We who live in the Pikes Peak region well understand that sports and business are often intertwined — just look at our city’s Olympic branding, the soon-to-open Olympic Museum, and the multiple sports organizations headquartered here. In considering the economic impact of outdoor sports in Colorado, I remember Bernard Ewell’s pithy comment of a couple of decades ago.
“Take away Pikes Peak,” Bernard Ewell said, “and Colorado Springs is just Cleveland with slightly better weather.”
As we all know, the city is here only because its spectacular site appealed to Gen. William Palmer, and we’re only here because the General was right.
Palmer’s city wasn’t a rapacious mining camp. It was meant to be a place to enjoy and appreciate the grandeur of the West, to regain one’s health, and to learn. That adventurous spirit led local residents Albert Ellingwood, Percy Hagerman and Eleanor Davis Ehrman to the mountains at the dawn of the 20th century. They were the first exemplars of Colorado’s amateur mountaineering culture, a way of life that sends so many of us to the high peaks every summer.
In his book “Notes on Mountaineering in the Elk Mountains, 1908-1910,” Hagerman calls himself one of “the first Colorado men to climb extensively just for the sake of climbing.” Hagerman (1887-1950) made first ascents of three of the state’s most difficult 14ers — Maroon Peak, North Maroon and Capitol Peak. Ellingwood and Ehrman, who often climbed together, made first ascents of Lizard Head, Ellingwood Ridge, Kit Carson and the Crestones. Many mountain features are named for Ellingwood, including the Ellingwood Arête on the Crestone Needle and the 14er Ellingwood Point.
Such climbs were scarcely routine endeavors in those days — just getting to the mountains was difficult enough, let alone the challenge of climbing unknown terrain with primitive gear.
Remembering the first ascent of Capitol Peak on Aug. 22, 1909, Hagerman wrote: “There are no difficulties until the crest of the northeast ridge is reached two hours from the top. From this point on, the way is on or near the crest of the ridge and the climbing arduous. There is one rather sensational bit where the ridge is so sharp that one must get astride of it and move along with hands and knees. The drop on the north side here is something like 1500 feet, appallingly steep and smooth. The greater part of the north face of Capitol, some 2500 feet high from the lake at its base, is an exceptionally steep and smooth rock wall. As far as we can learn no other party has ever been on Capitol Peak and it was reputed to be unclimbable by the local ranchmen.” Hagerman and Harold Clark, his climbing partner in the Elks, were subsequently recognized by having 13ers named after them — fittingly, Percy also made the first ascent of his namesake summit.
Ellingwood (1887-1934) and Ehrman (1885-1993) were colleagues at Colorado College, where they were both young teachers — he in political science, she in physical education. A CC graduate and a Rhodes Scholar, Ellingwood had learned European mountaineering techniques, which he taught to the superbly athletic Ehrman. In 1916, the two of them organized an expedition to the Crestones, the last unclimbed fourteeners in the state. In short order, they made first ascents of Kit Carson and the Crestones, traversing the exposed ridge to the Needle. The loose-rock gullies on the first section were “a bore,” Ellingwood wrote, but the firm and steep rock on the final pitch was “thoroughly enjoyable.”
Ellingwood left CC in 1932 for a position at Northwestern, but not before he and Ehrman had knocked off more first ascents in Colorado and the Tetons. Ehrman remained in Colorado Springs for the rest of her extraordinarily long life, dying here in 1993 at 107. The multifaceted Percy Hagerman became a distinguished artist, often depicting the Colorado mountains of his youth and serving for 11 years as president of the Fine Arts Center Board.
Ehrman, Ellingwood and Hagerman should be cultural icons in Colorado Springs, but they’re forgotten. The city’s Sports Hall of Fame honors the AdAmAn club for strolling up Pikes Peak, but that’s it for mountaineers. Ellingwood and Hagerman got mountains named after them, but Ehrman, like so many brilliant women of her era, got nothing.
So let’s nominate Eleanor for the HOF… and rename one of the high summits she climbed.