This post was updated on June 4, 2022, after the summit house construction was completed.
Perhaps this should be called The Slacker’s Guide to Activating Pikes Peak since I am going to describe the easy way to do a Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation on America’s Mountain. If you plan to hike up, you have my complete support but this post is not meant for you.
Pikes Peak (W0C/FR-004) is about 10 miles straight west of downtown Colorado Springs. See the Pikes Peak website for useful tourist information. At an elevation of 14,115 feet, the mountain towers over Colorado Springs and the other front-range cities. (You may see the elevation listed as 14,110 but it was revised upward in 2002 by the USGS.) This means that it has an excellent radio horizon to large populated areas. On VHF, it is possible to work stations in Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico. See VHF Distance From Pikes Peak and Pikes Peak to Mt Sneffels. On HF, you’ll do even better.
Access to the summit has three options: hike up, drive up via the Pikes Peak Highway or ride the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. Most people will probably choose the highway since the cog rail only gives you 30 to 40 minutes on the summit. (Normally, you return on the same train that takes you to the top. You can try to schedule two one-way trips but that is a challenge.)
After a few years of turmoil and construction, the summit of Pikes Peak is now back to operating normally but with some changes. The new summit house/visitors center is open and it is a beautiful new facility. The Cog Railway is also operational with brand new equipment. There is a new boardwalk that allows easy strolling on the summit and improved views near the edge of the summit.
Pikes Peak Highway
The highway is at a well-marked exit off Highway 24, west of Colorado Springs. There is a “toll” to use the highway (~$15 per person, check the Pikes Peak Highway website for the latest information and a $2 discount coupon.) Starting in 2022, you must have a reservation (2-hour window) to drive to the summit (roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day). The specifics are likely to change, so be sure to check the Drive Pikes Peak page for the latest updates.
The road is paved all of the way to the top and is usually in good shape. The only caution on driving up is that some people get freaked out by sections of the road that have steep drop-offs without guard rails. It is very safe, but some folks can’t handle it. The main caution driving down is to use low gear and stay off your brakes. There are plenty of signs reminding you to do this and during the summer there is a brake check station at Glen Cove where the rangers check the temperature of your brakes.
It takes about an hour to drive to the summit, assuming you don’t dawdle. It is best to drive up during the morning and avoid the afternoon thunderstorms.
On The Summit
The W0C Association Reference Manual (the SOTA rules for Colorado) used to suggest a “qualifying hike” of 100 vertical feet but this item has been removed from the manual. If you decide to do such a hike, I suggest you proceed down Barr Trail which is the main hiking trail coming up from the east side of the peak. Do not try to walk along the road, as the rangers will stop you. The trail starts on the east side of the summit house (towards Colorado Springs) and is marked with a sign. You have to cross over the cog rail tracks to get to it. (Please try to avoid getting run over by the train as it scares the tourists and makes a mess.)
The summit of Pikes is broad, flat and rocky, so pick out a spot away from the buildings for your SOTA adventure. There are quite a few radio transmitters on the peak so expect some interference. Since this is way above treeline, your antennas will have to be self-supporting. For VHF, giving a call on 146.52 MHz FM will usually get you a few contacts and sometimes a bit of a pileup. Be aware that on top of Pikes you are hearing everyone but they can’t always hear each other. It can get confusing. Another VHF simplex frequency worth trying is 146.58 MHz (The North America Adventure Frequency). On the HF bands, pray for good ionospheric conditions and do your normal SOTA thing.
Your body and your brain will likely be moving a little slower at 14,000 feet due to the lack of oxygen. Don’t be surprised if you have trouble deciphering and logging callsigns. Take it slow and monitor your physical condition on the peak.
Bring warm, layered clothes, even in the summer, since Pikes Peak can have arctic conditions any time of the year. Keep a close eye on the weather since thunderstorms are quite common during the summer months. Lightning is a very real danger, so abandon the peak before the storms arrive.
73, Bob K0NR