Alpine assassins

Alpine assassins

You’ve probably heard by now: President Joe Biden is making a Colorado tour and designating the Pinkerton Hot Spring blob on Highway 550 a national monument. OK, well, not really. But close. 

Biden on Wednesday signed a proclamation that created the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, spanning an estimated 53,800 acres, marking the first national monument designation made by Biden. So what exactly is Camp Hale? 

For starters, Camp Hale is a former Army base, located between Leadville and Red Cliff, built in the early 1940s where the storied 10th Mountain Division soldiers trained before being shipped out to fight in World War II. So what exactly is the 10th Mountain Division?

 The short answer: badasses. The 10th Mountain Division was the first and only division of the U.S. military trained to fight in high mountain terrain. At an elevation of 9,200 feet, the Camp Hale division underwent rigorous training for mountain climbing, Alpine and Nordic skiing, and cold-weather survival – all based on ski warfare tactics of the Finnish army. In all, about 15,000 soldiers passed through Camp Hale. 

But it wasn’t all fresh tracks. Conditions in the camp were harsh and extremely isolated. Soldiers endured long marches at high elevations, frequently suffering from altitude sickness, frostbite and low morale, earning the place the nickname “Camp Hell.” But hey, at least they didn’t have to deal with long liftlines and expensive parking at Vail.

In the winter of 1944-45, the 10th Mountain Division shipped off to war, ultimately driving back Axis troops from the mountains of Italy by spring 1945. After the war, many of the soldiers came back to Colorado to help build the state’s ski industry. 

“I can think of no better choice for President Biden’s first national monument than Camp Hale-Continental Divide,” Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement. “With every passing year, there are fewer World War II veterans who trained at Camp Hale left to tell their story, which is why it is so important that we protect this site now.” 

Biden is also expected to block new mining claims and mineral leases on about 225,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area of western Colorado for the next two years, and possibly longer. Existing permits would not be affected. 

So, in the words of Biden himself: This is a big f***ing deal.

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