Peak(s):  Adams A, Mt  -  13,931 feet
PT 13,546  -  13,546 feet
Date Posted:  06/17/2019
Date Climbed:   06/08/2018
Author:  gore galore
 Albert Ellingwood's "Two Symmetrical Sentinels", Mt Adams and Peak 13,546  

An Investigative Trip to Climb Albert Ellingwood's "Two Symmetrical Sentinels", Mount Adams and Peak 13,546

by gore galore

I have a long and continual fascination with Colorado mountaineering history such that I often seek out mountains to climb that have some particular historical significance especially in routes once taken to summits then unknown.

In 2016 on the 100th anniversary of Albert Ellingwood's 1916 month long trip to the Sangre de Cristos, I traced part of Ellingwood's route on the eastern side of the range “fed in part by tales of peaks unclimbed and peaks unclimbable” as Ellingwood would later write.

Three years ago I drove south from Dillon while Ellingwood's party a century earlier began walking south from Colorado Springs to Canon City. I intersected their route near Parkdale where the Rio Grande train tracks parallel the highway from which they took the train to a spur route to Hillside at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

I wanted to follow their route up Brush Creek from which Ellingwood and Eleanor Davis climbed Gibbs Peak. I wasn't successful in climbing the peak because of some deep snow on the route chosen from the trail.

I returned the following week and climbed Gibbs Peak from the Texas Creek trail encountering an immense stretch of blow down on the lower trail and very high winds on the mountain that buffeted me around like a kite on an errant string. I wrote of these adventures and more in a previous trip report “With Albert Ellingwood On Gibbs Peak, Sangre de Cristos, 1916.”

After climbing Gibbs Peak Ellingwood's party crossed the range and worked along the western foothills to Crestone. I made plans to intersect Elligwood again at Crestone in June of 2018 and follow his route up Willow Creek and investigate the climbs he did from this valley of Kit Carson Peak, its northwest ridge and north summit now named Challenger Point and the “two symmetrical sentinels” of Mount Adams and Peak 13,546.

My investigative trip to these peaks was precipitated by the conventional history of “peaks unclimbed and unclimbable” but also as to some recent revisionist history as to what Albert Ellingwood accomplished from the Willow Creek valley.


It had been twenty nine years ago since I had last been in Crestone to climb Challenger Point and I suspected that I would remember the place more in line with Ellingwood's time in which he mentioned simply a “House.” But now among the boutique shops and coffee houses there is a hardware and lumber store, a stocked grocery store and even a bookstore and library if you need something to read at the coffee house.

From the “House” Ellingwood packed a couple of burros and took most of the afternoon and into the evening for the party of eight to get to their main camp about four miles from Crestone pitched on the ridge above the Willow Creek meadows “in one of the prettiest campsites I have seen in Colorado.”

While Ellingwood was packing burros that morning in 1916 I had my car packed in a similar morning in 2018 for the drive from Dillon to Crestone. I had time to stop at the library for some fact checking, stock up on some last minute groceries, walk into the hardware store for what I can't remember now and dismissing the boutique shops and coffee houses as something I could do on the way out.


The drive to the trail head was vaguely familiar and in about an hour or so from where I shouldered my pack in the parking lot I found myself on the trail adjacent to the pretty Willow Creek meadows. I now had something of a decision to make as to climbing the two symmetrical sentinels.

Ellingwood, Davis and Bee Rogers had climbed Kit Carson Peak by way of the northwest ridge and north summit from a high camp above Willow Lake. Albert described the cliffs and lakes of the upper basin of Willow Creek ”bounded on the east by an impressive colonnade of crags and guarded on the north by two symmetrical sentinels.” William Bueler writes in his book, “Roof of the Rockies” that “this can only refer to Mount Adams and its 13,544(13,546)-foot western shoulder.”

After “a day off frittering around camp” at Willow Creek meadows all eight of the Ellingwood party climbed the west ridge above camp culminating in the westernmost of the two sentinels where Ellingwood, Davis and Rogers dropped to the saddle and went up the eastern one as well. Ellingwood described the climbing of the ridge as “an easy and uneventful trudge.”

From my vantage point along the trail at the edge of the meadows I could view the heavily timbered lower west ridge with its occasional rock outcroppings as something of a time consuming route finding of a bushwhack and those rock outcroppings as possibly something more than an “uneventful trudge.”

I would have liked to climb this ridge following Ellingwood's route but I had another idea for a route to the two symmetrical sentinels, one that I haven't seen in the guidebooks. The guidebooks write of climbing Mount Adams and Peak 13,546 on a route north from Willow Lake to their shared saddle and then their respective west and east ridges.

But from my camp above the switchbacks of the initial glacial cliffs I saw from some map study a possible route leading from the valley below the lake on the south face of Peak 13,546. At a clearing a short distance from my camp I found a talus and grass gully in the middle of the lower face leading to higher grassy slopes on the upper south side of the peak where I intersected the west ridge.

From this vantage point I took time to look down the west ridge where Ellingwood's party had “Lunch at timberline” before I continued the short distance to the summit. Perhaps I could have and now regret not attempting Ellingwood's west ridge route from the Willow Creek meadows.

Following as Ellingwood, Davis and Rogers did I descended down to the saddle and then climbed the west ridge skirting the summit cliffs to its east side where I climbed the broken rock above the long trailing “impressive colonnade of crags” to the summit of the “E. Horn” as Ellingwood called it. Although Mount Adams was named at the time of Ellingwood's climb he does not mention the mountain by name in his writings.

