Peak(s):  Owen A, Mt  -  13,340 feet
Date Posted:  09/23/2015
Date Climbed:   06/29/2015
Author:  gore galore
 "Mountaineering Was Simpler Then," 1920's and 2000's Climbing in the Sangres  

Mt. Owen, 13,340

by gore galore

I am poised at the Wild Cherry Creek trail head deep in the geography of the west side of the Sangre de Cristo Range. I am here for a real reason rather than a random hike in the wilderness. A couple of years ago, I came across a description of what it was like to climb in the Sangre de Cristos in the 1920's written by a long forgotten and unknown Colorado climber by the name of Chris Scoredos.

Mr. Scoredos wrote his description of his boyhood climbing in the 1920's from a 1948 perspective and of the changes in climbing equipment since that earlier time. His description fascinated me such that it served as a prelude to my own 2015 climb in the Sangre de Cristos. But first is a few paragraphs written by Chris Scoredos about climbing in the 1920's in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

"My early boyhood was spent in Colorado in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Range and it seemed natural to want to climb. Although our climbing equipment was simple we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and were able to reach the summit of many of the mountains in the Range. Our wardrobe consisted of a pair of blue denim pants, a blue denim jacket, wool socks and ordinary work shoes with miner's hob nails. Pitons, karabiners and swiss edging nails were unknown to us and the only piece of climbing equipment we used was the lariat of the cowboy."

"Our camping equipment and way of living would please those hardy members who believe camping is not to be enjoyed but endured. Our tents were made from household sheets and waterproofed by being dipped into hot turpentine that contained paraffine. An ordinary bed-tick stuffed with alpine grass covered with a Hudson Bay Blanket made up our sleeping equipment. Our food was always precooked and eaten cold which eliminated the need for cooking utensils."

"At 3 A. M. in the morning we started our climb, usually arriving at the base of the cliff at the crack of dawn. This early start enabled us to get to the top in the late morning; leaving the whole afternoon for the return trip. It is difficult to tell at this late date what our reaction would have been to some of the methods by climbers of today who carefully peruse all literature as to routes and also study photographs to ascertain which route will 'go'. We usually studied the mountain and whoever was leading the group decided that a certain route would bring us to the top. If we hadn't arrived by 3 P. M. we turned back. Our return trip was made with all possible speed, a pole serving as a ice axe for glissading on snow."

Mr. Scoredos then traces some of the gradual changes in climbing equipment through the years. Paramount was the use of proper footwear for the climbers safety "In all our early climbs only hobnailed shoes were used, later we began to use rubber soled shoes. In order to conserve weight only one pair was taken along; this pair was used by the appointed leader on surfaces that necessitated the use of this type of shoe. On hearing of edging nails we began to use them and later found that by having one shoe nailed with edging nails and one shoe nailed with tricouni's, the purchase on the rocks was much more satisfactory."

In regards to clothing Mr. Scoredos writes, "for a good many years we believed or thought the overalls and other clothing worn by the natives were quite satisfactory for outdoors wear. After being benighted on several peaks (it still happens today as most climbers will tell you) we discovered that a series of very light woolen undershirts plus the usual blue denim jacket was more satisfactory," except today "the blue denim jacket is replaced by the light parkas which are sold at most stores selling sportswear."

In terms of climbing aids "we have used at least eight different fibers for climbing rope and we know that the nylon rope is superior in every way to any of its predecessors. The modern piton is simple in design, made of well-tempered steel, and will give maximum use. They are much superior to the old iron pitons that were made for us by the village blacksmith. In the field of karabiners . . . my preference is still for the small pear-shaped karabiner of either Italian or German origin."

"In the early twenties we became acquainted with the wire frame, metal packboard, which has proven a very efficient means of back transportation for over twenty-five years. Today's best packing medium is the army packboard for in addition to its use in packing it can also be used as a sleeping aid. The army's Artic (sic) sleeping bag is the best buy in present day sleeping bags."

"Our emancipation from foul weather and insects began with the use of the light tents furnished by Abercombie (sic) which I still think are the finest light-weight tents available."

