The top, fortunately for us all, is highly accessible. Few peaks anywhere on Earth are beloved by their respective hiking communities the way Pikes Peak is by Coloradans, but you can also drive there or -- most of the time, anyway -- take the train. Since 1891, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway has dutifully, and rather romantically, carried visitors to the top. I can remember riding it up to the summit with my mom when I was a kid, watching our ascent until the fog got so thick it disappeared all the trees. In early 2019, the train closed for renovations; it’ll be back in 2021.
The Pikes Peak Summit House is beloved -- because of the donuts, of course, but more broadly because of what the donuts encapsulate to the people who go there to get them. Coloradans are an outdoorsy lot in general, and the mountain and its summit are imbued with personality, history, and character. Most mountain summit outposts, national park visitors centers, gift shops, and that sort of thing are nondescript and interchangeable. The Pikes Peak Summit House inhabits rarified air not just in the literal sense but in that it’s essentially a franchise location that’s become more than the sum of its parts, like when you stumble upon a gas station or a fast-food outpost that’s special in some way specific to that location. There are 54 14ers in Colorado; only one of them has a credit card machine.
Due to its continued popularity and ability to draw in tourism, the Summit House is now in the midst of the highest-altitude construction project in North America. The donuts, thankfully, are still being served without interruption.
It’s worth noting that the donuts only come out perfectly when the temperature is just so. The hotter it gets outside, the more likely errant donuts are to veer toward too flat or too fluffy, rather than just right. As the planet gets warmer, the donuts will get mushier. The Donut Robot may have an unknown, but finite, number of perfect donuts that it will spit out before the mountain air is no longer brisk enough to sustain them, at least not in their highest form. Collectively, though, it’s not too late for us to save them.