On our visit to Colorado we drove up to the top of Pike’s Peak. The summit is 14,115 feet high — pretty rarefied air for a flatlander from the Midwest — and offers a commanding view of the surrounding mountains and countryside far below.
There was construction at the summit and preparations for a road race were underway, so visitors couldn’t drive up to the top by themselves. Instead, you had to stop at the 13-mile marker or the 16-mile marker and take a shuttle to the summit. We stopped at the 13-mile marker, just below the tree line. That allowed us to avoid the white-knuckle part of the drive and entrust our safety to somebody who (presumably, at least) was used to navigating the guardrail-free hairpin turns that take you to the peak.
The summit is stunning. Photos can’t really capture the vast, panoramic views. It was very windy at the top, so you didn’t want to get too close to the edge and flirt with a potential mishap. It was noticeably colder, too, with snow on the ground in spots. It didn’t take long before the thinner air and high altitude started to have a physical impact on the members of our group, manifested in budding headaches and a feeling of malaise.
Twenty to thirty minutes is plenty of time to check out the top, and we were all glad to board the shuttle and head back down the mountain. On the way down we saw some antelope and the curious rodents that inhabit the area. When we got back down to the 13-mile marker, safe and sound, we celebrated with some big gulps of oxygen-rich air.