How to get very high, and it’s totally legal - guaranteed
By John Toth
I am so high.
I’ve got to watch it because I am getting light-headed. It’s getting harder to breathe. My lungs are working overtime.
But it feels pretty good being this high.
I’m exactly 14,110 feet above sea level on top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. It’s cold up here, but pretty when the clouds clear. There is snow covering the summit, virgin snow on which I must trample to have my picture taken.
I am wondering why it’s not called “Pike’s Peak,” since it’s named after United States Army Captain Zebulon Pike, Jr., who led an expedition to the mountain but failed to climb to the summit in 1806.
If you are going to name something after someone, it should be possessive, but back in those days, who cared (or these days)? They were probably just glad that Pike decided not to hike to the top. Someone else did 14 years later, but it’s still called Pikes Peak, maybe because Pike saw it first – from a distance.
Pike was right about both. The peak is 8,000 feet above Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, and most of the time it is cold up here.
My wife, Sharon, and I agree, though, that this a healthy way to get really high.
Too many high puns? Don’t blame me. The people who promote this area started it. One T-shirt I was looking at said: “You never thought getting this high would be legal.” Corny, but funny.
OK. No more high jokes. I am developing an altitude, I mean … you know. I couldn’t resist.
This is my third time up here. The first time I came with my daughter, Stephanie. We rode the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which was quite a treat. The college kid who entertained and informed us while the train was climbing the mountain was very good.
“By the way,” he said. “There is no smoking in the railroad car. But once we get up there, you can smoke all you want. Most of us are just glad that we can still breathe.”
This line stuck in my mind. I hope the kid studied stand-up comedy, if they have a college class like that. If he did, he may also want to find another profession that pays.
The next time I drove up the mountain in a convertible, also with my daughter. It was neat to see all around us as the tree line receded and nothing remained but rocks and this narrow road with a big drop next to it.
This time I drove a regular car up here. This place never gets old. There is always something different on top.
For example, I don’t see anyone wearing an oxygen mask in the Summit House, a snack bar and gift shop.
But a ranger sitting at the table next to ours says there have been three so far today. The oxygen is free. That’s about the only thing up here that is free.
“Your lungs are getting half the oxygen they get below,” he says. “You have to get used to it.”
My lungs are complaining, but I’m OK. I’m pacing myself up here, sitting at the table drinking coffee, talking to people.
Several people are walking in, looking like they just finished hiking up here. It took them from 7:30 a.m. to about 2:30 p.m. to complete the hike, one of the women tells me. Not bad, I can probably do that. I hiked Mt. Washington in New Hampshire when I was younger – much younger.
However, Mt. Washington is only 6,288 feet above sea level. Compared to this thing, that’s just a hill.
I’m outside again, messing in the snow, but it’s cold and windy. This is the way I like snow: Go up the mountain, enjoy it, then come back down to nice weather – done for the year.