Pikes Peak is perhaps the most famous peak in the Colorado Rockies. It has a commanding position overlooking the plains, rising 8,000 feet from its base just west of Colorado Springs, and it stands alone like no other 14,000-foot peak in the state. However, it is not particularly high (ranking only 31st among the 54 Colorado fourteeners), nor difficult to climb (a road and railway both reach the summit), nor craggy (in the same way the Crestones or Longs Peak are). Aside from its local prominence, its fame arises from alliteration and from Zebulon Pike's 1806 assesment of the peak as "unclimbable" after he turned back. He was proved wrong long before the road was built--in 1820 Edwin James of the Longs expedition made the ascent, the first white man to summit a Colorado fourteener.
There is a tiny hamlet called First View out on the Colorado high plains,
just 30 miles west of the Kansas line, and on exceptionally clear days (rare
in these days of air pollution) the snow on the summit of Pikes Peak is just
visible as a wispy cloud above the horizon. Approaching Colorado Springs on
Route 94 across the empty, windy plains, the cloud gradually becomes bigger
and is soon recognizable as a mountain. It is easy to image the pioneers
being extremely impressed and fixated on the easternmost high sentinel of the Rockies as their ox-wagons slowly plodded towards it.
Three major options are available for those who want to reach the summit of Pikes Peak. The auto road, mostly upaved gravel, is still easily negotiable by any passenger car that pays the toll--just remember to keep it in low gear on the way down. A cog railway chugs up from Manitou Springs for those who don't even want to drive. The most popular trail on the peak is the Barr Trail, an 11-mile path with a 7500-foot elevation gain that is usually done over the course of two or three days. It begins near the cog railway terminal in Manitou Springs. Just remember that most peak-bagging quests don't count an ascent unless you also climb down as well, leaving the railway off-limits as a downhill shortcut for the purist hikers who make their way up the Barr Trail.