An interview with Bob Ormes on KRCC:
One of our own...Robert Manley Ormes
By Dan Tynan
Robert Manley Ormes, son of Manley Ormes, first librarian of Colorado College, was born on North Tejon Street and lived his adult life on Del Norte. He was firmly planted in the Old North End Neighborhood, but he wasn’t stuck here; Bob was less a tree man and more a mountain man, and travelled the world to climb some of the earth’s most challenging peaks. I once asked Bob why he loved the mountains so much, and spent so many years climbing and exploring.
“It’s because I’m afraid of heights,” he answered, laughing. “Climbing high exposed mountain routes was a way I had of overcoming that fear.”
Hiking with Bob often felt like a life or death adventure: Bob hated sticking to mapped and established trails, always preferring to get lost. He believed that familiar, mapped trails were boring. At his memorial service – Bob was about 91 when he died – his daughter recounted that when she was a little girl, perhaps five-years-old, her Dad would take her for a walk, leaving their home on Del Norte, walking to the corner of Tejon, then say to her with a smile, “Ok. Where now?” She had to choose her adventure.
Anyone who knew Bob Ormes had a story to tell about Bob – or a story recounted by Bob himself. Once at a Christmas party, Bob confused the contents of two drinking glasses on his mantel piece. Instead of swallowing a sip of port, he swallowed a glassful of mercury, rescued from a broken thermometer.
“Will I die? Will I die?” Bob asked his doctor who was present for the party.
“Probably not,” the doctor replied with a smile, “but that stuff will feel mighty heavy working its way through your system.”
Of course, Bob laughed heartedly when telling this tale, as he laughed heartily at most stories, especially those involving him and some misadventure. Friends recount the time Bob got them lost somewhere in the Colorado mountains. As night fell, Bob’s friends, the hikers, became a little concerned. The sky darkened. Bob did not seem to know exactly where they were going. As the story goes, Bob pulled out a flashlight, dropped to his hands and knees and ordered his companions to follow suit. Of course, they did. What else were they to do? The story ends happily with Bob and his troops crawling on scraped hands and knees into the parking lot, Bob – most likely -- laughing.
For a man who loved getting lost in the mountains, Bob had a lot to do with maps. He and other members of the Colorado Mountain Club compiled the first Guide to the Colorado Rockies, back in 1952. Bob also created the Pikes Peak Atlas, constantly in revision. I remember more than one hike in the foothills around Colorado Springs when Bob would reach a point on a trail, then stop, Atlas in hand. Bob would reconnoiter, looking up, looking down, looking around. He’d check his map, drawing a dotted line on the map from where we stood, up a narrow draw, or maybe across a ridge.
“Well,” he’d say laughing, “the trail probably goes up that way somewhere.”
Some users of the Colorado Guide were not as thrilled about getting lost as Bob was. Bob told the story of responding to a booming knock on the door of his house one snowy day – no, snowy middle-of-the-night – to discover a man dressed for hiking, covered in snow. The man was carrying Bob’s Guide to the Colorado Mountains. He screamed at Bob through the blinding snow, “You can take your Guide Book and . . .”
Bob thought that one of the funniest things that ever happened to him, while at home in his house on Del Norte Street.
One final personal note: once in the late 1970s – Bob was probably at least 75 years-old – Nancy and I planned to accompany Bob on a back-packing trip into Chicago Basin in the San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado. We were to meet Bob in front of his house on Del Norte. His wife Suzie greeted us at the door. Suzie was a crusty and shrewd observer of local politics who had little interest in the mountains. As Bob joined us, Suzie turned to Nancy and me and said in her smoky voice, “I cannot tell you how happy I am that I am not going with you.”
Getting to Chicago Basin is not necessarily the most enjoyable part of the trip. At Needle Creek, the steam-driven locomotive stops just long enough to deposit excited hikers, now covered with coal soot. But once we got settled in our campsite, Bob had us up and walking. Once, while hiking a challenging but manageable trail, Bob announced that it was time to explore a bit, to veer away from the trail, and climb higher. Shortly after that, Bob got us lost -- cliffed. The trail ended; there was nothing to do except turn around and go back. Bob had other plans. He explored the edge of the cliff, peering over, glancing down and around. Suddenly, he dropped to his knees, lurching under his backpack. He scooted to the edge of the cliff on his belly, then pushed himself, zip, over the edge.
“Bob, what are you doing??!!” I yelled, “Are you alright?”
From over the cliff, a few seconds of silence. Then came the hearty laugh. “Well, he said, I guessed there oughta be a ledge right about here.”
On the last night of our trip, sitting around the fire, all of us relaxed and sipping a wee bit of bourbon from a flask, Bob stood up, stripped off his shirt, and threw it in the fire, signaling, I suppose that our adventure was ending.
“I won’t need that one anymore,” he said, with a laugh, watching yet another hiking shirt go up in flames.
Bob Ormes, mountain man, and legend of the Old North End.