Ruthie Markwardt

Guest Writer

She is perhaps the most beloved lady on campus. The only thing more glorious than her mysterious face at sunrise is her golden glow at sunset.

Senior Grace Gahagan puts it best, stating, “She is an unspoken prayer.” When free from obligations of classes and clubs, we spend as much time with her as we can.

Senior Taryn Weins said, “She’s my anchor, visually, spatially, spiritually.”

But like most beautiful, aloof lovers, we know little about her past. How much do we really know about CC’s iconic fourteener, Pikes Peak?

Most remember the Lewis and Clark expedition sent to survey northwestern claims of the Louisiana Purchase. Few recall Lieutenant Zebulon Pike’s expedition to explore the southern regions. Exploring west from St. Louis along the Arkansas River, Lt. Pike reached modern-day Pueblo in late October of 1806. By mid-November, he became transfixed with a blue peak rising in the West. His journal reads:

“Saturday, 15th November… At two o’clock in the afternoon, I thought I could distinguish a mountain to our right, which appeared like a small blue cloud; viewed it with my spy glass, and was still more confirmed in my conjecture, yet only communicated it to Doctor Robinson… but in half an hour it appeared in full view before us. When our small party arrived on the hill, they with one accord gave three cheers to the Mexican mountains.”

Leaving most of his party behind, Lt. Pike set out to explore the peak with Dr. Robinson and two other men. Despite lacking winter clothing, gear, and food, Pike spent days trying to reach the peak of what he called the “Great Snow Mountain.” The party scaled 11,499-foot Mt. Rosa but never hiked any higher due to unpreparedness. Pike never set foot atop the mountain that now bears his name.

Long before Zebulon Pike ever traipsed about the snowy foothills in his summer clothes, the Ute Indians recognized the significance of this great mountain. Referred to as “Sun Mountain Sitting Big,” they believed the Great Spirit created the world at this location by pouring ice and snow through a hole in the sky. It is uncertain whether or not they summited the peak, but it is very likely some Ute did because the Ute often scaled mountains to trap eagles for their feathers.

The first recorded ascent of Pikes Peak was completed in summer 1820 by naturalist Dr. Edwin James and two other men. They summited on the afternoon of the second day of this venture and spent the night just below the summit without blankets or provisions.

Julia Archibald Holmes was the first woman to summit the peak in 1858. She remained on the summit for two days and was known as the “Bloomer Girl” for the bloomers she wore while climbing.

The first winter ascent of Pikes Peak was completed on Dec 31, 1922 by a party of five men, including Fred Barr, who established the Barr trail going up Pikes Peak. The men shot fireworks off from the summit and declared themselves the Frozen Five. They continued to climb the peak, adding a new member to the group each year changing their collective name to the AdAmAn club. After 1997, women were admitted into the club, and to this day the AdAmAn club still ushers in the New Year with fireworks on the Peak.

After the Homestead Act of 1862, early squatters could claim 160 acres for $1.25 an acre if they could live on and cultivate the land for three years. Many families chose to homestead on Ute Pass on the north side and the future location of the Cog Railway on the south side.

The Pikes Peak Cog Railway opened in 1891, bringing people from Manitou Springs to the summit for $5 – a hefty sum at the time. Today, the Cog Railway charges $36 per adult to reach the top and the Pikes Peak Highway charges $35 per car to do the same.

These developments have made attaining the magnificent peak possible for those without the fitness, skills, or desire to venture up the Barr trail. Considered “cheating” by some, these methods of summiting are controversial in the outdoor community.

Whether or not railroads, toll roads, or doughnut shops are justifiable at the peak of the Sun Mountain Sitting Big is unclear.

What is certain is that Pikes Peak, with her rolling Aspen forests and spectacular rock formations, is an iconic symbol of the Rocky Mountains with special allure. After reaching the top of Pikes Peak by carriage ride, Katherine Lee Bates wrote in her diary:

“We stood at last on the gate of heavens summit…and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse of mountain ranges and the sea-like sweep of plain.”

These sentiments later inspired Bates to pen the poem which is now the classic anthem, “America the Beautiful.” And who at CC has not experienced similar feelings of Pikes-inspired awe and inspiration? Elle Beckett, a senior, puts it best in her own poem, a haiku:

Standing tall above us

the mountain stands, beckoning,

hear her siren call.

Interested in learning more about Her Holiness Pikes Peak? Check out the sources used in this article: the Southwestern Journals of Zebulon Pike 1806-1807 (available in Tutt Library),, and

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