During the summer of 1984, KSS Camp staff in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation led 10-day backpacking trips in the Rockies for youth about 14-17 years old from all across the US. I co-led a couple of these trips; one of them ventured to the Holy Cross Wilderness area. About a week before we left on this adventure, the U.S. Geological Survey reclassified Mt. of the Holy Cross as being 13,998 ft. in elevation; demoting it from its former “14er” status. This deeply offended the teenagers in our group . . . the crowning glory of their trip, climbing one of Colorado’s famed “14ers,” had vaporized with the stroke of a pen.
As it turned out, the day we climbed Mt. of the Holy Cross was a fine day and, when we arrived at the summit, we did not have to worry about thunderstorms chasing us right back down. With the leisurely time available to them, the kids spent about an hour piling large rocks to about 5 feet higher than what they’d encountered upon their arrival. They were really psyched about this, sure that their hard labor would restore the former status of the mountain as a 14er! Amazingly, soon thereafter, the USGS did indeed relist Mt. of the Holy Cross as being 14,000 ft. (The current elevation is placed at 14,005 ft.)
Fast forward exactly 30 years to the summer of 2014. My family and I were taking a rest break on a trip up into the mountains and stopped in the Eagle Historical Museum. I was talking to a volunteer there when my daughter asked me what the big mountain was in the diorama in front of us. When I told her it was Mt. of the Holy Cross, the volunteer immediately jumped in to tell us a story from decades ago about the mountain. He and other people in Eagle County had heard that the mountain had been demoted to less than 14,000 ft., until a group of tenacious hikers restored it to its former glory by piling rocks at the summit. This story had apparently become somewhat of a legend in Eagle County, according to the volunteer.
When I then told him the story of our group of backpackers from Keystone Science School, he was pretty impressed! In discussing the timing and other factors, we verified that it was almost definitely the KSS group that initially added to the mountain. Our trip had been very soon after the time of the USGS announcement and we did not encounter any kind of large, human-made pile of rocks at the top before us. I’ve told this story many times over the years, especially after the debut of the 1995 film, “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain,” that starred Hugh Grant. Now, with what I learned at the Eagle History Museum, I feel like my fellow KSS Campers and I played a part in history.