fly through these curves at dazzling speeds in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. If they could do this, so could I.
We did finally make it to the top, where we stopped for a meal, and a sample of their popular doughnuts. But we made this a quick stop as Alex still felt poorly, even with the extra sugar in his system.
I was feeling pretty good about this accomplishment until we called home. It turned out that in his youth, my husband actually summited this very mountain – on foot!