Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pikes Peak Peril

Of all the adventures on this summer’s road trip, the story of our drive up to the top of Pikes Peak deserves to be told.  So, it’s a bit past due, but here’s what happened on that Sunday afternoon at the end of July.

After we conquered Manitou Springs’ Incline and had a hearty breakfast at a buffet next to a stream, Rachel and I, Carrie, and Josh and Amanda drove to the base of the Pikes Peak road.  The ranger on duty at the toll booth warned us we’d be going through “some weather” and told us we would need our windshield wipers.  Amanda patted the windshield and assured her with a smile that we had good ones, and we were off.

The drive up the mountain is beautiful, with forests and meadows dotting the sides of the road and great views into the valleys below.  The first probably 12 miles up the peak were quite pleasant, with only a few clouds in the sky to hint at the “weather” we were bound to encounter.

Photo by Rachel Hix 

Sure enough, though, those clouds eventually turned to rain.  Thunder boomed ominously in the distance, and the sky darkened.  Soon tiny balls of hail dotted the windshield as well, and the clouds more or less blocked out our view as the storm got closer. 

Photo by Rachel Hix 

Still our car kept plodding along, Josh confident behind the wheel.  We watched the lightning flash on either side of us, the sounds of thunder following in quickening succession. 

The hail kept falling in tiny white balls the size of pinheads.  The hillsides became coated in white, and eventually the snow accumulated in the road.  As Josh rounded a corner and the car slipped a bit on the road below us, we made the wise decision to pull over when it was possible. 

Open the window...get an immediate
coating of little hail balls. 

Amanda reached out of the car and grabbed
a snow ball while we waited.

That spot on the shoulder of the road was ours for at least thirty minutes, if not closer to an hour.  We were less than 3 miles from the summit at that point, but there was still a climb ahead of us, and it was a slippery, snow covered climb that the little Corolla just might not be equipped to handle.  Going down would probably be no better, so we sat and waited out the storm. 

Photo by Rachel Hix 

It was rather entertaining watching the other cars.  Some trucks and SUVs zipped past us, passing slower vehicles on their way up.  One white van simply stopped in the middle of its lane, and would occasionally reverse a short distance down the road until another car came up behind it and had to pass.  Eventually a ranger arrived, got out of his truck, and walked the driver of the van through turning around to head back down the mountain.  Still, the van driver came to a bend in the road and once again simply stopped, causing traffic to pile up behind him as no one was able to pass him on the curve. 

White van stopping traffic.

As for us, we had just decided to try our luck heading down the mountain (as going up seemed the more dangerous option), when a snow plow passed us traveling up towards the summit.  We waited for it to come back down to where we were, then, assuming it had cleared the road, started up for the peak.  As we rounded our 2nd bend, however, we were confronted with a stretch of the road where it appeared the driver had either picked up his plow blade or simply hadn’t been able to clear the snow effectively.  We slid a bit, lost traction, and ultimately reached a point where the little car could go no farther.  So, with some careful maneuvering (it was difficult to tell where the shoulders of the road were at this point), we turned around and headed back down the mountain towards a place where it would be safe to pull over and wait again.

On the way, we passed a car stuck on the side of the road.  We pulled up beside him and asked if the driver needed some help.  He explained that he’d pulled over for the safety of the 2 kids he had in the backseat, but now there was a boulder in front of him—so he couldn’t pull out—and the tires just spun if he tried to back out.  So Josh hopped out of the car (in his sandals) and together he and the man pushed the rock out of the way and the guy was able to get his car onto the road again.  3 lives saved by us!  Well, really by Josh.  The rest of us just managed to wave at the kids in the backseat. 

So we pulled into our now familiar parking shoulder to wait, once again.  We watched 2 more snowplows pass and head up to the top of the mountain.  We flagged down the second one to ask if he was going all the way to the top.  He looked at us like it was a stupid question—but we’d just experienced an icy road left behind by a snowplow!  He said he was, and that they were keeping everyone at the summit because so many cars were sideways further down the mountain.  “Up” suddenly sounded even better to us, so we followed the plow all the way to the top.  Take 3, and we finally reached the summit of Pikes Peak. 

A-following the snowplow we go!
Photo by Rachel Hix

Photo by Rachel Hix

Of course, almost as soon as we got there, there was an announcement that the roads were now clear and it would be a good time to leave.  This was followed a few minutes later by a more urgent announcement, “People, you need to leave nooow.  There is a second cell moving in.  The roads are clear now and this is your window, so you need to go.”  So, we went.  We stopped just long enough for Amanda to grab 2 bags of donuts from the shop and to take a group photo by the Pikes Peak sign. 

On the way down, the roads were very clear, and snow was already melting and running down the hills.  We saw one more sports car in the ditch, but the driver of a pick-up truck was already in the process of going to help as we passed.  We rolled down the window and Amanda handed out our remaining donuts, telling the pick-up driver to give them to the guy whose car was stuck.  He, too, looked at us like we were a bit touched in the head…but hopefully he actually passed along the donuts as our goodwill gesture and the dude trusted that they weren’t scary poison donuts or something. 

Clear roads (and a bit of traffic) on the way down.
Photo by Rachel Hix

So, our trip was not quite what we expected.  The view from the top was not as clear or picturesque as you might imagine. But it was most certainly a memorable experience, and all ended well. 

Photo by Rachel Hix 

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