This was December 1970. Dr. Bob Stafford was the new member. There were 12 climbing members and each was allowed to bring one guest. With a climbing list limited to 30, that left room for half a dozen guest climbers who were considered "guests of the Club." I was a senior in high school and was fortunate to have gotten selected in this latter category. There were a fair number of sons accompanying their dads that year and in the following ones. (My father had broken his right leg in a skiing accident in 1947 and spent two years in a cast. This forced him to give up the AdAmAn Climb, so I never made the climb with him.)
While this was a wonderful experience, the sons were expected to demonstrate vigor and enthusiam by carrying group equipment, such as Coleman lanterns, makeshift buckets, and Jim Bates' camp gear. Barr Camp had no caretaker or even an "owner"" at the time, so arriving at Barr Camp meant that firewood had to be gathered and water located and brought to camp. We helped the new member prepare the traditional bonfire which, depending on snow conditions, varied in its location between a rock outcropping about a quarter mile down Barr Trail from the Camp and AdAmAn Point. As I recall, that year the fire was at the location near Barr Trail. All of this activity made the afternoon pass quickly but it was huge fun. Cooking was done individually, with each climber lighting up a small gasoline stove in the cramped cabin space.
Club members had improvised a number of "buckets" from two-pound, or larger, coffee cans with baling wire handles. The primary purpose was for hauling water to the cabins. We simply took water out of the stream above Barr Camp, at that time there being no plumbing or creek diversion to channel the water to the cabins.
Lightweight down sleeping bags were just becoming available. Most of the climbing party still used the older style, heavy rectangular bags that were not practical for backpacking. Consequently, the Club hired wranglers to horsepack the bags to Barr Camp for the first night and then take them back to town. It was not uncommon for the stream just below the lunch tree to have frozen, overflowed, and frozen some more at this point to create a minature glacier. The horses dreaded the ice. That year was typical and we used the homemade buckets to collect gravel to throw on the trail. This gave the horses better footing but they were often still pretty reluctant to push onward.
The "youth corps" did a lot of the trail breaking. This was expected but we all welcomed it. That year there was about 8-10 inches of fresh snow near timberline -- soft, fluffy and pristine. Photographer Jim Bates took advanatage of this by having Bob Stafford lead us off the trail to climb over fallen logs and between trees covered with snow. There was a lot of snow through Dismal Forest but I don't remember it being extraordinarily deep above timberline -- deep in some spots, crusty in others, and windswept elsewhere -- typical AdAmAn conditions.
It was also very common for the first climbers who arrived at the summit to remove their packs and, without much delay, head back down to help the other climbers on the last leg. I remember doing this. We also set up the fireworks mortars, which were two steel rectangular boxes roughly three by five feet and maybe two feet, or a little more, deep. There were two boxes and each held one 6-inch in diameter steel pipe and one 8-inch. The boxes were positioned for the show and sand was packed around the pipes. The sand was a safety precaution to absorb the concussion of a misfire if a firework shell blew up in the pipe.
Member Lyman Blakeman, who had retired from making the climb, would arrive on the summit well before our arrival to have hot chocolate and soup ready for us. This was a godsend. In contrast to recent times, that was the extent of the communal food. Otherwise, each of us prepared our own dinner in the summit house.
Throughout the climb, one or two members would carry a radio from one of the commercial radio stations in Colorado Springs and give play-by-play accounts of the climb. Ed Wallick was particularly famous for this, and gave some really animated -- and sometimes dramatic -- explanations of our antics. On the summit, the radio broadcast continued all evening long, with the public calling in to ask questions or make comments. Many of the callers were, of course, family members or friends. Climbers would be crowded into one of the larger backrooms of the summit house to listen, or to periodically respond to callers. Others would retreat to the larger restaurant and shop area of the summit house to cook, visit, or sleep wistfully.
Besides Lyman Blakeman, several other retired members were on the summit and there were others who had driven to Glen Cove that morning and hiked up the road. Bob Ellingwood was one of the retired members and was our "Firemaster," the guy in charge of overseeing the fireworks show. I was among his recruits that evening for the show.
Bob would organize a six-man crew for each of the two mortars. Three of us were "runners" -- simply tasked with carrying shells from the summit house to the mortars, where we would quickly but carefully hand the firework to the "loader" who would careful lower it into the mortar and hand the fuse to the "lighter." (The loader clearly had to be the most intelligent member of the crew and had to avoid putting a 6-inch shell in the 8-inch pipe.) The lighter held a flaming railroad fusee -- basically a wind-resistant torch -- and stood back while this was happening. Once the shell was placed in the mortar pipe, the lighter would step forward and everyone else would step back. The lighter would kneel next to mortar, pull a paper safety cover off the fuse, light it, and duck. If everything went well, there would be an immediate explosion and the display charge would be hurtled 500 or 600 feet into the air. Most of the time this is what happened.
Next, the sixth member of the team -- the "cleaner" would rush to the mortar and reach into it to grab any burning debris left in the tube. (This sounds foolish, but the club always managed to find two volunteers for this among the 30 in the party. Always single young men with no dependents.) Rarely was there any flaming material in the mortar, but on the off-chance that there was, we worried that it would ignite the next shell prematurely during the loading. Members would tell the cleaners that theirs was the most important task of the show, and the cleaners would believe it.
Generally, this process went well with the explosives doing what they were expected to do. Nonetheless, sometimes the fuse burned more slowly, which added considerable tension to the fast-paced business of feeding the show. I think there was really only one tense moment my first year. A shell "lingered" in the pipe and its display discharged at a low elevation.
After the show, I rode down with Dr. George Lindeman and his son, Ted. Dr. Lindeman was the club President then and had considerable experience with the fireworks, not all of it pleasant. He gave Ted and me a history of the club's fireworks experiences and I realized how cavalier I had been, seriously underestimating the potential hazards of a cataloupe-sized chunk of black powder. Since then the club has adopted much safer methods for conducting the fireworks show. Shells are denoted electrically, with 90 feet of separation from the shooter. A misfire is far less worrisome. Nonetheless, there was a certain romance and excitement in being only a few yards from the explosions.