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Albert Ellingwood: Colorado's First Real Climber

Technical climbing in Colorado began with Albert Ellingwood, a political science professor at Colorado College. Ellingwood, born in Iowa in 1887, grew up in Cripple Creek and went to CC in 1906. While he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford between 1910 and 1913, he learned British climbing techniques, including belaying and ropework. Albert brought those skills back to Colorado, putting up routes at the Garden of the Gods and the South Platte region. Ellingwood was way ahead of his times as a climber. Some of his notable achievements were the first ascents of the Ellingwood Arete (5.7) with Eleanor Davis in 1925 and the first ascent of 13,119-foot Lizard Head (5.9) with Barton Hoag in 1921. It was considered the hardest climbing route in the U.S. Ellingwood tackled Lizard Head with three soft iron pitons, a length of hemp rope, and nailed boots. After reconnoitering the peak’s north and east face, he picked a line up the southwest corner and started up at noon. Ellingwood led two pitches up the crumbling lower face, placing two pitons for protection. He later noted that “most of the enticing small holds crumbled at a touch, and large masses of the loosely compacted pebbles would topple dangerously at a slight pull.” He said, “A rottener mass of rock is inconceivable.” Robert Ormes in Colorado Springs was Ellingwood’s climbing protégé. This photograph of Albert Ellingwood (left) on the summit of Pyramid Peak near Aspen with Barton Hoag and Eleanor Davis in 1919 reminds me of a couple quotes that Ormes wrote in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938: “Ellingwood was a superb climber; he seemed not to have a single nerve in his body. I have never seen him flinch or hesitate, even though he might be balancing precariously at the top of several thousand feet of space.” “It was Albert Ellingwood who taught me that mountaineering was not beneath a grown man’s dignity. I had thought it a sport for boys, but here was a Rhodes Scholar, a college professor, who made mountain climbing the hobby of a lifetime

Albert Ellingwood (left), Barton Hoag, and Eleanor Davis on top of 14,018-foot Pyramid Peak near Aspen, Colorado in 1919.

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