4. Climbing Colorado's Fourteeners
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14,000 foot peaks and its even more numerous high 13,000 foot peaks have
always been a magnet for the Mountaineers. They provide great weekend
hiking, climbing, snowshoeing, skiing, or (nowadays) running
destinations for those seeking exercise, adventure, and fabulous
mountain views. Most of the southern and central peaks in Colorado are,
fortunately, accessible to the Mountaineers via weekend trips.
Trips to the Colorado Fourteeners began in the 1950's, at the same time
that the Mountaineers' club was being formed. Outdoor enthusiasts from
Los Alamos began to drive up to Colorado to club the high peaks, either
as private groups or as small club trips.
Charles Mader was a Los Alamos
scientist who enjoyed climbing Fourteeners, starting with Blanca Peak in
1954 when he was a summer student at the Lab. Chuck climbed with many
Club members, including names mentioned earlier in this history: Emily
Wilbanks, George Bell, Gene Tate, Liz Gittings Marshall, Tom Stephenson,
Ken Ewing, and Marvin Tinkle. Chuck recalls that "Most people who came
to town were single. It was considered risque for a single woman to join
a group of men for a climbing trip. A youth group was formed at the
Methodist Church and by 1960, 50 couples were married, none ever
What was it like to climb Fourteeners in the 1950's? Chuck Mader says
that "The main hazard was the long drives, no speed limits in those
days. We would pile into a big sedan for the drive up to Colorado. Then
we could rent old WWII jeeps at most service stations. Everything was
open -- there were no wilderness areas, and lots of mines were still
running. Usually one could drive to timberline. We usually climbed using
a motel as a base. In those days the packs were painful, no waist
straps, so it was better to do most of the peaks as day hikes even if it
meant long days."
Maps were terrible in those days, and it could take several trips to
find a way up a mountain. Many peaks were still being surveyed. The
peaks often had lights with batteries on top, to help surveyors take
readings at night. Many peaks still had the original registers. The list
of Fourteeners was still in flux, and the "hundred highest" wasn't even
a concept. Chuck climbed Mt. Stewart and Grizzly peak before they were
demoted from the Fourteener list. He finished by climbing Snowmass in
1959, but later did Holy Cross and Ellingwood when they were added to
the list. His climbing slides are available
and also in the Colorado Mountain Club library archives.
Chuck recalls that the club's most experienced mountaineers had some
disdain for doing Fourteeners. They called most of them "anthills," or "Maderhorns."
Chuck did the Mt. Wilson - El Diente traverse on a trip with George
Bell, who had lost two toes on K-2. George kept asking, " do you STILL
want to be roped up"?
1. Charles Mader on top of the Crestone Needle
Chuck Mader's friend Ed
Williamson wrote a novel called "Durango Light," which featured a
character Buck based on Chuck Mader. The novel is set in Durango and
describes life, love, and other adventures in Durango, including climbs
of Jupiter, Windom, Sunlight, and Mt. Eolus. Figure 1 is the photograph
of Chuck Mader used on the cover of the book, which was taken in 1959 on
top of the Crestone Needle. The group had just finished the rescue of a
couple of climbers who had spent the night on a ledge on the Ellingwood
Arete after having lost their rope. The photograph of Chuck (above) was taken by
one of the rescued climbers.
Chuck Mader climbed Little Bear in August 1955 with Ken Ewing on a trip
led by Tom Newton. Later Ken Ewing, Dave Brown, and Don Liska led
beginner rock climbing parties on the Little Bear - Blanca traverse. Ken
also recalls climbing in Colorado with George Bell and Bob Thorne. These
early trips led to the formulation of the Club's "Articles of War" (the
trip rules), which were read annually at one of the meetings. These trip
rules included, "the local leader is in charge of all the people on the
trip," and "other members of the party can't leave the trip until
everyone is done."
