When Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark northwest and Zebulon Pike south to survey the Louisiana Purchase, he could have never dreamed of the sights that lay in wait for these intrepid explorers. Nor could anyone have imagined the distances involved.
Leaving Missouri in the summer of 1806, leaving in summer garb for a roundtrip anticipated to take six months, Pike and his men had no notion that by Christmas they would be cold, starving, sockless, and plowing through waist-deep snow near present day Salida. The men suffered greatly. Two were left behind In Canon City. Two additional men were left behind just south of Westcliffe, and a fifth man was left just east of Medano Pass.
Noting a “small blue cloud” in his journal, Pike watched the cloud take on mass as he neared Pueblo, and on November 23 he headed north to see the mountain for himself. Pike had every intention of climbing to the summit, but the weather was not in his favor.
Pikes Peak is taller and steeper than Pike thought. It is bigger than I thought!
Sunday, August 9th, three founding members of the Silver Cliff/Westcliffe Ride the Rockies team, in the company of Kyle Pitman and Jim Remington, churned and burned their way up the mountain as participants in The Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb. Kyle rides for U.S. Military Endurance Sport. http://www.usmes.org . And Remington climbed last year as well as this year. Once was not enough!
Having never driven the 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway (paved in its entirety in 2011) I thought that it might be a good idea to drive to the summit prior to Sunday’s ride. Yes, we had a topographical map, but a piece of paper doesn’t bring the ups and downs – home to the bones. Mark drove; I sat in the passenger seat taking notes to correspond to the mile markers.
The starting line began at 9,390 feet – seven miles up from the toll road entrance. From the starting line, the goal was to cycle 12.4 miles up a road comprised of 156 turns and a grade of sometimes 10% to an elevation of 14,115 ft. This was not to be a climb for the faint-hearted. The switchbacks between the 12 and 16-mile markers were particularly challenging. Transcribing Mark’s comments, my notes include words like “eee-ah!” “Nasty” “Bloody Hell!” and “mother fuc*er – look at that!”
If you think about it, Zeb Pike’s projection that he could hack his way through the forest, reach the summit, and return within three days was probably over-reach. That said, where would we be without men of vision?
I recommend your reading Zebulon Pike’s journal of his trip. It is a fascinating first-hand account of the landscape and the men who braved the unknown to know it.