I always said I was going to do it one of these days...I went and climbed that "Fourteener" (the term for a mountain that rises more than 14,000 feet above sea level - Colorado has 54 of them). I climbed it in the comfort of the passenger seat of a car, up 14,110 feet into the air; easing around hairpin turns on a road no wider than two passing cars; drop offs straight down the side; and in CLOUDS (not fog) thick as proverbial pea soup. Yes, we drove it, but I'm still counting it.
High above the cities of Colorado and Manitou Springs, it's where the legendary PIKES PEAK INTERNATIONAL HILL CLIMB automobile and motorcycle race takes place every year. A "Race to the Clouds", indeed. To and THROUGH the clouds. Through the clouds AND the snow, this past week! Though they race from closer to the bottom of the Pike National Forest area (there's also an annual marathon and a bike race), the "hairy" stuff starts around the 11,440 foot mark, at the Glen Cove Inn - a great place to stretch your legs on the way up, and a required brake test stop on the way down, performed by Park Rangers.
Breathtaking scenery abounds at every turn. You can find a few "wide" (JUST barely) spots here and there for photo ops - more on the downhill "side".
Cars disappeared 10 feet in front of us in spots, where the clouds were thickest on the road. Countless hairpin curves on this drive - you just take it steady, slowing as needed in the clouds, and following the center line if nothing else (we had an excellent driver that day). Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep grazed in a large area, almost hidden by the clouds. We passed a guy that had better determination and stamina than we...walking his bike the last few hundred feet - kudos to him for achieving what I wouldn't even attempt!
The summit provides PLENTY of panoramic vistas. This was in the middle of July - you WILL want a jacket (it can be 30-40 degrees cooler than Colorado Springs below it). The black speck in the rock photos (click on the grouping and click again to zoom) was a young man, sitting on the very edge of an out-cropping - it was a long way down, believe me. I eased my way out to the memorial plaque, which tested MY nerves on the height thing MORE than enough.
"In recognition of the notable career of ZEBULON MONTGOMERY PIKE, soldier – explorer - The people of Colorado have placed this tablet on the summit of the great mountain first seen by Pike, November 15, 1806..."
We were told at the bottom, to be sure to have the donuts at the top. "World Famous", they said - "best donuts ever!", too. "They" were right on both counts. Deep fried right there in the coffee/souvenir shop on the summit - SERIOUSLY the best donut I think I have ever popped into my mouth. You notice no frosting? They didn't need it. They had an unbelievable line of people waiting for these to be come out.
THE MANITOU AND PIKES PEAK RAILWAY is a cog railroad that operates year-round, from Manitou Springs to the summit, weather permitting. Want to hike it? There is the Barr Trail from the east (13 miles one-way, and an 8,000 ft. elevation gain, though only a Class 1 trail). Another route approaches the summit from the west, at Crags Campground.
It's always amazing to me that you can actually see the curvature of the earth, the higher you get off the ground.
The clouds were thinning and drifting by the time we started back down hill, affording us more jaw-dropping views.
A few more sheep were seen on these beautiful grassy Alpine areas, as well as the fat Rock Chuck (Ground Hog) that popped up to see what I was snapping.
For more info, visit PIKES-PEAK.COM (click the link here, plus any you may find in the body of this post, to be transported). "On a clear day, you can see forevvvvvvvvvvvvver"...on a day with patchy clouds, you'll still be glad you "climbed" 'er! Have the donuts!