I had often wondered why Ellingwood after climbing Kit Carson Peak had took the time to climb Mount Adams and Peak 13,546. But from these summits the answer was stunning as to what I was looking at in the sweeping sight of Challenger Point, Kit Carson, the Crestones and Humboldt Peak and the Willow Creek valley.

I imagined Ellingwood in “getting a fine panorama” would as I did in tracing his route up the northwest ridge (“a steep but not difficult slope”) and summit of Challenger Point to Kit Carson Peak and then his descent to the northeast of “slow progress down a slippery couloir where an ice ax would have been a boon” in the mostly hidden couloir now called Outward Bound Couloir to the “rough but reasonably level ground and of the bewitching forest that lies between the meadow and the lake.”

I completed my own route down the very loose rock of the southwest face of Adams until I joined the guidebook route in the basin and the steep slopes to the lake and the trail in the bewitching forest to my camp where to my surprise my food cache hung that morning in a tree was completely destroyed by what I believe was the bear that was noted in the lake area that year.


Conventional history writes that Albert Ellingwood made the first ascents of the last of the 14,000 foot peaks to be climbed in Colorado in 1916 of Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle and Kit Carson Peak and by default of his route on the northwest ridge and north summit now named Challenger Point also as a first. But there has been some recent research that shows Ellingwood may not have been the first on the later two of these peaks.

In the Winter 2011 issue of “Trail and Timberline” magazine Colorado Mountain Club historian Woody Smith wrote an article “The Mystery Climb of 1883” in which an intrepid “Rocky Mountain News” reporter in company with four others made an ascent to the top of the peak of Crestone's Crest. In those days the peak above Crestone now named Kit Carson Mountain was known as Crestone Peak. Even Ellingwood in his early writings referred to Kit Carson as the Crestone Pks.

The dispatch “Crestone's Crest” dated July 29, 1883 described the party's route up Willow Creek to a camp in front of the main lake and then continuing in the morning to its source in a little lake where “we 'girded our lions,' prepatory (sic) to the final climb; and such a climb, ye gods, it makes me shudder to think of it now. It seems that in searching for an 'easy place', we had selected the worst possible one.” Smith believes they possibly used the north couloir route.

However, 'at it we went' and were on top” after six hours of climbing. “The 'top' or crest we had reached is separated by deep chasms from its surroundings, but is by several hundred feet the highest 'comb' which crowns the grand old mountain.” They described the top crest as about 300 feet in length and from 2 to 10 feet in width.

After two hours of viewing the wonders they commenced to descend the grand old mountain “feeling our way carefully along his shaggy ribs” safely back in camp in three hours.

Woody Smith concludes that there was enough detail in the account that “it seems an actual climb to the top of present day Kit Carson Mountain did occur” on July 19, 1883.

In an article “The Challenges of Challenger Point” in the September 1990 issue of “Trail and Timberline” magazine I wrote that the earliest known climb of Challenger Point was linked to the ascent of Kit Carson Peak by its northwest ridge by the Ellingwood party in 1916. On my investigative trip I came across the book “Crestone: Gateway to the Higher Realms” (2011) by James McCalpin which credits the first recorded ascent of Challenger Point on June 24, 1881 by Wm. Edward White and party.

White's article “Crestone Peak” in the “Saguache Chronicle” of July 1, 1881 seems more to claim that his party stood on the summit of Crestone Peak, 14,233 from the Willow Creek approach than Challenger Point though. Writing more on scenery than actual climbing White's party went “on up Crestone peak treading on flowers and moss or climbing over rugged cliffs that stand hundreds of feet above the yawning chasms below, and at last we stand upon the summit, 14,233 feet above the sea.”

William Bueler in his book “Roof of the Rockies” writes of the two symmetrical sentinels that “there is no reason not to accept this as its first known ascent” of Mount Adams by members of the Ellingwood party in 1916. Mount Adams was named for George H. Adams, a prospector then landowner and cattleman, sometime in the 1880's by which then a trail existed in the Willow Creek valley presumably from the mining camps at Willow at the mouth of the creek and from Crestone which Adams founded in 1880.

And like the confusing array of names that have been applied to the Crestone Peaks from the fur trapping era, the history of the early climbs on these peaks can be just as murky in an area labeled “Inaccessible Mountains” on nineteenth century maps.

 Comments or Questions
Thanks for the history
06/18/2019 09:36
I appreciate it when someone takes the trouble to provide a historical perspective on peaks that I think I know because I've climbed them. Good to know them even better.

Must agree that the view of the Carson group from Adams is staggering, a good reason for making that climb, as if you need one.

06/18/2019 14:21
I also appreciate your sharing the history you managed to dig up. I recently read and enjoyed the Ellingwood/Davis trip report on the Crestone traverse, but hadn't come across the earlier ascent of Kit Carson.


And it continues....
06/19/2019 19:17
Your grasp of history is enviable. Please keep these coming.


Superb Historical Sleuthing
06/24/2019 11:04
What thorough and detailed scrutiny you€„˘ve provided in investigating the earliest ascents in the Crestone area. Your systematic search for historically-grounded insights is a joy to read. Thanks for sharing your passion for mountaineering history with us.

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