THE MYSTIQUE OF PIKES PEAK
Mountains pose a mysterious attraction uniquely inviting and challenging to reach for higher heights. With an altitude of 14,115 feet among the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Pikes Peak has beckoned those near and from afar, and women have had a role among those enticed by the mystique of the Peak.
PIKES PEAK: THE FIRST WOMEN’S MARATHON
The Pikes Peak Marathon was the first American marathon to allow female competitors. Actually, women were allowed entry from the beginning of the event in 1956, but it was not until 1958 when female competitors were featured. That year Arlene Pieper entered the Marathon but chose to stop at the top, causing her to be disqualified due to a mandatory round-trip rule at the time. The following year, 1959, women were given the choice of a race to the summit only or to complete the round trip. Katherine Heard, 59, (who would later marry race founder Rudy Fahl) competed against 29-year-old Pieper and Pieper’s ten-year-old daughter. Heard was first to the summit in 5:17:52 but opted not to descend the mountain. When Pieper reached the summit four minutes later, she started back down. With a time of 9:16, she became the first woman on record to officially complete a U. S. marathon, and that with an elevation change of over 7,000 feet! It was her daughter, though, who most impressed spectators at the summit
with her time of 5:44:52, becoming the youngest competitor at that point to finish the race to the summit. It was not until 1971 when a woman would attempt such a feat on Pikes Peak again.
WOMEN AND THE MOUNTAIN
A hundred years before Pieper’s accomplishment on Pikes Peak, fiercely independent Julia Archibald Holmes at the age of 29 became the first white woman to ascend Pikes Peak on August 5, 1858 as well as became the first white woman on record to climb a 14,000-foot mountain in the United States. She climbed the mountain wearing bloomers (unheard of in those days), a short dress and moccasins and called the outfit her “American costume.” Julia, her husband, and two others began their trek up the Peak in Colorado on August 1. Four days later they had reached the top of the mountain. It was said that during the effort she left her husband and the other male companions in near collapse. She and her husband had come to the Pikes Peak region like many others at that time in search for gold, and she came to be called the “Bloomer Girl on Pike’s Peak.” She would go on to equally great accomplishments as a leader in the women’s suffrage movements, and her subsequent position with the Bureau of Education made her one of the nation’s first female office holders.
In the summer of 1893 Katharine Lee Bates, a professor of English at Wellesley College, was teaching a summer session at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. After returning from a carriage trip with other visiting faculty to the summit of Pikes Peak and experiencing the breathtaking view atop the mountain, she felt inspired to express herself poetically in what became the beloved song “America the Beautiful.” She wrote the poem in one evening, revising it several times during the following years.
On June 28, 1936 a footrace was held in connection with the opening of the Pikes Peak Highway as a free road. Twenty-five men and two women ran up Barr Trail to be officially timed for the 13-mile ascent of 7,547 feet. Lou Wille won the event in three hours 55 seconds; Agnes Nelleson reached the top in six hours and 42 minutes.
Another woman attracted by the mystique of Pikes Peak was Inestine Roberts. Only 5 feet tall and weighing 89 pounds, she was a hike leader and member of the Colorado Mountain Club as well as an expert on plant life, able to identify about 200 different trees. She was also a member of the Bird society, the Historical society, the Mineralogical society and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. August 3, 1957 Roberts had written an entry in the Barr Camp registry half way up the mountain, “Will be 88 September 10, am hiking for the fourteenth time to the top of Pikes Peak.” She stayed at Barr Camp, went the rest of the way up the following day, was seen descending but never reached Manitou Springs. Her body was finally found August 14th about 45 yards from Barr Trail beneath a spruce tree above Cabin Creek, approximately one mile east of Timerline Cabin. In the words of Monte Wolford, winner of the first two Pikes Peak Marathons, “She died in the arms of the Mountain she loved.” A memorial plaque honoring her and her love for the mountain has been placed just above timberline on Barr Trail.
Many women have participated and done well in the Pikes Peak Marathon throughout its fifty-four years. One of the most significant groups of women involved with the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon are the Peak Busters. In 1975 several women from San Francisco’s Dolphin South End Running Club were overflowing with excitement after their experience on the Peak. At the suggestion of DSE’s legendary founder Walt Stack, Annabel Marsh and Kay Atkinson formed a new division of the DSE Running Club called Peak Busters to encourage and help women prepare for the Pikes Peak running events. The group expanded and continues to invite all women participating to join and gather together for a pre-race get-together for meeting one another, sharing experiences and encouraging first-time runners. Atkinson died in 1984, and that same year president emeritus Annabel Marsh along with current president Caroline Merrill became the first women to run across the United States in a four-month journey for a total of 3,261 miles. Not only is Peak Busters an encouragement to women runners in the Ascent and Marathon, it is a significant support group for all that surrounds the weekend events. Sadly, in November, 2008, Annabel Marsh died suddenly at the age of 85. Among the many accomplishments of her colorful life were running 100 marathons, the last being the 1996 San Francisco Marathon at the age of 73. She ran the Pike’s Peak Ascent or Marathon 20 times from 1975-1995. She has returned every August since her first ascent to host the Peak Busters and will be greatly missed this next year.
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