Saturday, May 24, 2008

To the Summit of Pikes Peak- OR NOT


For 115 years, the Manitou and Pike's Peak Railway (the world's highest cog train, the highest Colorado train AND the highest train in the United States) has taken passengers to the 14,110 foot summit of Pikes Peak.
I was all excited about this part of a Colorado family trip--until I started reading more on the website....
The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is 8.9 miles long. The round trip lasts 3 hours and 10 minutes.
The first third of our trip is along Ruxton Creek in Englemann Canyon. Here the steep track follows a cascading stream through dense stands of Englemann spruce, Colorado blue spruce as well as Ponderosa pine trees. The track is built next to the stream and there are boulder fields on both sides of the train. Conductors like to point out the various "faces" and shapes which, with a bit of imagination, can be seen in the giant boulders.

Right near the Minnehaha switch (where the down coming trains pass the up going train on many trips) is Minnehaha Falls..
The middle third of the trip is on a gentler grade. Right below the old settlement of Ruxton Park, the train passes through what is known as "Hell Gate", a natural gateway in the mountains. After a few more minutes, the train passes through Deer Park, where passengers sometimes catch a glimpse of mule deer grazing.
Then we pass over the Four Mile Siding and get our first glimpse of Pikes Peak!


Another siding comes up, Mountain View, which is the half-way point on the journey.
first third of our trip is along Ruxton Creek in Englemann Canyon. Here the steep track follows a cascading stream through dense stands of Englemann spruce, Colorado blue spruce as well as Ponderosa pine trees. The track is built next to the stream and there are boulder fields on both sides of the train. Conductors like to point out the various "faces" and shapes which, with a bit of imagination, can be seen in the giant boulders.

At about the 5 mile point, the grade steepens again. Now we begin climbing in earnest. Lake Morraine and Mount Almagre dominate the views here.
Many of the trees in this area are bristlecone pine, some of the oldest living things on earth! It is estimated that some trees on Pikes Peak are over 2000 years old.


Once we climb above timberline, the views become more expansive. Timberline is the area where trees stop growing. They cannot get enough moisture because, just under the surface, there is permafrost: the ground remains frozen year-round. What does grow is Alpine tundra; a mixture of mosses, grasses and wildflowers which have all adapted to the extremely short growing season.
Here passengers frequently see Bighorn sheep and yellow-bellied marmots.
The last 3 miles are all above timberline. To the east stretch the Great Plains out beyond the border of Colorado and Kansas. To the south, the Sangre de Christo (Blood of Christ) Range stretches south to New Mexico. On the western horizon, just slightly to the southwest, lies the Collegiate Range.

To the southwest at the base of Pikes Peak, sit the old mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor. Once upon the summit, if the weather is clear (and there's not much Denver smog), you can see the skyscrapers of downtown Denver.
You are allowed 30 to 40 minutes on the top of Pikes Peak.


The reason for this is that most people begin to feel the effects of high altitude (slight nausea, headache) after about this amount of time. We recommend that you budget your time accordingly.

Consequently, long lines are quite common especially in the food service area. The lines are generally longest at food service right after the train arrives. You can bring food and beverages aboard the train (those purchased from the Cog Railway Cafe; sorry, no outside food or beverages are allowed), but due to the limited seating, you cannot bring outside food or beverages into the Summit House.

The north side of the summit is most dramatic with a breath-taking drop-off into what is known as the Bottomless Pit.
BE CAREFUL!
ESPECIALLY WITH SMALL CHILDREN!
Then walk over to the far side of the summit near the High Altitude Research Station.
This view of the Continental Divide is really nice. After that, go inside and warm up, check the lines at the snack/gift area (try to eat before or bring something on the train), use the restroom and then head outside to the viewing platform on the south side.

The train crew will blow a long blast on the horn 10 minutes before the train leaves. Remember, you must return on the same train, and the train leaves ON TIME!
You get 30 to 40 minutes on the summit. It's a long walk down!


OKAY, so what sounds bad, you may ask???

1. Bottomless Pit????? breathtaking drop off?????/combined with fear of heights
2. 1.5 hours on a train both ways with 2 kids who may want to look at mountains about 5 minutes
3. Nausea/dizziness/respiratory problems
4. 32 bucks a person...well 18 for the kids
5. It will be about 25 degrees up there
6. Long Food lines
I SO HATE not to experience this fun ride and breathtaking views and nature's bounty and all that.....
but am SOOOO debating whether I can do it or not with out medication.
What do you all think?????

4 comments:

The Troll said...

I'd skip it in your situation.

Leigh said...

I am holding my breath for you already.....

Good Luck with that....

Dullbert said...

The boredom of the kids is the only thing I'd worry about. All those warnings are there to cover their rear ends, you can find similar warnings at the amusement park. We once took a cog train to Jungfraujoch/Top of Europe in Switzerland in was about 3 times more $$$ and a little longer but wow was it memorable but it was pre kids. I wouldn't have done it with kids then again I wouldn't have been in Europe with kids. The effects of high altitude are real we got to laughing so hard at something I really thought I was going to pass out. So in my opinion.. I don't know hope that helps :)

Anonymous said...

I've been on that train, back in the old days when I was a kid. I remember it being a neat experience. We've driven up the road to the top of Pikes Peak also. Either way you go, it's a great experience! Or at least, that's how I remember it!!!!