ROBERT MANLY ORMES
The name Ormes conjures up to Colorado adventurers of the past several decades immediate images of a vast array of mountain terrain. The Ormes Guide to the Colorado Mountains was initially printed in 1952 and now is in the ninth edition of 1992. As a uniquely inclusive work with a multitude of listings and descriptions of roads, trails, water courses, lakes, ridges, peaks and spires across the state, many of us have relied on it for finding new pathways in familiar territory and for forging new, personal frontiers in unfamiliar regions.
Bob’s wit and wisdom came through in his texts, as attested to by the group of us who began work in 1988 to formulate a revised edition. As we amended the text to conform with new roads, trails and routes and to delete old ones, we often encountered sections of the work that were inherently Ormesian and cried to be left intact. Thus, the ninth edition was printed in 1992 with as much of the Bob Ormes flavor as possible.
John Devitt stated in the forward to Guide to the Colorado Mountains describing the original author, “Those of us who have known Bob Ormes have realized that we were dealing with a quirky, very intelligent, humorous character combining the best aspects of a mountaineer, explorer, writer, teacher, master of practical jokes and best buddy.” Fairly described as a sporadically gregarious introvert, a new acquaintance could quickly be made to feel like an old friend. Although a skilled writer himself, no written account of his personal history has really captured his in-person reality. You simply had to be there!
Robert Ormes was born on September 27, 1904 in Colorado Springs, the son of the Colorado College librarian. He attended Colorado College, received a BA degree in English in 1926 and an MA in 1927. He became an English master at the Fountain Valley School, where he had the additional duties of rock-climbing instructor and director of frivolity. Later he took the position of Professor of English at Colorado College, where he served with distinction for many years. He took out several years of World War II for service as an instructor of mountaineering at Camp Hale with the 10th Mountain Division. Colorado College awarded him upon his retirement a Doctorate Honoris Causa for his contribution to the school.
Bob married in 1937. He and Suzanne had a daughter Robin and a son Jonathan.
In the 1920s and 1930s, he became and expert climber, one of the pioneers in Colorado, as he climbed with Albert Ellingwood, Carl Blaurock, Eleanor Davis and Mel Griffiths. In his heyday, Bob made many first ascents, including the north face of Blanca Peak and Chimney Rock in the San Juans and the jagged Needle Ridge that he described as “airy, with firm rock and no problems but the rappels.” Bob had the reputation of living on the ragged edge of adventure. He seemed to glory in leading friends and family into the mountains and “getting lost,” laughing at their consternation, then “bumbling through” to return to the trailhead.
In 1950, the Colorado Mountain Club Publications Committee, consisting of Betsy Cowles Partridge, Carl Blaurock and Henry Buchtel, persuaded Bob to be the editor of a much-needed Colorado guidebook. He took on the chore with relish, drawing on his own extensive experiences as well as trip reports and other contributions from club members. This became the Guide to the Colorado Mountains. Ormes also authored Tracking Ghost Trains in Colorado, Pikes Peak Atlas and an autobiography, Farewell to Ormes. He wrote an account of the non-ascent of Shiprock in the 1930s that included a famous picture of him upside down, held by Bill House’s belay. This piece brought the then-princely sum of $300 from the Saturday Evening Post.
In addition to being an honorary member of the Colorado Mountain Club, he was a member of the American Alpine Club, the Adaman Club and the Saturday Knights. In 1955, he chaired the Colorado Mountain Club’s Pikes Peak Group Membership Committee. During the Annual Dinner, he was proud to announce that “not only had we not gained any new members, but we had lost one. Less trampling of our mountains!”
In an editorial in the Denver Post after his death on December 23, 1994, the writer stated, “In the days before granola, Robert Ormes taught Colorado to love nature. His true gift was helping people to enjoy the mountains safely. Yet much has changed since Ormes pioneered vertical pathways to Colorado’s highest summits. Trails that once saw little use today have become deeply rutted with the passage of thousands of boot soles. Previously pristine meadows have been trampled by too many tent camps and truck tires. If Coloradans truly absorbed the lessons that Ormes taught, they would work to preserve what precious little remains of its rugged, unpopulated territory. Conservation of open space, love of wilderness, good stewardship of public lands, respect for wildlife—these are the values that Robert Ormes represented, and that modern Coloradans should cherish.” This Grand Old Man of the Mountains will be missed, but his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds—and also the bookshelves—of those who love the mountains of Colorado.
Farewell to Ormes—Dona nobis pacem.
John Devitt and Al Ossinger