COBWEB CORNERS: The first climb of ‘James Peak’
By Mel McFarland
Fourteen years after Pike had made his winter attempt to get to the Grand Peak, Edwin James tried it in the summer of 1820. James' small group made it to the top of what would then be James Peak.
The climbers were with a party headed by Major Stephen H. Long, who had been sent to explore between Pittsburgh and the Rocky Mountains. The men reached this area in late June, traveling along the Front Range. The expedition camped in the area now known as Manitou. So how did James get up the mountain?
From his notes we learn he went clambering up over rocks for about two miles. This could indeed be Englemann Canyon. That evening they camped at a spot that could be Minnehaha. In the morning they returned to their climb and found the base of the mountain ahead. The area, using his description, could be Ruxton Park. He describes following a stream, which could be Lion Creek, much as the cog railway follows it today. He took his team up a hillside, climbing above timberline, watching their goal as they went. He pushed on up the mountain, arriving at the top in the late afternoon. He even found a large snow field in a ravine up near the summit. The team then wasted no time on the top, but headed down. They had left their supplies at their last camp, so they headed in a direct line toward it. They had left a camp fire burning and the smoke provided them with direction on the rough mountainside.
James notes that they were tired and upon relaxing found themselves asleep. I see this on the cog trains regularly even though my visitors had little of the exertion that James and his four men went through. The next morning they returned to Long's camp.
The mountain James climbed had been called Blue Mountain, Mexican Mountain, Grand Peak or Highest Peak. The name Pike's Peak was used in the 1830s and '40s. It was shown on maps as James Peak or Pike's Peak, and in some cases with both names. Captain Fremont who was in the area in the 1840s, only called it Pike's Peak and after that it remained the recognized name. The question about the apostrophe came later.