Monday 4 September 2017

Pikes Peak

    Today we would be heading up Pikes Peak, yes that’s Pikes not Pike’s. In 1891 the newly formed US Board on Geographic Names recommended that apostrophes not be used in names. In 1978 the Colorado state legislature passed a law mandating it be called “Pikes Peak.”

      I expected the journey would bring us some trying moments, like the altitude, but we were ready to give it our best effort. It is 30-some miles west of Colorado Springs and as part of the Front Range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains it rises an impressive 14,115 feet. Starting just a few miles up Ute Pass at Cascade, the 19 mile Pikes Peak Highway climbs steadily to the summit, the last two thirds still being unpaved in 1990.

      The road had a series of treacherous switchbacks called the W’s because of their shape on the side of the mountain with a continuously steep climb out of the densely forested lower level to a barren, open expanse toward the top. The road was dirt for the highest parts and was an unnerving drive as there were no guardrails so you had to be comfortable with your driving skills. With great risk, however, came great reward.

      At the top I felt alone as I gazed across the peaks and valleys with the howling wind and surrounding snow providing an indescribable sense of isolation. The air at this altitude contains only 60% of the oxygen available at sea level. We had trouble breathing and felt nauseous but I managed to take a few pictures, had a quick look in the gift shop then suggested we head down immediately because that was the only way the nausea and light headedness was going to subside. The trip up Pikes Peak was a real eye opener as I discovered that one felt like absolute crap at 14,000 feet.

      On the drive down the switchbacks came at us fast and furious and all of a sudden the fact that there were no guardrails seemed to be of greater concern. On top of that was the worry that my brakes would melt as I was pretty much riding them the whole drive down, to the point we felt it best to stop a number of times just to let them cool down. Somewhere on the trip down the mountain the nausea disappeared as we descended in altitude. There was so much to pay attention to that I didn’t even realize I felt better until down to the highway but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat and wouldn’t change a thing – well, maybe I wouldn’t bother to go into the gift shop.

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