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TRIBUTE TO THE 10TH MOUNTAIN DIVISION
 
TUESDAY, AUGUST 8
 
 
"In this country there are two million skiers, equipped, intelligent, and able. I contend that it is more reasonable to make soldiers out of skiers than skiers out of soldiers."
 
- Charles Minot "Minnie" Dole, Director, National Ski Patrol,
in a letter to President Roosevelt dated July 18, 1940
 
 

 

Thus began a concerted campaign by Minnie Dole and others to solicit volunteers for specialized military training in mountain and winter combat techniques in the years before the United States became involved in World War II. Within four years, his organization had recruited over 7,000 men from the ranks of skiers to join the ranks of the Army in the famous 10th Mountain Division, one of the most unique combat forces in American military history.

I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about "The 10th" until I read about these extraordinary men and women in the Colorado Trail guidebook. I'm not a skier and I have forgotten many of the details about the war from sophomore world history 41 years ago. Jim's a history buff, so he's familiar with their exploits. I'm just now catching up, now that I've run through Camp Hale, their Colorado training camp.

This is not the first time that history has become more meaningful and interesting to me while running/hiking the Colorado (and Appalachian) Trail. Some things are lost on teenagers!

There are numerous books and considerable information on-line about the 10th. This journal entry isn't meant to be an exhaustive study, just an introduction to the Division for those who, like me, don't know that much about this interesting piece of World War II history and the Division's impact on the sport of skiing since the war.

Most of the accompanying photos are ones I recently took along the Colorado Trail. I grabbed a couple more from web sites and credited them below.

My sources of information include the CT guidebook, Dayhikes on the  Colorado Trail (Colorado Traveler Guidebooks, 1991), signs at the Division's memorial at Tennessee Pass, and these websites: www.10thmtndivassoc.org and www.huts.org. The two crests are from the TMD Assoc. website.

THE BIRTH OF THE 10th MOUNTAIN DIVISION

Because of the "expansionist" policies of Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union in the late 1930s, the United States began secretly preparing for global war at home and/or abroad.

In November, 1939, the USSR invaded Finland. The vastly outnumbered Finnish army successfully used ski troops to fight back. The U.S. military realized it needed to train its own ski troops for possible battle in mountainous terrain and during the winter.

It took a bit of time for the idea to materialize, this being the military/government and all . . . but by late 1941 a site a few miles north of Leadville, Colorado was chosen to train the newly formed 10th Mountain Division. In a letter he wrote in 1955 telling of the "birth of the mountain and winter warfare soldier," Minnie Dole described how Camp Hale was chosen:

"Plans to expand the 87th [Infantry Mountain Regiment*] to a Division were in embryo. The War Department was looking for a site. Their need was mountains, a trunk highway and railroad grade, and one and a half million gallons of water a day. They chose Pando, Colorado. We argued against it due to the altitude, but the die was cast."

(* The 87th Infantry Mountain Regiment was the first mountain regiment in U.S. Army history.)

In April, 1942, construction of Camp Hale began in the area now called Eagle Park, the wide, flat valley through which the Eagle River runs. An entire town was built, containing 14,000 troops at its maximum, another thousand support personnel, 5,000 mules, and 200 dogs. At its largest, the camp contained 247,243 acres. It was named in honor of General Irving Hale, who had been chief of Colorado's National Guard.

This is a photo of Camp Hale in the 1940s, looking north. I got it from the website www.photoswest.org/exhibit/gallery1/camp.htm:

Many of the troops who trained at Camp Hale were indeed skiers who were trained in military tactics. Others were already in the military, and were taught skiing, rock climbing, and cold weather survival skills in the steep mountains nearby, including Mount of the Holy Cross, closest of the 14ers. The altitude at Camp Hale is about 9,300 feet, so climbing mountains 4,000 to 5,000 feet higher was excellent preparation for the battles these troops would later fight along the spine of the North Apennine Mountains in Italy.

The 10th Mountain Division fought with the 85th, 86th, 87th, and 99th Infantry Regiments, entering combat in January, 1945. The Division's most famous battle was on Riva Ridge in February, 1945, when they launched a successful attack against the Germans. Other successful offenses were fought on Mount Belvedere, in the Po River valley, and around Lake Garda.

These victories came at great cost to the 10th Mountain Division. By the time Germany surrendered in May, 1945, the 10th had suffered nearly 25% casualties, the highest of any unit in the war. A total of 19,780 men and women served in the 10th in Italy. Somewhere between 975 and 992 were killed (two sources of information, two different numbers), 3,871 were wounded, and 20 were POWs. Troops came home and the Division was inactivated on November 30, 1945.

MEMORIAL TO THE HEROES

There are two beautiful memorials to the troops who served in the 10th Mountain Division and the 99th Infantry Regiment at the entrance to Ski Cooper on Hwy. 24 north of Leadville, across from the Colorado Trail parking area at Tennessee Pass.

I took these photos of the excellent information boards and impressive stone monuments on August 4, a foggy morning before I began my run on Segments 9 and 10.

 

 

 

 

ANOTHER LEGACY:  THE BIRTH OF AN INDUSTRY

After the war, the 10th Mountain Division was largely responsible for developing the ski industry in Colorado and beyond. Division veterans found new careers laying out ski hills, building ski lodges, designing ski lifts, improving ski equipment, starting ski magazines, and opening ski schools. Popular resorts in Colorado such as Vail, Aspen, Sugarbush, Crystal Mountain, Whiteface, and Arapahoe Basin were built by 10th veterans. A run at Vail is named "Riva Ridge" to honor their victory in that battle.

CAMP HALE NOW

Between 1942 and 1965, mountain and winter training was conducted at Camp Hale by the 10th Mountain Division, 38th Regimental Combat Team, 99th Infantry Battalion, and soldiers from Fort Carson. From 1959 to 1965, the CIA also secretly trained Tibetan soldiers there!

