One recent Saturday morning on Barr Trail, amid crowds that weren’t so common to her 30 years ago, Linda Jagger looked for a particular boulder.
“The mountain moves,” she told the six people accompanying her. And at some point, she said, the mountain moved and sent a boulder down. She remembers when it happened — a new sight at the corner of a switchback.
“This is the rock that fell!” Jagger remarked when she finally came to it. She pointed to an unexpected patch of mullein. “And look, it’s got something growing on it. Isn’t that amazing?”
Just a tidbit of knowledge that might be gained on any given journey with the Colorado Mountain Club.
On this Saturday, who knows what other members of the club’s Pikes Peak chapter were learning out there? Some were climbing a snow couloir, some backpacking the Lost Creek Wilderness and others the Wet Mountains, and more were rock climbing at Eleven Mile Canyon.
All were celebrating 100 years of the local group.
“Keeping folks together in an organized manner and doing it for 100 years,” Dean Waits said in another moment of reflection on Barr Trail. “It’s quite a thing.”
It started with the Cheyenne Mountain Club, the name a local cadre of dedicated hikers gave themselves. They were led by Lloyd Shaw, superintendent of what was then the Cheyenne School. He so passionately believed in the benefits of the outdoors that he worked up the money for a cabin in the high, remote reaches of South Cheyenne Cañon — what would be a regular retreat for students.
In an account by local historian Eric Swab, Shaw called juniors and seniors to the auditorium every first snowfall of the season. “He told them they had 30 minutes to go home, pack a lunch, and be back at the school for a hike to the school cabin.”
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Adults later banded with the youngsters to form the Cheyenne Mountain Club. They set their sights on higher summits, where they’d stuff registries and notes in cylinders and leave them there, making their presence known to explorers beyond.
“Then the directors of the Colorado Mountain Club heard about us,” Shaw wrote in 1957, recounting the partnership.
He was impressed by several men in Denver, “real mountaineers,” he called them. They were John Grafton Rogers, who alongside fellow CMC charter member Enos Mills was instrumental in preserving Rocky Mountain National Park, starting the club’s record of conservation.
Another was Roger Toll, who would be superintendent of the park and also Yellowstone. And Carl Blaurock was among the first known to scale all of the state’s 14,000-foot mountains.
They were “real mountaineers” with “a real genius for organization,” Shaw observed.
Before today’s emails, trip notices were sent as letters, the first in 1912 to South Boulder Peak detailing the train pickup and dropoff in Eldorado Springs. It then addressed the “all-important question” of footwear, recommending “woolen hose and heavy well-fitting shoes” with “extra soles containing hob-nails.”
So began the tradition of educational adventure and companionship, carried on today by CMC chapters up and down the Front Range.
The Cheyenne Mountain Club officially became the CMC’s Pikes Peak branch in 1919. A century later, people continue to look to the group for proper initiations in the great outdoors.
That includes Kristen Buckland. She moved to Colorado Springs from Ohio six years ago and found herself walking her dog in Garden of the Gods one day.
“I saw people rock climbing,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what that is, but I need to learn how to do that.’”
With the CMC, she learned that and more, taking classes in wilderness first aid, backpacking and backcountry skiing among others. Buckland is now the Pikes Peak club’s president, some of her sweetest memories being three climbs on Mount Rainier and a ski descent of Mexico’s tallest volcano, Pico de Orizaba.
“The club really shaped who I am now,” she said.
And the club aims to do that for the next generation, breeding a future of safe, conservation-minded enthusiasts. Though, it admits to having something of an age problem.
Buckland is the young face of the local group, which has nearly 550 members, 70% of them 55 and older, she said.
In a recent attempt to attract 20-somethings, the annual membership fee of $75 was reduced to $30. That demographic is flocking to Colorado for the mountains, and the CMC wants to catch them before the ever-rising tide of internet resources and apps.
Marketing could improve, said Keegan Young, executive director on the nonprofit’s Golden-based staff. Still, of the 200 classes taught statewide every year, most are selling out in two days, he said, with the 2,000-plus trips filling too.
“We are dealing with the demand, and we don’t have the capacity,” Young said.
Volunteer leaders are always needed, and with them the money to pay for their certifying course work in various outdoor disciplines.
In greatest demand locally, Buckland said, are classes in avalanche safety, taught near Monarch and Hoosier passes. It’s good that people want to learn, especially considering the deadly avalanche season that just ended, she said. But can the CMC expand enough to better help prevent the next wave of disaster?
Buckland also wonders what her fellow club members can do to solve the diversity problem recognized by outdoor advocates everywhere. Results of a recent club survey were “sad and shocking,” she said. “We’re 90% Caucasian.”
She sees a need to work with other organizations committed to bridging the gap. “That’s one of the things in the next five years we want to prioritize, becoming more diverse.”
At least the gender gap is shrinking. It was different when Jagger started with the club in the late ’80s.
“Back then, it seemed like a good ‘ol boys club,” she said, reflecting some more on Barr Trail. “You had to keep up with the guys, or you were nothing.”
She’s grateful for the time, nonetheless, saying something many CMC members echo today: “It helped me grow as a person.”
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