COBWEB CORNERS: Pikes Peak: Tall tales
By Mel McFarland
OK, here is one about Pike's Peak. Do you know how tall it is? Now wait, they recently remeasured it. The signs all say 14,110, but soon new ones will say 14,115. The new measurements come from using satellites to measure it, like GPS. All the time I get questions about how tall it is. Usually someone has a little GPS unit in their hand, to see if I will say what they get.
Two hundred years ago, Pike thought it was about 18,000 feet high, but he really did not have a good way of checking. A hundred years ago they thought it was 14,147. There was also a measurement of 14,139 that was popularly used. A new measurement in 1907 put it at 14,107, then it was changed another foot higher, then another and 14,109 was used for almost forty years. In the 1940's they added another foot. The joke was told that in all of these cases, the reason for the changes were merely adjustments to the rock pile at the top of the mountain. Actually the highest point on a rock up there is not where the measurement is done. It is on the ground underneath it.
Years ago there were a series of little buildings where you could see the summit marker, and, oh yes, there is a real US Geological Society marker up there. Most of the time it is buried under snow. The little buildings either deteriorated from the weather, or got smashed when tourists ran into them, but it seems from pictures of them, not one was where the present marker is located.
The weather station up there was built by the Army in 1873. In 1891, when the railroad reached the top, they rebuilt the building into their summit house. The soldiers used a trail that roughly follows the railroad. A wagon road was started up from here in the 1880s, but the road up from Cascade, built a couple of years later, proved to be the popular route. It was rebuilt by Spencer Penrose, who built the road's summit house about a hundred years ago. The two summit houses survived in competition until the 1950s, when both had fires. A new summit house was built to serve both, and is still in use. A modern plan was developed a few years ago, but has never been implemented. The funds for it are going into paving the road. The USGS marker is over near where the old highway summit house stood. This is also near the finish line for the Pike's Peak Hill Climb.