Every time I walk into the American Mountaineering Museum in Golden – and have visited it on several occasions since it opened in 2008 – my eyes are immediately drawn to the remarkable model of Mount Everest towering above the ground floor. .
It is my favorite attraction there, representing to me a symbol of the human spirit. Measuring 12 feet long and 11 feet wide, this is essentially a 3D topographic map with pieces of white polyurethane cut to precise specifications, each one quarter inch pitch representing a line of topographic elevation in five meter increments.
It has special meaning for me because it triggers memories of my own experiences on the world’s highest mountain in 1985. But I would like to think that it can inspire all who see it because of the exploits of the adventurers who have marked the story there before guiding operations ended in the 1990s.
The museum beautifully tells the story of the mountaineering adventure, from the Rockies to the Himalayas. An exhibit from the first American Everest Expedition in 1963 contains a mannequin wearing climbing gear worn by Jim Whittaker when he became the first American to reach the summit, complete with his bag, boots and crampons. He also has an oxygen mask worn by Tom Hornbein of Estes Park, a hero of mine who pioneered a new route on the West Ridge of Everest with Willi Unsoeld – on that same 1963 expedition – after Whittaker climbed via the Edmund Hillary Road on the Southeast Ridge.
There’s a lot more to love: artifacts that include an oxygen canister from a 1922 Everest expedition and an ice ax that was used to stop a fall of five climbers on the K2 in 1953; a 10th Mountain Division exhibit dedicated to “ski troops” who trained for mountain combat during WWII in Colorado; exhibitions on the evolution of climbing equipment, big wall climbing and ice climbing; a false “crevasse” that visitors can walk through and a “porta-ledge” attached to a simulated rock wall to show how climbers sleep when climbing large walls.
There are beautiful works of art, including 18 Colorado climbing scenes drawn by Jon MacManus for a Colorado Mountain Club history book, and a print from an 1874 painting of the Mount of the Holy Cross, a fourteen from Colorado who rose to fame across the United States in the 19th century.
There are some wonderful mountaineering quotes, including my favorite from George Leigh Mallory when asked a century ago why he wanted to climb Everest:
“If you cannot understand that there is something in man that responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself, upward and forever up, then you won’t see why we’re going. What we take away from this adventure is pure joy.
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