Peak(s):  Kelso Mtn - 13,164 feet
Date Posted:  10/30/2016
Date Climbed:   07/03/2016
Author:  gore galore
 Kelso Mountain and the Four 14,000 Foot Peaks of 1915   

Kelso Mountain and the Four 14,000 Foot Peaks of 1915
Kelso Mountain, 13,164
by gore galore

Climbing Kelso Mountain will probably not ignite the enthusiasm of most except if you were a member of the Colorado Mountain Club in 1923. In that year the CMC established its second annual month long recreational camp seven miles above Silver Plume in the upper Clear Creek Valley at an altitude of 9,800 feet to provide accessibility to a "variety of out-of-door wealth." The camp could be reached by motor in a little over three hours of about 60 miles or by daily trains serving Silver Plume.

The first scheduled trip of the camp was that of Mt. Kelso on June 30, July 1. The trip announcement stated the start for Mt. Kelso was by a trail that "passes through pine forests with luxuriant undergrowth, and along a rollicking, happy creek, then up to timber line with a stiff climb over slide rock. The sweeping view from a high peak is a wonderful thing, but Kelso offers something unusual - an unimpeded, close view of four 14,000-foot peaks. Those who climbed Kelso in 1915 will never forget the magnificence of that view, a tremendous wall of granite curving in a semi-circle, McClellan, Edwards, Grays and Torreys. Words cannot picture it, so see it yourself."

I could picture myself seeing this magnificent view by making early registration for the Mt. Kelso trip as the announcement suggested. For transportation I would be able to arrange a ride in a driving machine as a passenger for a fare of $5.00 round trip from Denver or take the C. & S. train for a round trip ticket of $3.96. The Club auto would meet me at Silver Plume for a charge of $1.00 each way to and from camp with baggage free up to forty pounds. The camp cost would be $2.50 per day for the two days I would attend. Tents and meals would be provided. Bedding and personal effects would be mine and with this I was ready to go.

But first I had to figure out what they were talking about of those four 14,000 foot peaks of McClellan, Edwards, Grays and Torreys in 1915.

The fourth annual outing of the Colorado Mountain Club was held in 1915 from a camp site in Clear Creek Basin. As a prelude to that outing George C. Barnard a CMC founder led a trip on July 26, 1914 that climbed Grays 14,341 ft. and Torreys 14,336 ft. and then scaled Edwards 14,120 ft. and McClellan 14,000 ft. and boasted of climbing four 14,000-foot peaks in one day.

A 1915 outing group of 29 men, women and a twelve-year-old boy did not let the opportunity pass to equal the pioneer group by making the trip from the Stevens Mine by hiking 22 miles in 12 hours. Grace Harvey one of the group wrote "the next morning we were climbing the wall to Torreys. From Torreys we followed the sky-line over the tops of others. Then down the side of McClellan, visiting the ice-cave . . ."

W. J. Hutchinson, a member of the party, wrote a report that I am unable to locate titled "Hitting the High Spots, Hardy Members of the Colorado Mountain Club Climb Four Fourteen Thousand Foot Peaks in One Day."

Summaries of the outing were published in the 1915 annuals of "The Mountaineer" of Seattle, Washington as "probably the most noteworthy feature of the outing was the ascent of four peaks in one day, each over fourteen thousand feet in altitude" and "Mazama" of Portland, Oregon as "perhaps nowhere else in the United States would it be possible to make the ascent of four peaks of this height in one day."

The 1915 outing also climbed Kelso. It was described as such. "The finest view was from Kelso. Kelso faces the great unbroken wall of McClellan, Edwards, Grays and Torreys. We sat an hour in ecstasy over it all."

This was more than enough to convince me that I had to climb Kelso Mountain to see for myself what the 1915 outing and the 1923 camp were describing. If I climbed it in the 1923 manner, it would cost me $3.96 for round trip transportation by train from Denver to Silver Plume and a $2.00 charge for the Club auto to camp and back and then another $5.00 dollars for the two days I would be in camp for tents and meals for a grand total of $10.96.

But since it is 2016, I decided to drive from Dillon to the Stevens Gulch Road buying two gallons of gas for $4.50, a breakfast burrito for $1.50 and a bag of M&M's for $3.00 for the climb. This grand total of $9.00 would be a $1.96 savings from climbing Kelso Mountain in 1923.

With this cost savings in mind I drove 1.5 miles up the Stevens Gulch Road from Bakerville and parked below the old mine building by the road. I walked the road to a point where I could cross the creek to the base of the north ridge of Kelso.

As I made my way up the ridge the "wall to Torreys" came into view and then as I crested the ridge onto the summit a sight came upon me so startling and unexpected such that I haven't seen since those last calls of many years ago. There before me all at once was "a tremendous wall of granite curving in a semi-circle" - that "great unbroken wall" of McClellan, Edwards, Grays and Torreys - the four 14,000-foot peaks of 1915.

I spent close to an hour in ecstasy marveling at the magnificence of that view just as those 1915 climbers of Kelso did as I alternately sat and stood in amazement while munching on my M&M's.

