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
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
The two crests are from the TMD Assoc. website.
THE BIRTH OF THE 10th
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
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
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
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
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.
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
I first discovered this hut system while reading the CT
guidebook, then saw several signs in
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
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
As much fun as I had at the
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
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