Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

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Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by gore galore » Mon May 20, 2019 10:35 pm

ERLING HANSEN'S TRAGIC COMPLETION OF THE COLORADO FOURTEENERS, 1991
by gore galore

The completion of the Colorado fourteeners is a major goal of peakbaggers ever since Carl Blaurock and William Ervin became the first to climb them all in 1923.

Climbing the final chosen peak can be one of great emotions and celebrations. But in one case it was one of great sorrow and tragedy.

Erling Hansen joined the Colorado Mountain Club in 1983 as a summer resident from San Francisco, California. As a member of the Sierra Club he had successfully climbed Mount Shasta.

He climbed Longs Peak as his first Colorado 14,000 foot peak in 1983 at the age of 61. He made solo climbs of Windom, Eolus, Sunlight and Little Bear as he strove towards his goal of climbing them all.

Erling Hansen participated in the Peak Challenge '91 as a climber in the Mount Wilson party. It was from this summit that he observed the outline of El Diente to the west which would become his final chosen 14,000 foot peak. He had previously completed climbs of South Maroon, Capitol, Snowmass and Wilson Peak that same summer.

The Peak Challenge was an adventure based program to help troubled kids from the Griffith Center. It was the third since 1989 and first successful attempt to climb all 54 of Colorado's 14,000 foot peaks simultaneously by placing sponsored parties led by Colorado Mountain Club trip leaders on the summits on August 18, 1991.

Erling began planning his final and 54th fourteener of El Diente by checking trip reports, peak registers and guidebooks in the CMC club rooms the week before his fatal climb.

On September 15, 1991 Erling Hansen fell to his death on the descent from El Diente after exploring the top of the peak “wearing the red cap he kept for such occasions” while taking pictures and waiting for his hiking partners who were forced to retreat due to treacherous conditions on the mountain. Rescuers believed that Hansen reached the top of El Diente judging from his footprints.

In the annual compilation of those “Men and Women Who Have Climbed Them All” in the December 1991 issue of “Trail and Timberline” magazine, Erling Hansen is listed as #572 of those who “have climbed to the top of Colorado's 54 fourteen-thousand-foot peaks.”

Erling Hansen 1922-1991 was a school teacher for thirty years. His concern for those less fortunate led him to trips to Central America to help build schools. His charitable contributions also helped programs for the poor and homeless.

He began hiking in the mountains with his father around age ten. And the end of Erling Hansen's life came at age 69 on the mountain El Diente from which he completed climbing all of Colorado's fourteeners.
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by nunns » Tue May 21, 2019 11:39 am

Great article, and a somber reminder to some of us with the itch to finish climbing them all to not take too many chances doing so.

Sean Nunn
"Thy righteousness is like the great mountains." --Psalms 36:6
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CHWitte
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by CHWitte » Tue May 21, 2019 2:40 pm

Thanks for posting. We all accept the risk but hopefully mitigate it as much as possible!
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by ltlFish99 » Tue May 21, 2019 11:18 pm

From the moment he reached the top until his unfortunate accident, he had the feeling of being a fourteener finisher.
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by Dan Lynch » Tue Jan 07, 2020 1:45 pm

My Dad was Erling’s best friend. He was devastated by Erling’s death in 1991.

Erling lived in Berkeley, California. My dad and Erling were both school teachers in Alameda. Erling retired in the early 1980’s.

Erling had a cabin in Eldorado Springs called the ‘Columbine Chalet’, nestled in a grove of aspens. It was a modest three-room cottage, with a pot-belly stove. Erling would spend a lot of summers there, mostly trout fishing.

My family and I would go to Erling’s cabin on our way to Kansas in July, where my dad grew up. Erling’s summer shack was always the high point of our trip to the Midwest. We would have trout and ebelskiver for breakfast, cooked on the wood stove. He would take us to his favorite spots in the Rockies. At night we’d play his foot-pumped organ, and sleep like bears on our bunks in the back room.