Mr. Scoredos finishes with some thoughts on food and cooking utensils and the manner in packing them that one may not want to follow today. "In the early days our dehydrated foods were mainly prunes, apples and peaches. Today the field is unlimited. Although we have used the least expensive and different types of the more expensive types of cooking utensils, I feel certain that four lard pails that can be abandoned at the last camp are the most satisfactory for mountaineering purposes."

Reading Cris Scoredos' mountaineering description led me back to my own beginnings in mountaineering which seems as primitive as Mr. Scoredos looking back at his.

Mountaineering gear has never been my forte. I began climbing peaks from an assortment of stuff piled or hanging in the closet that was culled from my school days and outdoor activities. My first real peak was climbed with a backyard play pack, a metal canteen in a pouch slung on a waist band, work boots, jeans, shirt, leather gloves and a hooded sweatshirt that I thought would protect me from any of the elements. I was fortunate on that climb because there was a structure for shelter when I was benighted on the peak.

I don't even think I carried a rain jacket in those days. In fact I know I didn't because I remember being caught in a down pour on my descent of Wheeler Peak, New Mexico and the rain dissolving the blue dye of my hooded sweatshirt as it trickled down and colored my upper body with a wet, inky bluish tinge. I bought a rain jacket shortly thereafter.

I wasn't climbing Alaskan peaks in those days but the peaks of the summers of my youth in Colorado and New Mexico. Fourteeners, some thirteen thousand foot peaks before there was any such list or figuring out ways to unnamed peaks and rock scrambling to their summits which were my favorite kind of peaks.

In those formative years of climbing mountains I never looked upon gear as such but rather as stuff you already had and made use of never thinking of its relation to safety or comfort. I knew of being cold but not freezing, wet but not hypothermic, thirsty but not dehydrated and certainly nothing of the ten essentials except food and water or anything of the "rules" of mountain climbing.

As I became more practiced in climbing the mountains of the Rockies, I thought of climbing a really big mountain. When the letter came from Rainier Mountaineering with a list of stuff, I mean gear, I knew I would actually have to buy some climbing gear if I was able to proceed with this type of trip.

In those days Forrest Mountaineering was the place to go. It was located in the basement of a row of old buildings on Platte Street in lower downtown Denver before it became the trendy LoDo of today. Later Eastern Mountain Sports occupied a building on the corner of 15th Street and Platte. REI was but a few random letters that you might meet in a bowl of alphabet soup.

In place of a pole for glissading on snow I bought what was probably the last wooden ice axe sold in America. It was a 60cc Italian ice axe that served me well into the 2000's. I would occasionally get inquiries as to the value of the axe but eventually the strange looks of others would outnumber the former such that I bought a modern lightweight Black Diamond model.

I still use my 12 point hinged SMC crampons with leather straps. I have learned to adjust the straps to where the bend doesn't occur in the same place. A number of years ago I retired my Forrest waist harness because medium just doesn't fit well anymore and I have to admit its replacement, a Black Diamond harness is much more efficient to wear.

My woolen pants have seen their best days. A number of years ago in preparation for a trip to the Cordillera Blanca, I pulled them out from under a stack of stuff. They had shrunk from continual washes, the stitching in the crotch was loose and the wool forming the posterior was as thin as paper. I told the seamstress of their value to me and whether they could be repaired. "Repair them only if they have sentimental value," she advised. I gave her a twenty and asked if they could be ready the next day.

The mountaineering boots I bought, a pair of leather Fabianos, were the best fitting mountaineering boots that I have ever had. They lasted more than a decade, resoled and patched until the welt became too rotten to hold another sole. I didn't want to believe the first cobbler who told me this so like a patient facing a medical diagnosis of say gallbladder surgery I sought a second opinion that only confirmed the first.

My Chouinard tear drop style day pack was a dark blue when I bought it for that Rainier trip but now has turned pale grey in color. I take it to a shoe repair shop whenever the shoulder straps need stitching. I have found that a cobbler uses heavier stitches than a seamstress. The Chouinard label came apart from the pack a few years ago. I put it in a drawer as a keepsake as it probably has more value now than the pack itself.

