COBWEB CORNERS: The old Pikes Peak weather observers
By Mel McFarland
I have told a few of the tales of Sgt. O'Keefe, the rascal who told tall tales about his experiences on Pikes Peak as part of the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army in the late 1800s.
Here is a tale, much less exciting, of a day on the mountain from the point of view of a soldier who was up there before O'Keefe. Even this story drew people to walk up the mountain to see if it was all true. Sergeant Choate shared these experiences with a Methodist Church group in Colorado Springs a couple of years after the weather station opened.
The day started with the sun peeking up over the distant horizon, but the first job of the observers was to note what the weather was doing in a full circle around the mountain. The hike around the summit to record these views was often difficult due to their assignment. The wind, snow and rain often made the task impossible or dangerous.
All of the supplies come up with the men, as there was no other way. Eventually the supplies were packed onto burros, but they were difficult to care for. Refrigeration was taken care of by Mother Nature - often more of a curse than a benefit.
Cooking was a skill to be learned. Times had to be increased, as water boiled at about 170 degrees. Beans and potatoes took forever and other meals were just as difficult. The fire itself took hours of work. On good days, wood could be gathered from way down on the mountain,. On the bad days, no one wanted to be outside.
Three times a day the soldiers sent a list of weather observation to the outside world: 5:42 am, 2:45 and 7 pm. In addition, readings were taken and recorded at three other times. The Army had several hundred of these weather stations spread all over the country. The men's spare time was spent cleaning, searching for wood, and reading. The crew rotated such that one man had time off for several days, and four others waited nearly two weeks for those days.
In the winter the trip could be brutal. Two of the days off were often spent coming and going. There was a shelter at Lake Moraine where they could rest before making the final portion.
Once the curious learned of the station, the boys enjoyed visitors to break the monotony. The station lasted some 10 years!