Ascent of Pikes Peak on 2002-06-01

Climber: Scott Surgent

Date:Saturday, June 1, 2002
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Pikes Peak
    Elevation:14110 ft / 4300 m

Ascent Trip Report

Pikes Peak is a well-known mountain located west of Colorado Springs, a massive 14,000-foot peak set apart from the main mass of the Rockies so that its full vertical mile of prominence is plainly obvious. It was "discovered" by Zebulon Pike, surely one of the easier discoveries ever made in the history of discovering.

A good road goes all the way to the top, so that your average everyday tourist can experience 14,000 feet elevation wearing sandals and a tank top. The thin air can be tough on some people. On my visit, one woman collapsed on the spot. They have EMTs and bottled oxygen to help these poor souls.

Today, I wanted to drive the road to the top for the experience. The toll road is about 10 miles up highway US-24 west of Colorado Springs. The toll in 2002 was $10. The first 7 miles was paved and easy, the grades very lenient. After that, the road turned to dirt, but wide and well-maintained. There were many people driving the road, and it was clear some people were scared to death, judging by their driving. I tried to be patient and roll with the punches. However, one driver in a minivan was moving forward at idle speed, about 5 miles per hour. I was the fourth car behind this person. I did the math: at this rate, it would be over an hour to get up the hill, and my clutch would be fried by then. So when I had a chance, I passed the cars ahead of me.

The real interesting segments of the road come about the 12-mile mark, where the road is cut directly into the rocky slopes, with grades between 10 and 15%, and no guard rails. At mile 16, the road crests a saddle and comes to a jumble of boulders called the Devil's Playground. The El Paso and Teller County line runs just east of the rocks, and by that fortuitous placement, the rocks are the highest points of Teller County.

I parked and hiked up these rocks, the actual hiking being short with about 100 vertical feet of gain. I didn't stay long here. Back in the truck, I continued to the top of Pikes Peak, still three miles away.

The top of Pikes Peak is huge, big enough to hold a parking lot the size of a football field. The highest rocks are in a clump in the center of the lot, and I walked over to tag them. Then, I went into the visitor's center. There were about 40 vehicles and over 150 people already up here. There is a railway that also comes to the top.

You see interesting things when people visit areas they normally would not. Lots of people had on tank tops and flip-flops. While it was very warm down below, the temperatures up here were barely in the 40s. One poor kid, a teenaged boy, was so spooked by the heights that he stood petrified in the middle of the lot. His mother tried to coax him to the visitor's center. He wouldn't budge. He was about 50 feet from the nearest railings, and even then, the slopes gave away very gently. He just couldn't bring himself to move.

I spent time in the gift shop, the whole experience kind of surreal. I enjoyed watching the people. I also wandered outside and looked out over the slopes. It's so high up that the plains down by Colorado Springs just look like a mush of greens and hazy blues. I stayed here for 30 minutes.

I got a few yards down the road when I see that stupid minivan from earlier, still inching forward at 5 miles per hour. By now, there were about thirty cars trailing it. I drove another mile or two, then felt guilty for having driven the peak. So I parked in a pullout, grabbed a small pack, and walked the trail to the top. The walk was one mile with 800 feet of gain. I tagged the top again, then started back down. This was my "climb" of Pikes Peak.

Once finished with the hike, I drove down the mountain. They warn against riding the brakes, so I used the low gears instead to govern my speed, but they actually stop you at the mile 10 area near an old rustic inn and do a quick check. If your brakes are hot you have to stop for awhile to let them cool. I'm sure it's a needed requirement. I was off the mountain after an hour or so, my total time about five hours. It was worth it. From here I proceeded north into Denver for a trio of easy county highpoints.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:800 ft / 244 m
    Distance:1.5 mi / 2.4 km
    Trailhead:13310 ft / 4056 m
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail

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