Lou Horak recalls that his first club trip, led by Ken Ewing, was
Capitol Peak in July 1971. Indeed, Mountaineers trips to the Fourteeners
have been one of the most popular introductions to club activities for
many new members. Although some of the well-known Fourteeners have
technical routes, most are easy walks or scrambles and provide a good
introduction to mountaineering as well as a great way to get to know
Colorado. Many of the more moderate peaks are suitable for family
outings and provide an opportunity to introduce kids to the mountains.
2. Don Liska leading the club's July 1978 Blanca-Little Bear traverse
(Bob Cowan photo).
Don Liska recalls that
some club climbers used to go into New York basin with Ernie Anderson
and George Bell. "These were small scheduled LAMC outings. In the 1960's
this was very wild terrain and most climbers only went to Chicago Basin.
There was no trail and a lot of heavy side-hilling and bushwhacking to
get in there. Inside the basin were Pigeon Peak and Turret. Pigeon is
13972', the finest peak in the Ruby Range, fortunately 28' short of
being a 14'er which saves it from the crowds. Of course you could also
climb Eolus from New York basin but few people bothered since Chicago
Basin was so popular. During one of our climbs on Pigeon the rappel rope
jammed and I had to do a hand-over-hand to retrieve it. It was a
dangerous and foolish thing to do since had it come loose I would have
been killed. Pigeon was a fine technical climb and to protect the
approach to New York Basin we always swept our tracks clean with a
branch when we returned to the much used Chicago Basin trail. This
seemed to work for years as we always had the place to ourselves."
Ginny Bell and George Bell, Jr. described a memorable club trip in 1970,
when George Bell, Sr. led a group into Chicago Basin in the San Juans.
"A 100 year storm hit, and it rained straight for 4 days. We were camped
safely above the stream, but as the water got higher and higher we could
see tree trunks coming down the streambed. We could hear loud cracks, as
sections of the mountains' slopes let go, and sent mud avalanches
roaring down the hillsides." One loud crack seemed to come from above
their camp, so they ran out of their tent, with George Bell grabbing the
kids. Fortunately the mud avalanche came down the next gully over from
the one they were camped at . . . . So we never even got above
timberline, but we had to use a rope to get the party back across the
mudslide on the way out. When we hiked out to Needleton, the train
tracks had all washed out. Fortunately the bridge was still in, so we
were able to cross to the west side of the river. We had to walk out all
the way to Silverton, occasionally contouring along the slope to get
past places where the tracks just disappeared into the river for a few
hundred feet. They had to rebuild the tracks." The next year, Ernie
Anderson led a club trip back to the same area, but via the Lime Mesa
road, because the railroad was not yet back in operation.
Mario Schillaci learned how to backpack food on a trip that Don Liska
led to the Wind Rivers in the 1970's, when some of the climbers did East
Temple Peak. This was one of Mario's first trips with Don and Alice, and
when they finally got to camp, he was very tired from the long
exhausting approach. As the rest of the party sat down to heat their
freeze-dried dinners, Don emptied his pack onto the ground. Out came a
bunch of whole potatoes and onions! Don also had some cans of oyster
stew, and so the Liskas had a fine stew for dinner -- no freeze-dried
food for them. Later, on a 1980 club trip to Arrow and Vestal peaks, it
was Mario who found a fresh supply of food -- some big mushrooms growing
near camp. He told Don about them, so Don ran off and filled a big bag
with them. Then they got out the stove, found some butter, and began to
fry up a huge tasty snack. But Norbert stayed away, and wouldn't have
any. With a serious look on his face, he said "You're all going to die!"
