In order to publicize Pikes Peak, “America’s Mountain,” some imaginative Colorado Springs promoters conceived the idea to set off fireworks from the summit of Pikes Peak on New Year’s Eve in 1922. The arduous trek on foot and with heavy backpacks that held the firework rockets was made by mountaineering brothers Fred and Ed Morath; their hiking buddy Willis Magee; noted mountaineer and photographer Harry Standley, who documented their journey; and Fred Barr, the man behind the construction of Barr Trail. The region’s most iconic hiking trail, it starts in Manitou Springs at an elevation of 6,800 feet and climbs steadily to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak in twelve-and-a-half breathtaking miles.
Since the thermometer at the mountaintop that storied night 100 years ago read minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the climbers came to be known as the “Frozen Five.” Somewhat ironically, this handful of hikers did not follow Barr Trail but walked along the Cog Railroad tracks, leaving Manitou Springs at 6 a.m. on December 31 and reaching the summit eight exhausting hours later. A roaring fire in the Summit House helped warm their chilled bones. To announce their safe arrival, they discharged a few signal flares at 9 p.m. Unfortunately, clouds obscured the main fireworks display at midnight from the expectant observers at the foot of the mountain. When the sky cleared ten minutes later, all that was visible from town was a semicircle made of red flares on the summit.
Thus was born the tradition of a New Year’s Eve pyrotechnics spectacle for residents and visitors of the Pikes Peak region, courtesy of a group of intrepid climbers. The adventure of the Frozen Five led to the formation of the AdAmAn Club in 1923. The name resulted from the addition of one new male member per year. This organization remained male-only until Sue Graham became the first female inductee in 1997. Since then, two more women have joined—Cindy Bowles in 2004 and Ann Nichols in 2011, but it is doubtful the club will change its name.
To commemorate the group’s centenary, the AdAmAn Club collaborated with the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs Utilities, and the Downtown Partnership in the creation of “AdAmAn Alley” in one of the busiest downtown blocks. Starting between two historic buildings on Tejon Street, the Alley incorporates portions of two existing alleys, one going east to Nevada Avenue, and the other angling south to connect to Colorado Avenue. Both alleys underwent beautification, which involved updating the utilities, renewing the pavement, and replacing individual dumpsters with collective trash compactors, which required the agreement of all affected business owners.
On Tejon Street, the entrance to the Alley is marked by a metal arc depicting the “Frozen Five.” A number of murals enliven the dark urban canyons, including one honoring the Frozen Five who made that memorable slog on December 31, 1922, and another showing two later members preparing to light the fireworks. Additional embellishments exist in the form of murals and floral sculptures, as well as LED fireworks displays at night.
AdAmAn Alley was officially dedicated on December 28, 2022. My photos were taken on December 9 and 10, 2022, when the finishing touches were being applied to the project. I have yet to see it illuminated at nighttime.
Portions of this text were taken (in slightly modified form) from my book, Places and People of the Pikes Peak Region, available at local independent bookstores (please follow this link to learn more).