No fewer than 17 years ago, I visited the top of Pike’s Peak with my family. I remember the idea of being on top of a mountain seemed thrilling. But, I don’t remember actually being there. I’ve seen pictures of the family trip. I generally know what the tourists’ center looks like. But I still don’t remember being there.
So, when the opportunity arose to return to the summit with my grandparents and mom last month, we took it. Grandma was genuinely interested in getting there. Mom was pretty adamantly against ascending much of anything with a cliff. And grandpa — poor grandpa — was getting dragged along whether he was interested or not. I, of course, was in complete support of it because the excitement from my childhood lingered. I loved the idea of being up there.
We pulled up to the gate and grandma proudly presented her Senior Pass. That pass, I learned, is one of the sweeter perks of aging. For only $10, 62-year-old+ citizens can snag a lifetime pass granting otherwise free access to more than 2,000 national recreation sites. The deal is even sweeter when you realize that the pass applies to your whole car of people, regardless of age. And the whole thing is distinctively sour when you’re told that Pike’s Peak is operated by the City of Colorado Springs. Your pass does not work here.
Dreams shattered by not getting to use Grandma’s Golden Ticket, we forked over the $40 to drive up the mountain ($10 per person) and continued our journey.
About half way up, just before you pass the tree line, things start getting really gorgeous. Note that everything is gorgeous, all the time. But, here, where the treetops part and you can see for miles while still peeking through piney branches — this is where the real beauty hides. We pulled to the side to snap some pictures while mom ensured the interior handle on her door was still attached.
Reaching the top of Pike’s Peak provided a welcomed break to snap photos and pee. After the hour or so that I assume it took us to drive up, pee was exactly what we all wanted to do. I take a snowboarding trip every year. I’ve peed at the top of plenty of mountains. Somehow, all of us peeing on this one was special.
Venturing into the tourists’ center at the top of Pike’s Peak was a bit of a nightmare. Lunch on one side, gifts on the other and a really horribly placed checkout station at its center. People were bumping people. The thinner air meant we were all huffing and puffing to squeeze every last bit of O2 from the atmosphere. For a woman that doesn’t breathe recycled air, the experience was near horrific.
Losing the family, I ventured toward the train drop off to explore another look out point. Wandered around a lesser walked area of the building and wove my way back to the truck — avoiding the indoor breath festival altogether. In no time at all, we’d soaked up the view and were on our way back down.
Down proved to be a bit more treacherous. Mostly because you can see. The angle you achieve while driving downhill basically sets your vehicle up for theater seating — everyone has a great view. In the case of descending from Pike’s Peak — not everyone in the car needs that great view. Mom continued her panic with some swear words and assurance that “this is stupid.”
Half way down, I whipped out the camera for a few more shots before dipping back into the trees. Allegedly, some rocks were acquired for garden accents but I cannot confirm nor deny any accusations. A bit further down the mountain, a brake check station forced a stop and casual conversation with a very cheery ranger. Hypothetically, if rocks had been in the truck, this was the moment when I was sure we were all getting arrested. By the end of day 2, I could only envision Grandma Rose Mary, Grandpa Bob, my mom and I sharing a prison cell for the remainder of the road trip.
We made it to a Clarion instead.