How Tall Is Pike's Peak?


September 11, 2019

I get this question often, but what is the right answer? Pike thought it was 18,000 feet tall. Well not really, but the measurements given over the years have gotten lower. So let us take some time to look at this.

If you remember your basic geometry, if you know the height of two objects, and the distances apart, you can figure the height of the third. As surveyors got further and further from their starting points, any errors just grew. Back in the 1880's they thought it was about 14,200 feet. It was a short time later defined as 14,147 feet. The United States Geological Society gave it a height of 14,109 in 1913. The running joke in Colorado Springs became,"It is because all those tourists took rocks home with them." Actually it was just more accurate measuring. One newspaper story blamed the shoe leather wear from the many tourists who rode on the cog railway. It was suggested that perhaps the railway ought to haul a few thousand loads of replacement rocks.

The cog railroad has never had freight cars, so just how they would get them up there was a puzzle. Actually every year they haul a lot of rocks and gravel up to the top. They fill in holes caused by erosion from melting snow and rain by hauling up rock from lower on the mountain. The mountain would certainly have taken on a strange look if they had tried to get it back up to 14,147. It would have pointed the flat top.

In the 1940's the measurement was raised to 14,110. The joke was that they had hauled up some rocks to even it out! A few years ago 14,115 was announced, using GPS measurements. A few signs, and trinkets now show the new altitude, but the signs on top where all the tourists stand still says 14,110. That brings up another question. I have seen several locations for the actual summit. Over the years there must have been a couple dozen spots identified as the true summit. Some were signs, a couple were structures made of stones. I know a couple of these were destroyed when spring snow was plowed out of the parking lot! There is a USGS medallion in the rocks not far from the site of the old highway summit house. Oh yes there have been several different summit houses. From 1916 until about 1960 there were two, one for the highway, one for the railway! After fires in them they combined the summit houses, which is now being replaced.

Now that they are building the new summit house, they had to dig a deep hole. The rock had to go somewhere! I bet if they measure it now it is more like 14,120 or more! They are filling in part of the hole, but the summit is going to change. Will the height change again?

me up to the same top?"


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