This New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight, turn your eyes upward to the summit of Pikes Peak. If the skies are clear, you’ll see the glitter and pop of fireworks launched by the AdAmAn Club, preserving a long-standing Colorado Springs tradition.
“The mountain is a beacon for so much that happens here in our community,” says Matt Mayberry, executive director of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. “It’s uniquely Colorado Springs in that we have an indelible passion for the outdoors and the landscape surrounding the city.”
Celebrating the club’s centennial this year, the AdAmAn Club’s ritual ascent of Pikes Peak’s Barr Trail will take place, as always, on Dec. 30-31, culminating with fireworks launched from the summit. The club’s name is a truncation of “add a man,” a nod to the club’s tradition of adding one new member annually as an antithesis of self-limiting “last-man clubs” that diminished as members died.
But at the beginning, in 1922, there were five. Ed Morath, Fred Morath, Fred Barr, Willis Magee and Harry Standley were the five founding members of the AdAmAn Club, and their tradition lives on today. But just who were these Pikes Peak pioneers? We dug into AdAmAn club history with Don Sanborn, club historian, to learn more.
The Frozen Five
“The Frozen Five themselves were an interesting mixture of mountaineers with an eye for promotion,” explains Sanborn, referencing the fact that the five were also businessmen and salesmen in addition to their climbing expertise. “They brought a lot of attention to the Pikes Peak region and to Colorado Springs itself.”
Ed and Fred Morath
Brothers and Colorado Springs natives, the Moraths were old hats at summiting Pikes Peak. Before starting the AdAmAn Club in 1922, the pair had climbed the mountain 35 times in all seasons, as well as many other major peaks in North America. Together, they formulated the idea of ushering in the new year by setting off flares and rockets to delight the locals more than 8,000 vertical feet below. But according to Willis Magee’s account, it was Fred Morath who first said, “Let’s form a club and throw a party up here on New Year’s Eve.”
Only a few years before the initial AdAmAn Club ascent, Barr surveyed and laid the route of what would later be the Barr Trail, a pathway up the steep eastern face of Pikes Peak that locals once thought impossible. Known locally as the “Trailmaster of the Rockies,” Barr was a logical choice for the third member of the summit party.
An avid mountaineer and frequent climbing partner of the Morath brothers, Magee was also a veteran and an active member of the community. In 1938, Magee hosted a radio broadcast from the Summit House of Pikes Peak during the AdAmAn’s annual climb, describing the frigid conditions and saying, “I’m a member of that crazy gang of mountain climbers, known as the AdAmAn club, which will be greeting 1939 from the top of the world.” (You can read Magee’s transcript here.)
A local photographer and an experienced mountaineer, Standley was the official documentarian of the first climb. Local journalists and publications watched the climb closely, and the enthusiasm the group received inspired the Frozen Five to officially form the club and carry on the tradition each year.
About the AdAmAn Club
When the Frozen Five first made their ascent on Sunday, Dec. 31, 1922, they carried 175 pounds of powder, flares and food between them. It was a tricky climb, with blizzard conditions dropping the mercury to 10 below zero. By the time they reached the summit, the weather had cleared, but by 11:30 p.m., blizzard conditions returned. The group persevered, igniting the display as planned anyway and, with it, the long-standing annual tradition.
“Setting up the club to add one person per year makes it unique and a little more sought-after than it might have otherwise been,” Sanborn says. “There were some lean years, like in the ’40s and ’50s, when soldiers from Fort Carson were a part of the climb.”
Today, climbers must participate as a guest on the climb for several years before being considered for AdAmAn Club membership. Guest applications open on the club website in the early fall for about six weeks, and the club generally receives four times the number of applications than there are spots for guest climbers.
In celebration of the club’s centennial this year, a pedestrian-friendly corridor in downtown Colorado Springs, the AdAmAn Alley, will open and host a sculpted archway with the likenesses of the Frozen Five, framing Pikes Peak behind them.
The club has also published a book titled AdAmAn: One Hundred Years of Ice, Wind, and Fire, available in local bookstores. And, as always, at 9 p.m. on Dec. 31, the club will set off the first round of fireworks in honor of the original Frozen Five, followed later by a midnight fireworks finale — this year, it’s planned to be the grandest one yet.
Join the Celebration
Celebrate the grand opening of the AdAmAn Alley downtown on Dec. 28. The widespread collaboration, finished artwork and alley enhancements are impressive, and the official ribbon cutting will come just in time to launch the club’s annual ascent.