Goin’ Up – Take 2

This is a story from one of my past adventures that I thought you would enjoy. 

The Adventure Continues . . . As you might remember, our drive to Pikes Peak ended about 2 mile and 1134 vertical feet short of the summit, but I said we had a plan. First we made a short drive to the city of Manitou Springs which is just outside of Colorado Springs. There we found what we were looking for, the Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the way to the top of Pikes Peak or so we had heard. We go in and check with the ticket agent on the departure time of the train. Her answer, “One twenty”. I then asked, “Is the train going all the way to the top, to the summit today?” Her answer, “Yes, it is, the snow crews are working up top to clear the tracks right now”. OK, we buy 2 tickets and settle in for the wait until time for departure.

Now to give you a little background and explain the . . . Manitou Springs, some help by a fellow named Simmons, a cog railway, 25% grades and some prayers . . . from the previous post. Well, the Manitou Springs is easy, that is where we found the train depot. The fellow named Simmons, it was Zalmon Simmons and the time frame was the 1880’s. Mr. Simmons had taken a trip to the top the easiest way possible at that time, he rode a mule. While relaxing in a mineral bath after his trip and one must assume trying to relieve some of the aches and pains associated with that mode of travel, he started thinking about a better way to get to the top. His solution was a train. He felt that it would be mush easier and much more comfortable than the back of a mule. Although I didn’t ride up on a mule I truly believe that he was right. Mr. Simmons became the backer of the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Company. He was going to spend some of the money he had in mattresses, you see Zalmon Simmons was the owner of the Simmons Mattress Company in Wisconsin. Work was started in short order and the last spike was driven on October 22, 1890. The railroad to the top was complete. By the way, the top wages for working on the railroad were 24 cents per hour.

Now, you might ask, “What is a cog railway”? First, it is sometimes referred to as a rack railway. Simply, it is a drive system that uses a gear (cog wheel) and a rack to move the engine and attached cars or in the case of our trip the cars since they were self contained engine / car combinations. Unlike a conventional engine which at best can climb seven to nine percent grades for a short distance, a cog locomotive can climb grades approaching 40 percent. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway employs the Abt rack system which limits the steepest grades that can be climbed to about 25%. In fact 25% is the steepest grade we encounter on the way to the top of Pikes Peak.

The final item in our plan was prayer, well part of it had been answered already, the train was going to the top. The other part, remember Brenda loves mountains, hates heights, enough said.

By the way, this is what a section of the track looks like.

It is just after 1:20 when the conductor yells “All Aboard” and we, along with about 100 or so other adventurous souls, board the train. We pull out of the station for the top of Pikes Peak. The trip to the top is 8.9 miles and gains over 7500 feet in elevation. Of all the cog railways in the world, the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway is the highest and has the greatest gain in elevation during the journey to the summit. Given all of this the trip is by no means a speed run. The entire trip up and back, with about a 40 minute stay at the top, takes over 3 hours. We start out going through Englemann Canyon with a great view of Ruxton Creek. We see many types of trees, hardwoods, pines and spruce, including magnificent Colorado blue spruce. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous with the flowing waters of the creek, waterfalls, rock formations and other wonders of nature beckoning for one’s attention. Pictures, got to take pictures of all of this. This is what we were seeing.

As we approach the middle part of the ascent we pass through a natural gateway in the mountain and at the 4 mile switch we get our first glimpse of our goal, the top of Pikes Peak. Two things strike me, one is the beauty and the other is that it still looks a long way off. At about the 5 mile marker we hit one of the steeper sections. Also, in this area we see many bristlecone pines. These are some of the oldest living things on earth with some of those on Pikes Peak estimated to be over 2000 years old. Shortly after we pass this area we move above the timberline. No trees grow in this area because just under the surface the ground remains frozen year-round. There is some vegetation, but it is limited to mosses, grasses and some wildflowers that have adapted to the harsh growing conditions.

We continue our climb. There is still a lot of snow on the mountain as you can see from this picture.

Finally, we reach the summit, we are at the top of Pikes Peak and here is the proof.

Well, we get to spend about 40 minutes at the top. We walk around taking picture and just trying to commit all of this wonder and beauty to memory. It is truly grand what God has created for us to enjoy. The Summit House is also located at the top. They have a lot to offer; food, beverages, oxygen bar, souvenirs, restrooms, oxygen bar, film (just in case you forgot to bring enough), cameras (just in case . . .), oxygen bar. Hey, I mean they have it all. By the way, although we did not partake of it, there was a line at the oxygen bar, looked like a real money maker for the city of Colorado Springs which owns the Summit House. Suddenly, we here the train horn sound, which we were told means the train will be leaving in 10 minutes. We once again hear the “All Aboard”. It is time to leave, our time at the top seems short, to short. We were told that you had to take the same train back down that you rode up, well there was only one train running, so duh. Also, it is a long walk back down so you really don’t want to miss it.

I did notice the effects of the altitude, but not as bad as one fellow that I talked to while at the top. He looked to be in his mid 30s and in good shape, but was huffing and puffing worse than I was. He sounded bad enough that I ask him if he were alright and he said he was. Then he explained that he lived on Key West in the Florida Keys and that his house was 8 feet above sea level. I understood, we were now at 14,110 feet and that was a huge change for him. Living in Atlanta it was a change, however not as much. Atlanta is the second highest major city in the US, second only to Denver. Denver is the capital of Colorado and the 15th step on the west side of the State Capitol Building is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level (just another tidbit of information for you). This is why Denver is often referred to as the mile-high city, but you probably already knew that. Anyway, my new friend makes it back to the train with no problem and we all start our decent.

As we start down the steeper section our conductor starts telling us about all of the safety features of our train. How the diesel engines are used to slow the train. How there are hydraulic brakes that can stop us and if these fail there is a pneumatic backup system. How if the train exceeds a certain speed all of these systems engage and will stop the train in something like 2 feet. He also explained how we didn’t want to be standing in the aisle if that happened. Train stops, man does not stop, man goes in water, sharks in water, whoa, wrong story. Train stops, man does not stop, man hits end of car at high rate of speed, man is hurt, made sense to me so I stayed in my seat. Anyway, he told us if everything failed that they had two large springs at the end of the track to catch us . . . Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs . . . it was funny at the time.

We make it back to the station just fine. It was cold at the top, remember those winter coats, well they worked really good and also made excellent cushions on the way up. Seat were wood with no padding, maybe Mr. Simmons wanted us to have a little of the same experience he had in the 1890s. We buy a couple of more things at the railroad gift shop, hey, come on we have grandkids. It is time to leave. One last picture . . .

. . . and we are on the road again. As always, The Adventure Continues . . .

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