My Kelty overnight packs lasted into the twenty first century. The shoulder straps of the internal frame pack became twisted from use such that I used a bungee cord between them to keep the padding on my shoulders and the straps from slipping off. The side pouches of the external frame pack were chewed through by the marmots in Powell Basin such that I retired both of the packs. I now wear an Osprey on my back.

My tent was what you might call a pup tent. It was not a very good tent because it sagged between the supports allowing the fly to rest on the tent itself. When it rained, water would condensate or drip inside sometimes forming a small puddle at the bottom end of the tent where my feet rested. I might have done better with Chris Scoredos' method of sheets waterproofed by being dipped into hot turpentine with paraffine. So when the marmots chewed into the side of the tent at Pitkin Lake, I wasn't too disappointed in having to buy a new one.

I have never carried much in the way of bells and whistles. In the beginning I packed some cheap binoculars. I am not sure now that I ever used them or what I thought I was going to use them for. Perhaps I thought of them for scoping out adjacent peaks that I would see and read about in the old Ormes "Guide to the Colorado Mountains." They are now in my box of discarded gear along with my wooden ice axe, Forrest harness, Kelty packs, brake bar rappel carabineer, Joe Brown helmet, metal canteen and woolen pants.

In the years I have been mountain climbing I've had to replace fiber with down, cotton with capilene, steel with alloy, pounds for ounces and discarding wood altogether. I look back fondly on my formative years in mountaineering though because it taught me to keep what works, repair when needed and buy only when necessary despite the temptation from a myriad bombardment of brightly covered gear catalogs and end of season sale flyers.

With the thoughts of gear from two different generations when mountaineering was simpler then, I am ready to climb Mount Owen.

I had seen Mount Owen from a previous climb of Thirsty Peak and from that summit the dozen or so peaks that I could make out, Mount Owen looked to be the finest peak in all creation. The initial poise that I showed at the trail head turned toward anticipation as I encountered the first of the switchbacks along the trail that would lead me into the high country. The switchbacks seemed to indicate I was heading to a high mountain cirque rather than a valley end.

My thinking was confirmed when I broke out above tree line and the trail passed over the boulders of the old moraine now covered in grass. I stopped at Peanut Lake to make some adjustments not realizing the big south slope behind me was a part of Mount Owen. I had a recreational map with me and misjudged a point further on its southeast ridge to be Mount Owen.

I realized my mistake standing boot deep in a bog with some wild willow branches scratching my head. I had tried to angle through the willows above Cherry Lake but they had the best of me for a time. Since I was now on their periphery I continued upward until I broke free and gained the saddle of Mount Owen's southeast ridge.

It wasn't a terrible mistake though as the ridge itself gave me a fine vantage point of those unnamed peaks and faces on the south side of that magnificent Cherry Lake cirque. If perhaps I lived in Villa Grove, I would climb them all. As I gained more of the ridge, the Cotton Creek cirque opened up along with that big north face of Peak 13,490.

It took some time amidst all this alpine splendor to reach Point 13,077 of the southeast ridge such by then I was ready to forgo the splendor and concentrate on the final pyramidal summit slopes of Mount Owen. I reached the top at 1:45 P. M., a full hour and 15 minutes before Chris Scoredos' turn around time of 3:00 P. M.

I climbed Mount Owen in my best 1920's look of "clothing worn by the natives" with work boots, store-bought Sears pants, shirt and ball cap with my old pale grey pack. I don't know if Chris Scoredos ever climbed Mount Owen or not but this climb was for Mr. Chris Scoredos because I wanted to know something more about this pioneer 1920's Sangre de Cristo climber.

Chris Scoredos grew up in San Luis but unfortunately I couldn't find much about his 1920's climbing in the Sangre de Cristo Range. A later newspaper account from June 23, 1935, relates his and Joe Merhar's scaling of Mount Baldy (Lindsey) through deep snows and biting winds. They used no ropes but found it necessary "to do some step-cutting with an ice axe."

