ACTIVE LIFE | October 1, 2021 | Tia Vierling | Photo courtesy of the author
Cold prickled along any bare skin in the early-morning air as we rustled out of our tents, shoveling food into our mouths as we shivered under our layers. Around us, the campground was silent; it was just past four in the morning, early enough that headlamps and moonlight were required for us to see. It was before dawn, and the mountain rose steady behind us.
Pikes Peak, or Tava, is a familiar sight on Colorado College’s campus. Students looking to the west on the way to class – or, for a lucky few, through their dorm windows in the morning – catch a glimpse of the mountain. Tava presents a breathtaking image, often outlined against clear blue sky.
Just as much as Tava provides a gorgeous view, it also offers plenty of ways to get active and outdoors. Hiking up the mountain, which clocks in as one of Colorado’s famous fourteeners at 14,115 feet, is a way to drink in its natural beauty and get active at the same time. Regardless of the side of the mountain hikers find themselves on, they should bring plenty of food, water, and warm clothing (for the chilling winds at the summit) if making a summit bid. Likewise, hikers should be aware of the potential effects of altitude sickness.
For the intrepid hikers who want to attempt the mountain in a single day, the best option is the trail via Crags Campground and Devil’s Playground, winding up the western side of Tava for a complete hike of about fourteen miles. Those who choose this path finish their summit journey at a daunting boulder field before reaching the top (and the donuts at the gift shop that await there).
Those who wish to take a longer route up the eastern side of Tava may opt for the Barr Trail, which begins in Manitou Springs and provides a hike of around 26 miles round trip to reach the summit and return. The elevation and terrain of the trail make for a challenge even for advanced hikers, and, like the western hike, it can be rough on hikers’ knees when they pick their way back down. Those wanting to spread the hike between days have the option of overnight camping.
Hikers be warned, As fall weather and the winter months roll in, hiking Tava gets more treacherous, with snow and ice covering sections of the trail, especially near the summit. Know the conditions you are likely to encounter and plan accordingly.
Hiking, however, isn’t for everyone, and Tava is accessible through alternate routes as well. One of the most unique ways to reach the summit is via the Cog Railway. The “rack” or cog railroad system allows this special train to ascend at steep grades. The Railway provides an hours-long option to ascend the mountain, letting riders catch stunning views on their way up (and down).
Closed in 2017 for infrastructure issues, the railway has been completely re–done and just reopened in May, 2021. The Railway’s presence on the mountain since 1891 makes it a familiar feature and option for reaching the peak – bonus points, it’s the highest cog railway in the world.
Those wanting to reach the summit another way can drive 19 miles up the Pikes Peak Highway, taking their own vehicles to putter towards the top. Be prepared to pay around $50 to take your vehicle up the mountain.
Whether carried there by railway, car, or legs, visitors can enjoy Tava’s new Summit View House, a project in the works since 2018 and finished just this year. Overlooking Tava’s majestic views – and fully ADA compliant – the View House provides exhibits on Tava for those interested in the history of the mountain they have just ascended. Plus, fresh donuts are still being served at the Summit House (a tradition since about 1888) – the only donuts produced at 14,000 feet anywhere in the world.
The many ways to engage with Tava make it one of Colorado’s most accessible Fourteeners, though when it comes to costs associated with ascending the mountain, questions of access still arise. Still, Tava will continue to be a central focus of campus life and provide a way to engage with the outdoors well into the future of CC.