Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The rock climbing show

Interesting tidbit compiled by volunteers at The Pioneers Museum from old Gazettes appeared in the Gazette Monday: 50 years ago today Fort Carson stopped giving public rock climbing demonstrations. Carson is where the 10th Mountain Division was stationed for several years, and where much of the army's alpine techniques were developed. They used to climb extensively on the crumbly rock in North Cheyenne Canyon. Today, climbers on certain routes can still tie into huge eye-bolts presumably set by Uncle Sam. At the Parking area for Middle Columbine Trail, hikers can also scramble up to see "The Amphitheater," an outdoor classroom with what where once rows of benches facing a cliff. I assume this is where the demonstrations were. I've seen old photos of the mountain troops setting up ziplines across the canyon. Anyone know more about the history of those early climbing days? Perhaps we should hold a seance to contact Robert Ormes.


zen said...

Thanks for sharing this info, guys. Very cool. Very interesting local history. Out There blog rocks.

Don Ellis said...

The closest I can come to contacting Bob Ormes is to refer to the first edition of his "Guide to the Colorado Mountains" (Sage Books, 1952). He wrote, "North Cheyenne Canyon has been used several years for the army's mountain training program. In a unique amphitheater built in a draw ½ mile up the canyon road, G. I. actors swarm all over the backdrops of cliff and festoon them with ropes. ... "

I attended the Army demonstrations and also climbed in the Canyon at that time. The demonstrations essentially had 2 parts. On the small cliff which was the stage of the amphitheater, Army climbers demonstrated various techniques, emphasizing the gee whiz ones, fast rappels and a zip line Tyrolean traverse which I think crossed the amphitheater. A narrator described the techniques. At the same time, a pair of climbers in white were climbing Demonstration Pinnacle across the creek. The narrator pointed them out when they got to the two places that look like overhangs. (The upper one of those isn't actually an overhang. The appearance is an illusion; and the Army had actually chipped hand and foot holds in that part of the route.-- Yes, G. I. actors.) Civilian climbers sometimes sabotaged the demonstrations. One time a couple climbers removed all of the pitons from the Demonstration Pinnacle route; and the demonstration climb took about three times as long as it was supposed to. I admit to taking part in one of these nefarious acts. The Army had a fixed rappel anchor at the top of Demonstration which consisted of a chain link around the shank of a large lag bolt set in concrete. It was easy enough to unscrew the lag bolt, put it in my pack, and free climb down the back side.

In their training, the "Military Mountaineers" drove a large number of pitons in just about every cliff in North Cheyenne Canyon thereby supplying pitons to many local civilian climbers.