The base was deactivated in 1965 and completely dismantled. Control of the land in the valley was turned over to the US Forest Service the next year. The Camp Hale cantonment area (where the troops lived and worked) and portions of Eagle Park are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. They are managed by the Forest Service with an emphasis on protecting and interpreting history of the area.

Eagle Park is a popular camping area. The Colorado and Continental Divide trails pass through the southeastern section of the park. I took the next series of photos yesterday as I descended from Kokomo Pass to the valley from the east on Segment 8 of the Colorado Trail.

You can see FR-714 in the photo below. This good dirt road runs the entire length of Eagle Park. This view is looking west:

The Colorado/Continental Divide Trail is pretty flat and smooth as it approaches the old site of Camp Hale along the edge of woods and through sage meadows:

It was overcast, so Cody and I didn't fry while we ran through the open area.

 

After passing this sign, we ran on a little dirt road for about half a mile to the Eagle River. The fields in both directions were covered in pretty yellow flowers.

 

The next view is toward the northwest. Notice the long dirt mound through the meadow below:

This view is toward the east, back toward the Kokomo Pass area:

Not much remains to be seen in this part of the site except some concrete pilings

and a row of bunkers that was left along the Eagle River for historical value:

Unfortunately, some delinquents have sprayed anti-law enforcement graffiti all over the concrete.

The next photo is looking north toward the bunkers after the CT crosses the bridge over the Eagle River, which is pretty small at this point.

When Camp Hale was built, the river was dredged out so it would run straight through the camp in an orderly fashion to follow the layout of the streets. I think that's rather comical** - we wouldn't want a river that meandered through town, would we?? I believe it's been restored to its more natural flow now; that was the Forest Service's plan, at least.

** Now you know why I never served in the military!

I was hoping for some good views of the northern section of Eagle Park as I ascended the next ridge, but the trees have grown thick and tall enough to obscure most views. The best I could do from the CT is the next photo, which shows Hwy. 24 as it passes by the old Camp Hale site:

Jim drove through that section of the park while he was waiting for me, but didn't take any photos. All he saw were some old signs and the remnants of one building that were left as reminders of Camp Hale. I haven't gone back to see that part of the park yet.

WATCH YOUR STEP!

I mentioned in yesterday's entry that I was a bit concerned when I saw this sign a little before entering the old Camp Hale site:

I'm not sure when that sign was posted. Apparently potentially hazardous military munitions are still being discovered in the area. The Army Corps of Engineers is trying to improve public safety by removing any remaining spent shells and live ammunition so hikers and other visitors are not harmed.

There were no restrictions on hiking when I went through the area yesterday. I was concerned about a delay. Cody sometimes goes off-trail, so I put him on a leash until we got to the road.

MORE RECENT HISTORY OF THE 10TH

The 10th Mountain Division was deactivated in 1965 and reactivated in 1985. It continues to be a light infantry division but it's emphasis now is on rapid deployment around the world on a few hours' notice. Troops are quickly airlifted to conduct a full spectrum of operations from humanitarian relief, such as after hurricanes hit, to combat (Desert Storm, Iraq, etc.). Troops, based now at Fort Drum, NY, have served all over the world, carrying on the fine tradition of the Division.

The 10th Mountain Division Association's website has detailed historical information and links to several other related internet sites. The organization was founded by combat veterans after the war to preserve the history and legacy of the Division, to create monuments and memorials, to encourage mountain and winter warfare training within the armed forces, to foster friendships among soldiers and veterans, to maintain a comprehensive resource center in Denver, and to run a system of backcountry huts in Colorado.

The Association is international in scope. Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States belong to the organization, promoting comradeship and peace around the world. There are twenty-one active U.S. chapters.

TREKKING HUT-TO-HUT

Of interest to Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail users (hikers, runners, skiers, cyclists, equestrians) is the system of backcountry huts run by the 10th in Colorado. The twenty-nine cabins and shelters are connected to a 350-mile system of trails and can be reserved ahead of time. They are dedicated to the Division's "pursuit of excellence, self-reliance, and love of the outdoors." You can find out the locations, cost, reservation system, services available, etc. at their website.

I first discovered this hut system while reading the CT guidebook, then saw several signs in Segment 10 that directed trail users to the 10th Mountain Hut near Leadville:

This one is located 5.7 miles south of Tennessee Pass. I didn't see it, but got this winter photo from the hut website above:

Another hut, "Uncle Bud's," is located about ten miles northwest of Leadville. The easiest access is from Turquoise Lake. I didn't see signs for it along the CT but learned of it from a journal reader who would like to stay there sometime.

This is a photo (from the same website) of Uncle Bud's Hut, named in honor of Bud Winter, who was killed in action in Italy during World War II.

"Uncle Bud" was one of 33 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division who completed the legendary "trooper traverse" winter ski crossing from Camp Hale to Aspen in February, 1944. You can read more about that trek on both the huts and TMD Association websites.

As much fun as I had at the Galehead Hut in the White Mountains of New Hampshire last summer on the Appalachian Trail, I'd love to spend a night in one of the 10th Mountain Division's huts sometime - preferably the summer, since I'm not a big winter sports person.

I am grateful to the 10th Mountain Division for all they (and everyone else in the military) did to fight for freedom in World War II and for all they continue to do to make this a better, safer world in which to live. I hope this entry will educate more people about their legacy.

Come on out to the Leadville area to see the memorial at Tennessee Pass, visit Eagle Park, and/or enjoy the hut system!

Next up: see more great views from the CT as Jim and I enjoy Segment 7 between the Goldhill Trailhead near Frisco and Copper Mountain Ski Resort.

Historically yours,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil