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11.16.2006 - 24 comments 

This was the first time I had ever been to Pikes peak and everyone suggested we go to Manitou Springs, Colorado and take the Cog Railway up to the top. The ride took about an hour to get up there with beautiful vistas all along the route.

As you can see from this picture, we are about to pass another COG Railway car. There are several sidings on the way up for the cog cars to be able to pass beside each other. This one ahead of us had just pulled over to let us pass on our way up to the top of Pikes Peak.

Pikes Peak is named for Zebulon Pike, an early explorer of the Southwest. Lieutenant (later General) Pike first sighted what he termed the "Great Peak" in mid-November of 1806. A few days later, he attempted to climb it with a small band of men. Heavy snows in the 10,000 foot area turned his party back. He estimated the mountain's height at over 18,000 feet (he was only 4000 feet off!) and is said to have claimed that it might never be climbed. However, a botanist who climbed many peaks in Colorado, Edwin James, did ascend the mountain in 1820. By the mid-1800's, a trail was well established to the top, and the first woman, Julia Holmes, climbed the peak in 1858.

Pikes Peak is named for Zebulon Pike, an early explorer of the Southwest. Lieutenant (later General) Pike first sighted what he termed the "Great Peak" in mid-November of 1806. A few days later, he attempted to climb it with a small band of men. Heavy snows in the 10,000 foot area turned his party back. He estimated the mountain's height at over 18,000 feet (he was only 4000 feet off!) and is said to have claimed that it might never be climbed. However, a botanist who climbed many peaks in Colorado, Edwin James, did ascend the mountain in 1820. By the mid-1800's, a trail was well established to the top, and the first woman, Julia Holmes, climbed the peak in 1858.

Some interesting Tidbits: ~ Pikes Peak IS NOT the highest mountain in Colorado. It is 31st out of the 54 mountains in the state over 14,000 feet, the highest being Mt. Elbert at 14,433 feet.

~ When traveling up Pikes Peak (or any mountain) ascending 1000 feet is like traveling 600 miles to the north. The temperature drops about 3.5 degrees, and different life zones are experienced. So, in general, the top of the Peak is 30 degrees colder than at the station in Manitou.

So what is a COG Railway and what is so special about it? Well, Conventional railroads use the friction of wheels upon the rails, called "adhesion", to provide locomotive power. A cog, or rack, railroad uses a gear, "cog wheel", meshing into a special rack rail (mounted in the middle between the outer rails) to climb much steeper grades than those possible with a standard adhesion railroad. An adhesion railroad can only climb grades of 4 to 6%, with very short sections of up to 9%. A "rack" railroad can climb grades of up to 48%, depending upon the type of rack system employed. Some Swiss trains use a combination of "rack" and "adhesion". This enables the trains to reach much higher speeds on the adhesion sections (rack railroads can not go much faster than 25 miles per hour or they run the risk of dislodgement from the rack rail- M & PP Ry.'s top speed is about 9 MPH).

The first cog (or "rack") railway was built in New Hampshire in 1869, but the Swiss were quick to make use of this technology, and numerous rack railways were built there. Indeed, Switzerland is still the country where most rack railways are located. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway is, however, the highest rack railway in the world as well as the highest railway in North America and the Northern Hemisphere. The M&PP Ry. has a perfect safety record!
The Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway uses the Abt rack system. The maximum grades are 25%, which is about the upper limit for the Abt system. Many rack railroads use the Riggenbach system, also called "ladder rack".

The steepest cog railway in the world is the Mt. Pilatus Railway in Lucerne, Switzerland. It uses the Locher rack system to climb grades of 48% !

When we finally made it to the top, we got off and had donuts and hot cocoa. I even bought the cup because it said something on it like "best donuts at this elevation on earth" or something like that. The views on the way up were awesome. We started off and returned on the Cog Railway car back down to Manitou Springs (which itself) was a fun little tourist town. It reminded me of stepping back into the 1960's a little.

One more interesting tidbit about Pikes Peak ~ We owe the inspiration for the lyrics of the beloved song, "America the Beautiful " to the stunning vistas from the summit of Pikes Peak. It was the summer of 1893, and Katharine Lee Bates, a professor of English at Wellesley College, was in Colorado Springs to teach a summer session at Colorado College. On July 22, Katharine, along with several others of the visiting faculty, took a trip in a carriage to the summit of Pikes Peak. Horses got them to the halfway point, and, as was customary, a team of mules finished the climb to the 14,110 foot summit. Because altitude sickness affected one of the party, they only stayed on the summit for a half hour, but the brief experience was enough inspire a poem which was later put to music and is now one of the most honored of hymns about America.

"An erect, decorous group, we stood at last on that Gate-of-Heaven summit...and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse of mountain ranges and sea like sweep of plain. Then and there the opening lines of 'America the Beautiful' sprang into being." ..... "I wrote the entire song on my return that evening to Colorado Springs." ~ Katharine Lee Bates (author of "America the Beautiful) Posted by Picasa