In late December 1922 five men decided to climb the 14,115 foot summit of Pikes Peak to celebrate New Year’s, rather than attend parties in Colorado Springs. The group was made up of five experienced climbers: brothers Fred and Ed Morath, Willis Magee, Harry Standley, and Fred Barr. Due to deep snow they opted to climb via the Cog Railway route rather than the trail Fred Barr had recently finished. High winds made the steep climb treacherous, but they pushed on and summited around five p.m. When the summit house was surrounded by massive snow drifts, they dug their way to a second floor entrance to get in. And although it had no heat or electricity, the summit house kept them out of the wind.
Before they left for the summit, the “Frozen Five” (their new nickname) told the Gazette they would fire a flare and rocket at exactly nine p.m. to announce they were successful. Fred Morath later shared that Joe Caldwell, a city electrician, was among those waiting for the sign. So impressed with their feat, he dipped the city’s lights for 30 seconds in salute. At midnight the group lit flares, set off rockets, and started a bonfire with old railroad ties. Despite partially cloudy skies, many residents witnessed the display. Some thought the summit house was ablaze and called the police and newspaper.
The formation of the club became official in March 1923 when the five got together and named themselves the AdAmAn Club, adding one new member each year. New members were to be chosen from those who had previously made the climb as guests of the club. New members are expected to lead the climb the year they are elected, and by the time they become members they’ve typically climbed with the club five to ten times.
Over the years some of the AdAmAn Club’s methods have changed but the overall tradition remains the same. Originally each climber might carry as much as 25 pounds of pyrotechnics on his back in addition to the other gear necessary for the climb. Over the years the firework display has grown in scale and the fireworks are now transported to the summit by the Cog Railway on the last train of the season, and stored in the summit house until they are needed. The AdAmAn Club added its first female member, Sue Graham, in 1997. The Club has since added others.
Although everyone looks forward to the midnight fireworks, the club also fires five bursts at 9:00 p.m. to salute the Frozen Five. These bursts once saved the lives of lost, hypothermic hikers who were not members of the club. Another club tradition tales place when club members flash handheld mirrors when they reach timberline, and people down below flash mirrors back in a show of support. Throughout the years, the AdAmAn Club has braved gale-force winds, temperatures in excess of 30 degrees below zero, wind chills of 75 below zero, and blizzard-like conditions to carry on this beloved tradition.
Generously Submitted by Luke Bohannon, Ph.D. Candidate, UCLA