CASCADE, Colo. — This year, the nearly 100-year-old AdAmAn — "add a man" — Club added its fourth woman to guide the group on its annual trek to set off New Year's fireworks on the top of Pikes Peak.
Priscilla Clayton, AdAmAn Club's newest member, will lead the charge of about 30 people up America's Mountain.
Thursday and Friday will mark the 99th climb. New Year's Eve in December 2022 will mark the club's 100th anniversary.
Since 1922, members of the Pikes Peak AdAmAn Club have hiked up Barr Trail to the 14,115-foot peak on Dec. 30 and 31 to ignite fireworks from the summit for the Colorado Springs area and beyond. The club started with five men — nicknamed the Frozen Five — who decided that each year, they'd add one new member to the club from a group of applicants. They'd add one man, hence the club name AdAmAn, or "add a man."
Sue Graham broke that mold in 1997 when she became the first female member added to the club. She was followed by Cindy Bowles in 2004, and Ann Nichols in 2011.
And now Clayton will become the fourth woman to do so.
"On the mountain, you're not a man or woman, you're a mountain climber and the mountain treats you the same, no matter what," she said.
Now, living in Cascade, she has a view of Pikes Peak from her home. A trailhead just half a mile away leads to an overlook of the mountain, which a hiker must earn after a 1,000-foot climb. Her family has dubbed it Inspiration Point.
"So, a little bit of effort, but it's worth it. And it's a beautiful trail up there," Clayton said.
To date, she's hiked more than 30 of Colorado's fourteeners, or mountains that stretch higher than 14,000 feet above sea level. That doesn't count the repeats — she estimates she's hiked Pikes Peak 12 or 13 times alone. Clayton has also completed the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada Range.
Her interest in summiting the mountains sprouted while she was still living out of state, and she'd spend long weekends in Colorado climbing with her husband before heading back home. In 2012, after living in Texas, Florida and Georgia, they moved to Cascade.
She was greeted by almost immediate evacuations due to the 18,000-acre Waldo Canyon Fire, she said. But after a few days, they were allowed to return to their new home and began to settle in.
"When we moved here, the people that we bought our home from kept telling me about this group. 'You've got to go watch the fireworks on New Year's Eve,'" she said she remembered them saying.
The more she learned about the AdAmAn Club, the more she was drawn to it. It was special and unique, she said. So, she started looking into ways to become a guest climber and participated in that way for a few years. She befriended Cindy Bowles, who was the second woman to be added as a member.
After five years as a guest climber, she was surprised to learn at the club's annual club dinner that she had been selected as the one new added member for 2021.
"When they announced my name, I just couldn't believe it," she said. "Then I turned around and saw my daughter and granddaughter. They had come down from Denver to surprise me... It's pretty incredible. I'm following some incredible women."
Each year, the new member will lead the 30-person group up the mountain.
Clayton said she feels ready.
"I've been climbing every chance I get — hiking, spending a lot of time at elevation," she said. "The last few weeks, I've gone up to the summit and hiked down to A-frame (on Pikes Peak) to get that high elevation and try to get acclimated a little bit more to 14,000 feet."
She said as she leads the group, she will be in charge of breaking trail should the snow be deep enough. While she said she hopes to do that on her own, she knows she has others with her willing to help. The group will hike up to Barr Camp, which is about 6 miles up, on Thursday and will continue to the summit the following day.
"The whole two days is — it's just such a cool experience to see everyone helping each other," she said. "And it's fun. And there's laughter and you know, there's seriousness too. I've been checking the weather probably 10 times a day. Recently, I check the Pikes Peak mountain forecast and it changes almost every time I check it."
As of Thursday morning, conditions were looking brutal both Thursday and Friday. Wind gusts on the summit were expected to reach 60 mph Thursday afternoon with a wind chill of -25. Conditions improve slightly on Friday — by the evening hours, the wind will have died down to about 30 mph, but temperatures, with wind chill, will plummet to -30 with light snow.
Because Clayton has joined as a club guest in previous years, she's enjoyed the "surreal" sight of fireworks above her at 14,000 feet, she said. This year, as the newest member, she's tasked with flipping the switches to shoot off the fireworks, meaning she won't get to enjoy the spectacle herself.
The group will leave the summit around 12:30 a.m. Saturday and arrive at the Cog Railway Depot by 2 a.m.
Clayton is one of five women climbing this year, though she is the only member. Four other women will climb as guests.
As of this year, the club has 104 members, plus 401 guest climbers.