Are the doughnuts on Pikes Peak tremendous or terrible?

Yesterday brought not only my first trip to the top of the Peak — this after living in Colorado Springs my entire life — but my first taste of its “world famous donuts,” as a large sign on the Summit House calls them. (Pro tip: Great view of the changing aspens from the Cog.)

And of course they are pretty famous. I know them as a bedrock of local Peak lore, but a Google search brings back 80,000 results, with another 20,000 hitting on “recipe.”

Doughnuts of one form or another have been sold on the mountain for around 125 years. “The Army abandoned its weather station in 1888,” Dave Philipps writes in 2013. “It was taken over by the mayor of Manitou Springs, who started selling doughnuts and coffee to tourists.”

Reporting from the Peak  in 2010, KRCC and The Big Something discovered some 3,500 people will hit the Summit House on a busy day, and they’re all looking for fried satisfaction.

“It’s only going to work up here,” says then-kitchen-manager Rebecca Beeston of the recipe. “Even if you take it down a couple thousand feet, the recipe will not work.

“They’re high-altitude [cake] doughnuts — they can only be made above 14,000 feet. … We just make high-altitude adjustments to the recipe. And of course we do have our secret ingredient, which we can’t reveal, sorry.”

Maybe the secret ingredient is oil, because my first experience with the 99 cent beauties, piled high in a cramped cafeteria staffed by the overworked, was the slick sheen of the fryer, coating my fingers and soaking the wrapper.

Then I took a bite.

The taste wasn’t exactly dessert and it wasn’t exactly dinner. It was compelling and confusing. I didn’t know if I wanted to combine it with coffee or saag paneer. It’s a crumbly, crunchy experience, but there’s a soft, steamy interior just waiting to make you ask, “Is that spice cake I taste?” I didn’t immediately want another bite, but then watched with some chagrin as my wife finished it off.

Are they good or bad? Thin and overdone, or multi-faceted and artisanal? Doughnut or dipping bread? You tell me. I’m just glad now I know … something.

[Image: Bryce Crawford]