Colorado Mountain Club: Leading the Way Through the Rockies

One of Denver’s major draws is its proximity to the mountains. But to some residents, the concepts of high-altitude safety and basic trail etiquette can be a little intimidating.

Enter the Colorado Mountain Club. Headquartered in Golden, the club provides adventure education and recreational opportunities for everyone from the newbie day hiker to the ultra-experienced mountaineer.

While some classes are open to the public, CMC activities are open only to members. The club is divided into regional groups, each of which coordinates its own activities and classroom sessions.

Dues depend on which group you join, but activities across the state are open to all members. The club’s popularity even spawned a group for non-residents.

Colorado Mountain Club archival photos date back to 1917, when the club was already organizing outings like this one in Aspen.

An individual membership to the local group costs $96 a year ($69 a year thereafter for renewal) and most events are free. Though general CMC activities are open only to those 14 and older, the Colorado Wilderness Kids group was formed to include families with children.

“It’s a great way to raise kids,” said membership services director Julie Beckwith, who recounted an old story of her son on a high school camping trip. When the group encountered a bear, he knew better than the teacher how to handle the situation.

A look at the CMC’s nearly century-long history shows how a few Coloradans started a club that would become a statewide venue for recreation, education and conservation.

“The CMC started in 1912 with seven mountain enthusiasts who liked to hike together,” said Beckwith. “And the good news is that now we have over 8,500 mountain enthusiasts who like to hike together.”

Photos of early trips show lines of over 60 people trekking up snow-covered mountains. To lessen impact, the CMC began limiting numbers and running trips as an outfitter with a permit from the National Forest Service.

Early in the club’s history, members took conservation seriously. The CMC’s first president, James Grafton Rogers, helped design and introduce the bill to create Rocky Mountain National Park.

Education was an early concern as well. The first official “school” took place in 1939 with six days of rock- and ice-climbing instruction.

Today’s groups include classes and seminars on fly fishing, wild plants and even a survival class in which participants spend a night in the wilderness with nothing but what a hiker would normally carry in a day pack.

Campers in 1945 learn of the end of World War II.

“They don’t eat roots and berries,” said Beckwith. “They learn how to stay warm and dry. How do you survive that one night out?”

Classes are determined by member interest and taught by volunteers. When someone wants to share a skill or knowledge, he proposes the idea to his group council, who then decides if there would be support within the CMC.

Hikes and other trips are determined in the same fashion.

“That’s the nice thing about leading trips,” said member Tom Goodenough. “You get to choose where you want to go, then set up the trip and promote it.”

As chairman of the “Downhillers,” CMC’s alpine ski club, Goodenough is in the process of planning a March trip to Val D’Isere, France.

Whether members are leading hikes in the Front Range or treks in New Zealand, all the leaders, along with the club’s officers, chairmen and council members, are volunteers.

“It’s very member-driven,” said Beckwith. “We have close to 500 trip leaders, 500 people who’ve gone through the training to lead hikes.”

When the club began, climbing a 14er was all the training necessary to be a qualified leader. Today, potential leaders must complete a two-day course on group dynamics and CMC procedures. Training also requires the club’s mountain-oriented first-aid class.

In 1993, the CMC helped establish the American Mountaineering Center in Golden. The building houses one of the world’s largest mountaineering libraries, as well as other outdoors organizations, including the American Alpine Club, Outward Bound West, the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative and Climbing for Life.

Photography has long been part of mountain club activities.

The seven original CMC members saw great opportunities in our mountains. With a tradition of volunteerism, conservation, recreation and education, today’s members carry out their predecessors’ vision and give Coloradans the ability to really access the Rockies.

Common Questions About The Colorado Mountain Club

Colorado is known for its abundant mountain ranges and peaks. While there are numerous smaller mountain ranges, the state is often associated with several major mountain ranges, including:

  1. Rocky Mountains: The Rocky Mountains dominate Colorado’s landscape and stretch from the northern part of the state to the southern border. Within the Rockies, you’ll find numerous subranges and peaks, including the Sawatch Range, Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Front Range, San Juan Mountains, and more.
  2. San Juan Mountains: Located in southwestern Colorado, the San Juan Mountains are known for their rugged terrain, high peaks, and stunning scenery.
  3. Sangre de Cristo Mountains: These mountains run along the southern border of Colorado and are known for their dramatic peaks, including Blanca Peak, the fourth-highest peak in Colorado.
  4. Sawatch Range: This range includes some of Colorado’s highest peaks, such as Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, both of which exceed 14,000 feet in elevation.
  5. Front Range: The Front Range runs along the eastern edge of the Rockies and includes well-known cities like Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs. It’s a prominent part of Colorado’s urban corridor.
  6. Park Range: Located in north-central Colorado, this range is home to Mount Zirkel Wilderness and the Medicine Bow Mountains.
  7. Elk Mountains: These mountains are situated in west-central Colorado and include iconic peaks like Maroon Bells.
  8. Gore Range: The Gore Range is located in north-central Colorado and offers rugged wilderness and hiking opportunities.
  9. Never Summer Mountains: Found in the northern part of the state near the Wyoming border, this range is part of the larger Rockies system.

These are just some of the major mountain ranges in Colorado, and the state is renowned for its diverse topography and outdoor recreational opportunities, making it a paradise for hikers, skiers, climbers, and nature enthusiasts.