Running Pikes Peak Part 2: The Pioneers

August 12, 2021
Inestine Roberts is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.Inestine Roberts is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.Finaagrave.com
Inestine Roberts is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

The following is part of KRCC's 'Peak Past' essay series.

The first official race to the top of Pikes Peak was on June 28, 1936. 27 started the nearly 13 mile-race up the Barr Trail, and just over two-thirds finished, including one woman.

Twenty years later, a Finnish-born doctor from Florida named Arne Suominen took the idea a bit further. He wanted to show that smoking hurt endurance as well as to celebrate Zebulon Pike’s first attempt to climb the peak 150 years before.

Suominen called it the “Pikes Peak Sesquicentennial Marathon.”

In August 1956, 10 non-smokers and 3 smokers started the race.

None of the smokers finished. But Monte Wolford, a 28-year-old vegetarian-Mr. America-competitor, who had nearly been crippled in a farm accident as a child, won the race in 5:39.

But I want to tell you about someone else - Inestine Roberts.

Courtesy Friends of the Peak
A plaque honoring Inestine Roberts can be found on the Barr Trail on Pikes Peak.

She lived on Pikes Peak Avenue near the border between Manitou and Colorado Springs. She was five feet tall, weighed under a hundred pounds, an amateur botanist and Colorado Mountain Club member.

She’d climbed Pikes Peak over a dozen times.

But on August 4, 1957, something went wrong.

While hiking the peak above timberline, 87-year-old Inestine went missing. A search party went out and continued through the week. Searchers found Roberts ten days later.

Her body was off the trail, but it was exposure that took her, with no cover, a couple inches of rain and snow in those first few days, and nights in the low-40s.

But inside her pack, they found a small container of beautiful Alpine flowers.

There’s a plaque to Inestine’s memory on the Barr Trail today.

The next year, another remarkable woman named Arlene Pieper went to the peak’s top, and then in 1959 she ran the entire race, the first American woman to finish an officially-sanctioned marathon. She even brought her 9-year-old daughter for the first-half run to the summit.

Somehow, I think, Inestine Roberts was watching them both and smiling.

Until our next mountainside chat—be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

Peak Past (formerly Peak Perspectives) is a weekly segment written and voiced by Matt Cavanaugh, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and a resident of Manitou Springs where he lives with his wife and two young children. Through his writing, Cavanuagh explores life in the Pikes Peak region, including the gradients and subtleties of our lives in the shadow of America's Mountain. 

You can find more work by Cavanaugh here.

KRCC's Abigail Beckman manages the "Peak Past" series. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of KRCC or Colorado Public Radio.

Peak Past is sponsored by Gold Hill Mesa.

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