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First woman to summit Pikes Peak continues to inspire

Author: Liz Forster, The Gazette - August 6, 2018 - Updated: August 23, 2018

From left, Brooke Ashbridge, Elizabeth Barber, Ruthy Cranford and Megan Rieger pause Saturday in Garden of the Gods during their celebration of the 160th anniversary of Julia Archibald Holmes’ becoming the first woman to summit Pikes Peak. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)

One hundred-sixty years ago, Julia Archibald Holmes made history when she became the first woman to climb to the top of Pikes Peak. Lured by the sense of adventure, she defied those who believed it was improper for a woman to attempt a summit, much less doing so in trousers below a skirt that ended above her ankles.

Since then, her controversial ascent has become a source of inspiration for women in the outdoors, particularly for four local women, who, in honor of the 160th anniversary of Holmes’ climb, ascended Pikes Peak in ankle-length bloomers Saturday.

“In 1850, it was very unusual for a woman to hike or be a mountaineer,” said Elizabeth Barber, the co-organizer of the hike. “So if Julia could do it, I thought, ‘Why can’t I?'”

The group led by Elizabeth Barber, front, make their way through Garden of the Gods on Aug. 4 in Colorado Springs in celebration of Julia Archibald Holmes 160th Anniversary of the first woman to summit Pikes Peak America’s Mountain! Elizabeth Barber, Ruthy Cranford, Brooke Ashbridge and Megan Rieger took part in recreating the experience wearing period clothing and using historic gear in their attempt to summit. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)

Barber, who was joined by co-organizer Ruthy Cranford, Megan Rieger and 15-year-old Brooke Ashbridge, started hiking from the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center early Saturday. They plan to camp at Barr Camp on Saturday night and summit Sunday, the same day Holmes, her husband and the two others on the expedition did in 1858.

Before 2008, Barber had never climbed a fourteener. That year, Barber helped organize events across the city for the 150th anniversary of the climb and was so inspired by Holmes’ feat that she decided to pursue mountaineering.

“I became tangible evidence of the influence of women from the past on women of the present,” she said.

Holmes, born in Nova Scotia on Feb. 15, 1838, was the second of eight children in a large abolitionist family.

After the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 enveloped the territory in the fight over slavery, the Archibalds resettled in Lawrence, Kan., where they could join the fight.

There, the Archibalds met John Brown, the abolitionist who led violent raids on pro-slavery families. Holmes, in turn, fell in love with one of Brown’s lieutenants, an aggressive abolitionist named James H. Holmes.

The couple latched onto a gold rush expedition to Pikes Peak in 1858, then set their sights on the highest point visible for miles.

“She saw the expedition as an escape from the ‘disgusting inactivity of camp life. I think even today we can relate to trying to escape boredom by climbing mountains,” Barber said.

Liz Forster, The Gazette

Liz Forster, The Gazette