50 years later, Ellis joins AdAmAn a second time for hike up Pikes Peak

       When Don Ellis was a 19-year-old Explorer (Eagle) Scout in 1959, he and another boy became the first two Scouts who were asked to join the AdAmAn Club in its annual New Year's Eve hike up Pikes Peak.

Amid snowflakes the night of Dec. 30 outside Barr Camp, Don Ellis (center) recalls a story from his first guest hike with the AdAmAn Club 50 years ago when he was a 19-year-old Explorer Scout who was invited to come along. Listening are (from left) Douglas MacDonald, a writer for 5280 magazine, and AdAmAn members Dan Stuart and Cindy Bowles.
Courtesy of Mike Graham

       Fifty years later, on Dec. 31, AdAmAn gave the long-time Westsider an encore.
       “Guess what, it isn't any easier,” he chuckled a few days after the trek. “It was even a fair amount harder. Just Barr Camp to the summit was wearing down the batteries.”
       But he enjoyed the camaraderie (“they really did treat me special”) and the milestone aspect, which he had nurtured himself. “At some point a couple of years ago, I started thinking it would be neat to do a 50th anniversary climb,” Ellis said. So he “sort of started lobbying” AdAmAn people he knew. As instructed, he sent in a formal application this fall to be a guest on the climb, and it was accepted.
       “We were glad he wanted to go up Pikes Peak again with our funny little club,” said AdAmAn member Ted Lindeman, who has trod up the Big Hill on New Year's 40 times himself. “Everyone was delighted to have him along. At Barr Camp, we built a bonfire, and Don was one of us sitting around chatting. It was interesting to hear his recollections of his first AdAmAn climb.”
       Asked to compare then and now, Ellis can think of a few. For one thing, 1959 was one of only a couple of years when Barr Camp was not available for the usual overnight stay Dec. 30 (before the final push to the top on Dec. 31). Instead, huge tarps were borrowed from the Army and brought up on horseback for the group to use as shelter.
       Ellis also remembers a KRDO broadcaster who was on the hike. His equipment was so bulky and heavy that an entire pack was needed for that alone.
       The fireworks at the summit are done electrically now. Fifty years ago, a burning object was needed to spark the fuse. An AdAmAner named Bob Ellingwood had that job then. “He had done some experiments and found that the only thing he could keep lit [in the sometimes gusty winds at the summit] was a cigar,” Ellis said.

During the 1959 hike, near a Pikes Peak rock formation at about 13,000 feet known as the Cirques, a KVOR reporter attempts to transmit back to Colorado Springs using the equipment of that time while a blizzard is starting to move in.
Courtesy of Don Ellis

       Nowadays, after club members shoot off the fireworks, they drive back to the city on the Pikes Peak Highway. “In 1959, neither the road nor the cog railway was open,” Ellis said. “So after midnight we hiked to Glen Cove, which was a ski area then. We got there about 3 a.m. There were people waiting to drive us back from there.”
       This year, the weather was friendly all the way. In 1959, the hikers hit a blizzard in the afternoon of the 31st that followed them all the way to the summit. Jim Bates, the AdAmAn leader at that time, was later quoted as saying he thought of sending the Scouts back home because of the whipping snow. However, Ellis said he and the other Scout (Jeff Davis) “never heard any of that. It was just, 'Thanks for a nice climb.'”
       Ellis and Davis (from the Fountain area) had been selected for the '59 hike after an invitation from AdAmAn in honor of the 50th year of Scouting. Afterward, Ellis said he never saw Davis again.
       Ellis is hardly a stranger to Pikes Peak (which he first climbed at age 14), or to mountains in general. He still makes ascents (most recently the Crestone Needle last summer) and rock-climbs (though only “easy fourth-class stuff,” as he put it). As for the Peak, he has now gone up it more than 50 times and is the proud holder of an obscure “record”: In the wee hours of Jan. 1, 2000, he followed the footsteps of the AdAmAn group (which had reached the top, as always, Dec. 31), thus making himself the first person to climb Pikes Peak in this century, “which I thought was pretty cool.”
       But the Pikes Peak trek he recalls with the most relish was Dec. 31, 1960, the year after his climb as a Scout invitee. He didn't summit that year, but he didn't intend to. Leaving the Springs around 2 a.m., he hiked up to the Barr Camp area, arriving intentionally before the hikers had awakened. Ellis was carrying a quart of milk and the morning newspaper, which he had bought just before leaving. As a joke, he left the milk and rolled-up paper outside the tent of Ellingwood and Bob Watson, then hiked back to the Springs. “I asked them later: 'Did you get your morning paper?'” Ellis laughed.

Don Ellis, then 19, is at lower left in this scene from the 1959 AdAmAn climb. Also shown are (from left) Bob Watson, Bob Ellingwood, Jeff Davis (the other Scout) and Ben Kreigh.
Jim Bates photo

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