Colorado climbing pioneers to get their due
Rivaling proposals to name Colorado mountains after Carl Blaurock and William Ervin, who in 1923 became the first to climb all of the state’s 14,000-foot mountains, are headed before the U.S. Board of Geographic Names.
One set of proposals is for a pair of peaks in the Sawatch Range, southwest of Leadville, and the competing proposal is for twin summits in the San Juan Mountains near Lake City.
Blaurock and Ervin, who were frequent climbing companions, in 1923 completed climbs of the 46 peaks that were then thought to be above 14,000 feet. Because of new surveys and other considerations, the figure is now generally considered to be 54.
What all concede is that climbing mountains 80 years ago was much more difficult than today. There was no Interstate 70 to whistle up on Friday evenings, and clothing was scratchy wool recycled from World War I.
Instead of down coats and wind-shielding synthetic fabrics, climbers used newspapers for insulation.
For Arvada resident Lowell Forbes, trying to get something named after Blaurock has been an eight-year effort. He had never even heard of Blaurock, much less met him, until about a month before Blaurock died in 1993 at the age of 99. But when invited to meet the mountaineering legend, he was broadly impressed.
“His hearing was shot, but his mind was sharper,” recalls Forbes, who has completed 50 of the fourteeners. “There are very few people you meet in life who are, as they say, larger than life. He was among them. After I met him, the more I read about him and his accomplishments, it was just logical that a mountain be named after him. I was surprised nobody had tried to do so before.”
Forbes first settled on a 13,000-foot peak south of Beaver Creek, next to the mountain named after pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson. Because Jackson and Blaurock had some association, Forbes thought the adjoining peak was logical. His campaign to get the peak named, however, was not.
In its criteria for naming of geographic features, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names calls for evidence of local support. Forbes interpreted “local” to mean Denver, and got letters of support from everybody from Denver U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder to the Coors Brewing Co. Belatedly, he went to the commissioners of Eagle County, where the peak is located, and to the local Forest Service ranger in Minturn. Neither lent support.
Pivotal was the peak’s location within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. Federal guidelines for naming geographic features require a compelling safety, educational or administrative reason for naming wilderness geography.
For example, rescue personnel must testify that having a peak named would aid them in their work. Forbes had no such testimony.
Meanwhile, another Colorado peak-bagger had other thoughts. Woody Smith had become aware of Blaurock by reading a book soon after he moved to Vail in 1989. After completing the fourteeners in 1997, Smith then set out to knock off the state’s 100 highest. In 1999, soon after completing climbs of peaks 90 and 99, both unnamed, his idea crystallized.
Both Ervin and Blaurock should be honored, he decided, with peaks that are in the state’s 100 highest, as it will give them broader recognition to new generations of peak-baggers. A major strike against his proposal, concedes Smith, who is now a property manager in Denver, is that it’s located inside the Red Clouds Wilderness Study Area. He argues that the stature of the two climbers deserves comparably lofty designation in peaks of 13,832 feet and 13,811 feet respectively.
“These two guys are unique, and not just in Colorado history, but in world history,” says Smith, with the full enthusiasm of a hiker immersed in mountaineering history.
Lyndon Lampert, a former Lake City mayor, endorses Smith’s proposed peaks, which are near Lake City.
“They are greater partners, the two peaks, just as the guys were when they climbed, and at almost the same elevation,” says Lampert, who co-authored the first mass-marketed climbing guide to the fourteeners. That book, “A Climbing Guide to Colorado’s Fourteeners,” was first published in 1978.
Lampert disagrees with the guidelines that discourage new names on wilderness features. The peaks are highly visible from roads, and nearby peaks have been named for at least 100 years, he says. “Sticking a name on the map doesn’t affect the appearance of the peak or the character of the land,” he maintains.
However, Bob Malcom, the regional geographic names coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service, suggests that the proposal is likely to fail nonetheless when the federal names board meets Oct. 1.
Forbes, meanwhile, has a new and safer plan, proposing to name a pair of peaks southwest of Leadville, on the ridge between LaPlata and Mount Hope. The higher, 13,616-foot summit would be named after Blaurock, and the adjoining 13,531-foot point would be named for Ervin. Pointedly, the two are at least a mile outside the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area.
Other than that it’s not in a wilderness area, his primary argument for this location is that it’s near Ellingwood Ridge, named after Albert Ellingwood, also an early mountaineer who was close behind them in climbing all the fourteeners.
Despite their differences about what peaks should honor the two climbers, all involved are in agreement that Blaurock and Ervin should be honored. The Colorado Mountain Club, which has 7,000 members in Colorado, took that position, endorsing both proposals, hoping that one succeeds.
In addition to the fourteeners, Blaurock in particular was noted for his climbing exploits, not only in Colorado, but in the Tetons of Wyoming and elsewhere. Blaurock climbed Pikes Peak 23 times, and spent a great deal of time mountaineering in Rocky Mountain National park.
Smith also wants to name a 13,870-foot peak near Salida after Mary Cronin, the first woman and the fourth person overall to climb all the fourteeners. The 76th highest peak in Colorado, it is two miles from Mount Antero. As well, a proposal to name a ridge near Vail Pass after long-time Forest Service employee Pete Wingle seems to be back on track, although it not yet scheduled for consideration by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. That peak is often colloquially called Shrine Ridge.
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