Joe Merhar was also an early Sangre de Cristo climber and was the eighth person to complete the Colorado 14,000 foot peaks in 1938. Chris and Joe would make some notable routes on Colorado's 14,000 foot peaks. They climbed the steep south side of El Diente in 1936, the west face of Mount Eolus in 1940 and the Merhar-Scoredos route on the Crestone Needle in 1932.

As a prelude to these later climbs Chris Scoredos' interest in the late 1920's turned to rock climbing. I found a letter to the editor of "Summit" magazine in 1982 in which he wrote, "Who introduced rock climbing into Yosemite Valley? During the summer of 1927 with hobnail shoes, homemade pitons, and manila rope, I, with some friends, visited the Valley. For many days we enjoyed climbing there that summer and several subsequent summers." It was signed C. G. Scoredos, Washington, D.C.

As a follow up to the letter, I looked in the index of Steve Roper's book "Camp 4, Recollections of A Yosemite Rockclimber" for Chris Scoredos' name as a part of Yosemite's climbing history. Failing to find his name I wrote Mr. Roper in which he replied, "I have never heard of Mr. Scoredos . . . so whatever (he) climbed it was either not reported by him or else, as you say, pretty minor stuff." So like Cris Scoredos' 1920's climbs in the Sangre de Cristo Range I have yet to find the part he also played in Yosemite climbing history of the 1920's.

In the1940's Chris Scoredos moved to Washington, D.C. where he joined the newly formed Washington Rock Climbers section founded in 1940 of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club. The well-known rock climbers Herb and Jan Conn were also members.

Chris became a regular on the weekend outings to climbing areas in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia such as Carderock, Shenandoah, Great Falls, Bull Run Mountain, Big Stony Man Mountain and Seneca Rocks. His presence was such that a newsletter note reported that "Chris Scoredos has been notably absent from the weekly climbs for several Sundays because of apple-picking activities."

In 1946 Chris was reunited with his former Colorado climbing partner Joe Merhar for a day of climbing at Carderock and Great Falls. In that same year he returned to mountaineering with a trip to the Wind Rivers and Tetons with his wife.

His biggest mountaineering trips were with some of his fellow Washington rock climbers to Canada's northern Selkirks in 1948 and the Cariboos in 1949. These ranges were rarely visited and several first ascents were made by the climbing party.

According to one source Chris Scoredos was a wholesale hardware dealer. One climber relates buying his first rope from Mr. Scoredos in 1951. "He (Chris) bought a spool of 3/8" laid nylon rope and cut 120' lengths for climbers."

Chris Scoredos became a long time local legend in the D.C. climbing scene. In his latter years one climber remembers that "he had special leather patch on his pants and could rappel 50' in a couple seconds, just around his butt (no Dulfersitz even)."

Chris Scoredos died suddenly in 1986. His short obituary in a climbing newsletter noted that he was one of the first Carderock hardmen and that "climbers will remember him for his energy and dry sense of humour." A condensed version of "Mountaineering Was Simpler Then" was printed with his obituary. It was my introduction for eventually knowing something of Mr. Chris Scoredos and recalling my own beginnings with "My Mountaineering Was Simpler Then Too."

 Comments or Questions

Another line
09/24/2015 09:34
I always find at least one line in your reports that really resonates with me. "Camping is not to be enjoyed but endured" was the one in this one. I have said multiple times how much I appreciate your take on climbing history and the way you relate it to today. But, I have to admit that I smiled a lot when you wrote about the wool pants. I STILL wear wool pants (and a wool shirt) on my winter outings. Coupled with my wooden snowshoes, I guess maybe I have a small part of that same past in me.

Thanks for writing yet another fantastic piece.


and this one...
09/24/2015 15:39
"REI was but a few random letters that you might meet in a bowl of alphabet soup"

From Gore to Sangre, all is good when reading these reports...thanks!

gore galore
10/03/2015 12:55
Jay521, sounds like you might be from the woolen and wood past too!
d_baker, yes the Sangres kind of grow on one although I have been there in the past.

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