Sure enough, a few hours later, while the group was lounging around the
camp, there came a scream of pain from the meadow. Don fell to the
ground, writhing around, yelling "Norbert, you were right! Those
mushrooms were poisonous!" It was a great performance, and everyone
Don Liska also started winter climbing (or at least climbs under winter
conditions) on some of the most rugged of the Fourteeners. "As club
trips we always did the Red Gully on Crestone Peak under winter
conditions. Some trips were successful, and at other times the party had
to turn back because of avalanche conditions in the gully. As non-club
trips we did early season ascents of Kit Carson, Crestone Needle and
Crestone Peak. The Crestone Peak trip was especially rugged, on
snowshoes all the way." Mario Schillaci recalls that he was the
first to propose the approach to Kit Carson from the west via Spanish
Creek. This approach is a slog down low, but is the easiest way to the
summit after leaving camp. Mario, Don Liska, Larry Dauelsberg, Larry
Campbell, and Carl Keller climbed Kit Carson via the snow couloir, after
fortifying themselves the night before in the tent by smoking cigars and
In the late 1970's or early 1980's, Mario did a winter climb of the
Crestone Needle in February with Don Liska and Tom King. While they were
on the climb, Don's McKinley tent blew away, but Tom managed to find it.
This was the first club winter ascent of the Needle. They contoured
around to the notch, avoiding the direct steeper approach from below.
This may have made the climb somewhat easier or safer if there was heavy
snow, versus the approach from directly below. In the 1990's, Gregg Brickner continued this
tradition with a series of annual winter attempts on Crestone Needle,
but most years, bad weather or poor snow conditions prevented the party from
reaching the summit. One memorable consolation prize was a midnight
moonlight ascent of nearby Humboldt Peak. This long-running melodrama
finally ended with the fifth installment: "V. Crestone Needle - The
Other technical or semi-technical club trips to the Fourteeners included
ascents of Capitol Peak via the Knife edge, ascents of Crestone Needle
via the Ellingwood Arete, and early climbs on Longs Peak via Stettner's
Ledges. A popular camping destination over the years was the Playground
of the Bears above the town of Crestone, which provided good access for
climbs of Kit Carson Peak via The Prow or Crestone Peak via the Red
Gully. More recently, two of the club's top rock climbers, Sam Gardiner
and Roger Rumsey have separately done climbs of Longs Peak via 5.10
routes on the Diamond. Regrettably, the most rugged of the Colorado
Fourteeners -- the Maroon Bells, Blanca Peak, Capitol Peak, and the
Crestones -- have also been the scene of a number of club accidents over
the years, as described elsewhere in this history.
3. The knife-edge on Capitol Peak. The climbing party included Bob
Jim Breedlove, Mark Felthauser, Henry Lacquer, Don Durack,and Sam Freund
(Bob Cowan photo, July 1978).
Dave and Faye Brown
came to Los Alamos in 1967 and may be the oldest club members still
climbing Fourteeners. Some of their recent climbs have been 2-day trips,
so that the approach times and elevation gains can be more spread out.
The Browns also enjoy climbing the high Thirteeners, which are less
crowded and often provide more interesting route-finding situations.
They recall that the Mountaineers brought them some wonderful trips.
When they got to where they couldn't backpack anymore, they really
appreciated going on some of the llama or horse trips that
Bill Priedhorsky led in canyon country.
4. Faye and Dave Brown with their son Nicholas on Humboldt Peak
(Bob Cowan photo, June 1973).
For many members of the
Mountaineers, climbing Fourteeners or high Thirteeners is an ongoing
activity that provides a great opportunity for visiting Colorado,
getting in shape, enjoying the mountain scenery, and meeting other
climbers. Many club members have climbed all 54 Fourteeners, beginning
with Charles Mader, who was the 65th person to do them all. Others
Bob Cowan (the 234th, see
article), Gene Tate (the 249th), David Brown (the 250th),
Harry Hoyt (the 283rd), Len Margolin,
Gary and Lynn Clark, Norbert Ensslin (almost,
Bill Geist, and
Jason Halladay. Faye Brown has done over 45 of the Fourteeners, including a "women's section" climb of Mt. Elbert with
Elizabeth Kelley, Leslie Champ, and others in June 1981. Barry Smith and
David Rogers are among those who have climbed the 100 highest peaks in
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