American Mountaineering Museum Golden

Every time I enter the American Mountaineering Museum in Golden — and I have visited many times since it opened in 2008 — my eyes are immediately drawn to the remarkable scale model of Mount Everest that dominates the main floor.

It’s my favorite attraction there, standing for me as a symbol of the human spirit. Measuring 12 feet long and 11 feet wide, it’s essentially a 3D topo map with white polyurethane pieces cut to precise specifications, each one a quarter-inch step representing a topographical elevation line in five-meter increments.

It has special significance for me because it triggers memories of my own experiences on the world’s tallest mountain in 1985. But I’d like to think it can inspire everyone who sees it because of the exploits of adventurers who made history there before guiding operations took over in the 1990s.

The museum beautifully tells the adventure story of mountaineering, from the Rockies to the Himalayas. One exhibit from the first American Everest expedition in 1963 contains a mannequin wearing climbing clothes worn by Jim Whittaker when he became the first American to reach the summit, along with his pack, boots and crampons. It also has an oxygen mask worn by Tom Hornbein of Estes Park, a hero of mine who pioneered a new route on Everest’s west ridge with Willi Unsoeld — on that same 1963 expedition — after Whittaker climbed via Edmund Hillary’s route on the southeast ridge.

There’s a lot more to love: artifacts that include an oxygen canister from a 1922 Everest expedition, and an ice ax that was used to arrest a fall by five climbers on K2 in 1953; a 10th Mountain Division exhibit dedicated to the “ski troops” who trained for World War II mountain combat in Colorado; exhibits on the evolution of climbing equipment, big wall climbing and ice climbing; a faux “crevasse” visitors can cross and a “porta-ledge” attached to a simulated rock wall to show how climbers sleep on big wall climbs.

There is beautiful artwork, including 18 Colorado climbing scenes drawn by Jon MacManus for a Colorado Mountain Club history book, and a print of an 1874 painting of the Mount of the Holy Cross, a Colorado fourteener that became famous across the U.S. in the 19th century.

There are wonderful mountaineering quotes, including my favorite by George Leigh Mallory when asked a century ago why he wanted to climb Everest:

“If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself, upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy.”

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