c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins
It was the height of tourist season that August day in 1911, when Mr. and Mrs. William A. Skinner learned a hard lesson about the perils of hiking unprepared on Pike’s Peak in Colorado.
The couple were first spotted at the printing office of the Pike’s Peak Daily News, a tourist paper with advertisements and lists of people hiking the peak that day. Eighteen year old Alex Gress, a guide who led burro parties to the summit, was walking over to the printing office when he noticed Skinner and his wife. The editor of the newspaper, a Mr. Wilson, was trying to talk them out of continuing on their quest to reach the summit. It was already late in the afternoon, and the couple were without a proper guide.
Later, Gress remembered the woman’s argument against postponing the hike. “I came all the way from Texas to climb Pike’s Peak,” she said, “and that’s just what I’m going to do. Nothing’s going to stop me.”
When the Skinners first set out to conquer Pike’s Peak earlier that day, the weather was pleasant and sunny. By the time they reached the News office, however, snow clouds were looming on the horizon and Mr. Skinner looked rather peaked from the already strenuous hike. Both husband and wife were 50 years old, and neither had dressed adequately for the sudden storms which overtake Pike’s Peak year round.
Mrs. Skinner was certainly determined. She not only refused offers of a rental coat, but also Mr. Wilson’s invitation to spend the night at his cabin. Resisting her husband’s pleas to give up the hike, Mrs. Skinner pushed doggedly on with her devoted husband trailing behind her. The last anyone saw of them was at Windy Point, about two miles below the summit, around 4 p.m. Mrs. Skinner was hiking several yards in front of her husband, who appeared on the point of collapse even then.
Over two feet of snow fell during the night. Even after Alex Gress safely guided his group to the summit, the party had to wait several hours after sunrise before the visibility allowed them to trek back down. Little did the group know as they descended the trail that they were walking right by the Skinners. By then the couple was nearly buried under a foot of snow and well beyond help anyone could provide.
When the bodies were spotted the next day, it was 6 p.m. before they could be retrieved. Mrs. Skinner, lying face down, had crossed her hands over her face. Close by was Mr. Skinner, his face upturned to the skies. The couple were taken back down to Manitou, where their bodies were shipped back to Texas for burial.
Of the personal belongings found with the Skinners, two items in particular were worthy of note. One was a set of accident insurance policies, each with a clause prohibiting payment if death came due to overexertion in Colorado. The other was a letter from a friend back in Texas, whose jovial warning rang true in the most chilling fashion: “I hope you are having the time of your life in Colorado, and that you will not freeze to death on Pike’s Peak.”