An hour goes fast on a summit and I reluctantly left descending the south ridge. I likened this ridge to a country lane as it descends to the on ramp of the inter mountain Grays and Torreys freeway where the continuous traffic rivaled that of the freeway far below in the valley.

Two persons stopped me on the freeway and asked how much longer it was to Torreys. I had to tell them I didn't know because I had climbed Kelso Mountain. They then asked me in seriousness if Kelso was higher than Torreys. In all seriousness I had to tell them no and wished them well on their climbing of Torreys for unbeknownst to them they were on their way to one of the historic four 14,000-foot peaks of 1915.

As I continued down the remainder of the trail, I thought of those who climbed Kelso Mountain on June 30, July 1, 1923. The only record I could find was that "the Kelso trip from July Camp came off as planned, though with a larger amount of snow-sliding than some of the participants had anticipated."

There were a couple of questions after my trip that I had to look into namely of how were Edwards and McClellan considered 14,000 foot peaks in 1915? There were numerous lists of 14,000-foot peaks in the early twentieth century compiled from various sources by different entities. In fact James Grafton Rogers a charter member of the Colorado Mountain Club formed in 1912 and its first President wrote in a letter to a 1911 edition of "The Denver Republican" newspaper that "Colorado is the geographical crest of the United States. We have perhaps 200 named and unnamed peaks over 14,000 feet high."

The 14,000 foot elevation attributed to Mount McClellan probably came from Edward J. Wilcox of the Waldorf Mining and Milling Company who built the Argentine Central Railway, a six miles long narrow gauge line in 1906 to serve the mining operations of the region and to promote the tourist trade to the summit of McClellan. There were intentions to extend the railroad to the summit of Grays Peak but the line went bankrupt in 1911 and after efforts to revitalize it failed the tracks were removed in 1919.

The exact source of the 14,120 foot elevation for Mount Edwards is unknown to me. Later surveys of Edwards 13,861 and McClellan 13,644 revealed that both peaks hardly rated as fouteens.

In 1962 William L. Myatt a CMC member since 1914 wrote of "The Four Fourteen Foible" and the myth about McClellan as a fourteen in 1915. It made for a good story of climbing four fourteens but "the fact that Edwards and McClellan have lost face through shrinkage in surveys doesn't in any way detract from the importance of this region as an 'image' indicating the sublimity of Colorado mountains accessible to Denver."

But foibles often die hard. In the 1916 summer schedule of "Tramps and Short Outings" of the Colorado Mountain Club I find a Grays and "Torry's" Peak trip to be led by James Grafton Rogers where "it is quite possible for a hardy mountaineer to accomplish the feat of ascending four 14,000-foot peaks in one day on this trip" just as were climbed by the Club in 1914 and again on the 1915 annual outing.

In light of the four fourteen foible of 1915, one might ask who might have been the first to climb four 14,000-foot peaks in one day? The earliest known record I have been able to find was that of Albert Ellingwood, Robert Ormes, Eleanor Davis and Eleanor Bartlett climbing Mount Democrat, Mount Cameron, Mount Lincoln and Mount Bross on August 9, 1921. Although Cameron is not currently recognized by the Colorado Mountain Club as a separate 14,000-foot peak it was in 1921 and accordingly "Albert gave it full honors."

And the last thought I had as I hiked the final mile to my car is that whether you have climbed Kelso Mountain in the twenty first century and saw two 14,000 foot peaks or to those in 1915 and 1923 who saw four 14,000 foot peaks there is still the magnificent view of "a tremendous wall of granite curving in a semi-circle" of that "great unbroken wall" of McClellan, Edwards, Grays and Torreys.

GEORGE C. BARNARD who led that July 26, 1914 trip of the four 14,000-foot mountains was a charter member of the Colorado Mountain Club's formation in 1912. He was the chairman of the first outing committee, a leader of the first club climbing trip to South Boulder Peak on May 30, 1912 and served in various club positions rising to President in 1919-1920. "His knowledge of the mountains was freely given to all those who desired it." George Barnard passed away in 1947 at age 70.

WILLIAM L. MYATT of "The Four Fourteen Foible" joined the Colorado Mountain Club in 1914. From 1916 until World War II he planned the commissary for the club's annual outings. "Of all that kind of planning and arranging Billy was an absolute master." Billy Myatt died in 1972 at age 88.

Comments or Questions
kelso is fun
10/30/2016 23:51
a nice little uncrowded summit on a very crowded trail

10/31/2016 08:45
We just hiked Kelso this past Saturday. Enjoyed this bit of history on a VERY popular trail!

10/31/2016 09:03
Why is it that when I was young, history didn't intrigue me all that much but now that I'm old, I am totally fascinated by it?

Thank you for yet another snapshot of history in our mountains - and interesting that you are branching out from the Gores... Although there was your Thirsty Peak report (which I have yet to hike up...) Maybe your handle should be Mountains_Galore...

@ Jay521
11/04/2016 08:48
Because the older you get, the more you have in common with it.

Even if not "Four Fourteeners," a Three Thentennials Loop sounds interesting, right Sylvester?

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