Story & Photos – Joseph Boyle
This past summer, I got high in Colorado. No, not weed. Four of my motorcycle riding pals and I road to the top of Pikes Peak, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
At the top, which is 14,115’ above sea level, the air is noticeably thin with only 60% of the oxygen we are normally used to. I am used to “fat” air; that is for sure.
The Spanish settlers called the mountain, El Capitan.
1806: Zebulon Pike, Jr. led an expedition to the base of the mountain. The pink granite mountain’s weather conditions caused them to turn back, but not before the mountain was renamed Pikes Peak.
1820: Edwin James climbed to the top of the mountain.
1858: Pikes Peak Gold Rush.
1893: Last major gold rush in the lower 48 states.
1914 – 1921: Fred Barr developed the Barr Foot Trail between the years 1914 – 1921.
1916: First Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, also known as the Race To The Clouds. People race cars, motorcycles and other various vehicles along with foot races to the top and back.
1961: The top of the mountain was listed as a National Historic Landmark.
Three ways to get to the top:
- Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway. It runs year round.
- When the road is open, you can travel 19 miles of partially paved and partially gravel roadway all the way to the top. Bicycles, cars, motorcycles and other optional modes of transportation are used to take the mountain.
- Barr Trail – 12.6 miles for foot traffic only, with an elevation gain of 7,500’.
What can you expect? Expect the unexpected. It is like driving to the top of our 14,411’ Mt Rainier. Negotiate 156 turns. Grade averages 7%. Snow can hit you at any time all year long. Summer thunderstorms. Hailstorms. Wind gusts up to 100 mph. Did I mention guardrails are an oddity?
We learned that Pikes Peak is not a National Park. The city of Colorado Springs operates the mountain supported by a road toll system.
I have over 100,000 miles of motorcycle riding around the U.S. and Canada, which makes me fairly comfortable on a motorcycle. I have to admit, I experienced a noticeable amount of “white knuckle” as I moved up and down the mountain. Tackling the mountain on a motorcycle takes a reasonable skill level, especially when you encounter dirt and mud road conditions.
Even in a car, there is no time to be distracted with a cell phone call, as you twist up and down the mountain. If you fail to heed my warning, you may experience a new meaning to the term “dropped call” as you plunge over a cliff for 100s of feet.
So as to not disappoint you, I have included two photos. One is shot from the top of the mountain(top). You can see the city and vistas below. The second photo is of a 1929 Ford that drove to the top of Pikes Peak (above). Just when I was feeling like I had bragging rights, here comes a couple in 1929 technology.
To make the entire experience a good deal easier, it is projected that the road will be 100% paved on or before the end of 2012.
Get high in Colorado. Climb Pikes Peak, if you dare.