Presidential Peak on Highway 91 or Not: Mt. Lincoln?
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
It’s Presidents’ Day weekend. And Friday – February 12 – was the official birthday of President Abraham Lincoln, so it seems like a good time to share a little story about a Presidential Peak: Mt. Lincoln.
And of course, it has a Leadville connection.
The story starts with a fellow named Wilbur F. Stone. While born on the east coast, Stone’s childhood slowly moved him west, where his impact on Colorado would be significant, eventually helping to write the state’s Constitution.
Stone was a journalist, attorney, and well-respected jurist. While his name is not as well-known as the Byers and Evans of his day, Stone is intimately tied to Colorado during the time the territory would eventually gain statehood in 1876.
At 27, he headed west to Colorado, after reporting about the fortunes to be made in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, Stone longed to see them first hand. Upon his arrival, he immediately immersed himself into the mountains, and the mining industry.
For Leadville’s sake, his strongest mountaineering tie is associated with the Mosquito Range. Urban legend – and some historical records – dictate that Stone could not decide on a name for his new mining company situated atop the natural boundary line between Lake and Park Counties. So, he had left the space blank on the legal documents.
One day while reviewing some company paperwork, a mosquito landed on the blank space and met its demise. Stone went with the name “Mosquito Mining Company.” The range, pass and peak followed suit.
However, Stone’s tie is really more to the other side of Mosquito Pass, in Park County. After the Territory of Colorado was organized in 1861, Stone was elected as a representative from Park County to serve in the first territorial legislature in 1862, and was re-elected in 1864. So clearly he was spending more time prospecting and exploring in Park County, which led him to summit the peak that would later become known as Mt. Lincoln.
In 1864, Stone wrote and published a description of Mount Lincoln as a monument to President Abraham Lincoln, which attracted such literary acclaim that the 14,286 feet peak was named after the 16th President of the United States.
But, it’s funny, because while this official account reads like something out of “Harper’s Weekly,” the other side of the story is a bit different. It seems, Stone returned to base camp after his summit, full of excitement, the kind of high that all mountaineers know from reaching the top. He originally thought the peak was at least 2,000 feet taller than it really was, perhaps another side affect of high-altitude mountaineering.
The campfire tale recants a scene where miners listened intently to Stone’s description of the mountainous trek. The men immediately threw out suggestions for naming the majestic alp, which at this point, like many peaks, was unnamed. Who knows, maybe Stone was living down that whole “Mosquito” debacle.
Regardless, it was noted that everyone agreed that naming this new peak – with a lasting, respectable legacy – was important. Remember, it was June 1861 and there was a lot going on in the country, namely a war between the states: The Civil War.
The story is told that after a number of names were suggested, the name of the recently elected President was offered. As if in one, unified voice to hail the President, the miners all shouted: Lincoln! Mount Lincoln it was.
Today, Mt Lincoln is Colorado’s 8th highest peak at 14,286 feet. Officially the peak sits in the Mosquito Range which hosts five mountains that exceed the magic 14,000-foot mark: Lincoln, Mount Boss, Mount Democrat, Cameron Point and Mount Sherman.
While Mount Lincoln is generally associated with Hoosier Pass – between Breckenridge and Alma – the peak can be seen from Lake County’s Fremont Pass, but you really have to know where to look.
Writer’s Note: Over the years there has been great debate over whether this is actually true, so feel free to weigh-in on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org and share your knowledge. Here’s what Leadville Today knows . . . When driving south on Highway 91 from Copper Mountain to Leadville, you can see Mount Lincoln, but, you have to know exactly where to look and with the ever-changing landscape of the Climax Mine, it’s becoming even harder and harder to see. While it’s not as visible as Mt. Arkansas or Mt. Bartlett, this presidential peak can be seen towering over the Climax Mine. Look up, right before you head into the southbound curve over the Climax truck tunnels on your way home. You can see the triangular top of the peak directly to the left of Mt Arkansas, also known as the “Sleeping Indian” mountain. See VIDEO
For many years, Mt. Lincoln belonged to an elite group of four mountains that were thought to be the only Fourteeners. It is also known as the miner’s mountain as it is pockmarked with old mines. Today much of Mt. Lincoln is privately owned by mining companies. In the summer of 2005, these landowners denied access to the peaks by hikers and climbers, fearing liability in the case of injury and citing the particular dangers due to the presence of old mine workings. On August 1, 2006, the town of Alma signed a deal to lease the peaks for a nominal fee, to reduce the potential liability to the owners and free up the peaks for recreational access.
It’s sad to note that President Lincoln never had the pleasure of seeing his glorious namesake. However, from all accounts, Stone’s description of the lofty Presidential Peak might just have been enough. If not, Lincoln did receive a special delivery from miners in the area: $800 in pure gold!