Erling was a spry, wiry man, who was very energetic. He was a bachelor all his life. He never married but loved to dance, and loved the ladies. More frequently than visiting his Colorado cabin, we’d go to the Berkeley hills to see him at his main home. Erling’s house was a true bachelor pad. He used to cook a lot of TV dinners, and the aluminum trays were stacked up to the ceiling on his refrigerator—my dad always got a chuckle from that.

Just one month after Erling’s death on the mountain, there was the Berkeley Fire of 1991. The fire completely destroyed Erling’s Berkeley house and surrounding neighborhood. For my dad, there was nothing left of his best friend.

My dad went to Erling’s property shortly after the fire, to see if he could salvage anything. The only thing my dad left with was a cooled, hardened puddle of aluminum that had melted in the fire. My dad figured that was Erling’s pile of TV dinner trays. He took the aluminum home and created a mobile sculpture out of it, which still hangs off my parents’ patio lattice.

Erling was an interesting man, and a good man. He was in the Pacific in World War II. He was deeply concerned about the social issues of the day. He was a significant part of my childhood.

As horrible as falling off a mountain might’ve been, there is poetry in Erling’s flight from this world. He had just climbed the peak of the last mountain on his 14er list. He made it. He died doing what he loved the most.

My dad is still alive, as of this writing—but with severe dementia. He’s been bed-ridden and unaware for 5 years. I’m not sure, but it’s possible that Erling’s ending was better than my dad’s.

Life goes on.
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by greenonion » Tue Jan 07, 2020 4:20 pm

thanks for sharing that, and welcome to 14ers.com!
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by ScreeSurfer » Tue Jan 07, 2020 4:24 pm

I always enjoy your history threads Gore Galore! Thank you Dan for contributing your first hand knowledge and experiences with Erling.
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by gore galore » Tue Jan 07, 2020 11:48 pm

Dan, thanks so much for adding your additional information about your Dad's best friend, Erling Hansen to my original post.
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by Cruiser » Wed Jan 08, 2020 6:46 am

Great stuff! This is the sort of thing that makes this site so much more than just a repository for condition/trip reports. Cheers to Gore Galore and Dan Lynch for taking part in it!
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by Dan Lynch » Wed Jan 08, 2020 8:13 am

Here's two photos from the summer of 1975 with Erling:

Erling's 'Columbine Chalet' cabin in the Rockies—I'm on the left. The adults are (L to R) my mother, Erling's sister Harriet Hansen, her husband and my brother:

http://www.dandesigner.com/erling/colum ... img202.jpg

Erling fishing for trout:

http://www.dandesigner.com/erling/erlin ... img199.jpg

Enjoy.

Erling's war story:

He was on an island somewhere in the Pacific in WWII. Part of the island was occupied by the Japanese. I don't remember why, but at some point Erling was by himself, crossing through the jungle at night. He was positively freaked out and decided to whistle while walking towards his unit on a road that cut through the jungle. It was a night he never forgot. He obviously made it—although I've always wondered why he whistled, since it would attract attention to him.

Another Erling story:

His dad died by falling off of a roof. He used to joke that falling might be his fate too. My dad and I saw him fall into the well in front of the Columbine Chalet, in the first photo.

And another story:

Erling had a cat in Berkeley. He used to take it on walks. He had a special cat leash and he would go up through the hills walking his very skittish, wayward cat, which would practically walk Erling instead.

One more:

My dad, it's fair to say, was pretty conservative. Erling was very pro-socialist. He visited Cuba in the 80's (somehow) and eventually my dad and him had a falling out after Erling gushing too positively about Castro and socialism on a phone call. Their cool period lasted about 3 years, but then they just put it behind them, and they remained best friends until Erling's death.

Every life has a story. I thought I would share this because there's so much more to Erling than how he died.

Dan Lynch
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JChitwood
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by JChitwood » Wed Jan 08, 2020 12:15 pm

This is great stuff. I had to look up what ebelskiver is so actually learned something today. I tried to look up what route Erling was on when he died but couldn’t find anything.
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Re: Erling Hansen's Tragic Completion of the Colorado Fourteeners, 1991

Post by Phill the Thrill » Wed Jan 08, 2020 1:28 pm

Wow! Great stories, Dan. Thank you for sharing them!
"Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing it." - Andy Rooney
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