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AdAmAn climbers start trek up Pikes Peak
Some people like to ring in the new year at a crowded bar, or maybe curled up on a sofa on a cold winter night.
Not Wally Wininger.
“I wouldn’t know what to do on New Year’s Eve if I wasn’t up on Pikes Peak,” Wininger said.
The 55-year-old has hiked the mountain as a guest of the AdAmAn Club nine of the past 10 years, and this month he was named the club’s newest member, meaning he’ll lead the trek Sunday and Monday when the hardy hikers ascend to the summit to set off fireworks.
The club has been climbing the peak to set off fireworks since 1922. The first year was a spontaneous hike by Fred Barr, who built the main trail on the mountain, and four friends.
They set a bonfire on top to celebrate the new year and later were surprised to hear how many people in town had seen it.
The hike is a sometimes harrowing 12.6-mile trek to 14,115 feet, often through the worst weather that winter has to offer.
The club names a new member each year.
Wininger, a retired Army colonel, moved to Colorado Springs in 2003. An avid hiker and climber, he was invited to join and enjoyed it so much he’s applied to be the group’s guest every year since.
“The last few years have been tough weather years,” he said.
That might be an understatement. Last year, the club fought hurricane-force winds that led to an injury. The previous year, high winds and frigid temperatures forced the hikers to retreat shy of the summit.
The newest member leads the hike, which also can involve breaking trail through waist-deep snow. If it’s a cloudy night, all the effort might be for naught since nobody will be able to see the fireworks.
Despite the rigors, Wininger enjoys the camaraderie of a group of friends he doesn’t see much of the rest of the year.
“It’s a pretty unique group of folks, kind of a great tradition for the Pikes Peak region,” he said.
The hikers start at 9 a.m. Sunday, stay overnight at Barr Camp halfway up the trail and begin flashing with a mirror at 10:30 a.m. Monday when they reach timberline. Members plan to shoot off five fireworks from the summit at 9 p.m., in honor of the original “frozen five” climbers, followed by the fireworks show at midnight. The group will be accompanied by Lt. Gov. Joseph Garcia.
“I guess you could describe it as crazy,” said Garcia, former head of Pikes Peak Community College. He ran into an AdAmAn member at the YMCA and was asked if he wanted to climb.
“I said, ‘Sure,’ and it was that simple,” he said. Not that he expects the climb in the dead of winter to be anything like simple.
“It’s a pretty miserable place to be, but that’s one of the things that makes it attractive. It’s not something many people get to do.”
Follow the climb live at adaman.org.
Reporter John Schroyer contributed to this report.