KIA/ MIA (Mount Kiamia) Peak

Memorial Day made me think of one peak

By Forrest Whitman

There’s a relatively small peak nestled in the mountains near Gunnison, Colorado. It’s been called, like several peaks in the area, “Sheep Mountain.” These days it is called Mt. Kiamia memorializing those “Killed in action/ missing in action.” Last Memorial Day I thought it might be fitting to take a look at it, possibly keeping in mind those for whom the peak is now named. It’s not that hard to spot since it’s fairly near the Monarch Pass over the mountains. It’s overshadowed by larger peaks nearby, but is still 11,282 feet high. My older (but still spry) dog, Gus, and I tried hiking up to view the flank of the peak.

It was a fairly easy hike, since the trail follows Starvation Peak Trail. That’s a trail loved by mountain bikers, so care needs to be taken as they come down at a fast and furious clip! We didn’t get to the area where the trail nears the sides of Kiamia, but it is a lovely hike. I’m told another option is to hike up Silver Creek and join the Rainbow Trail which passes about a mile below the peak on the other side. This is all high altitude hiking and humans out of shape (and older dogs) need to prepare for a long day. I suppose one could climb the actual peak, but viewing it from the lower slopes is what most hikers do.

Memories at Mt. KIAMIA

  From time to time there are informal little gatherings near the mountain. A few folks will gather just to remember their departed loved ones and have a picnic. These aren’t sanctioned by any of the “official” veteran’s organizations, but are meaningful. At one time a veteran named Bruce Salisbury led a few of these events. He also petitioned the Colorado Board of Geographic Names to officially name the peak “Kiamia.” From there the story gets a bit drawn out. The board took about five years to make a decision. That’s understandable. The board argues that they need to be careful. Every year they get requests to name unnamed peaks. They wouldn’t want peaks named for dairy products, car dealerships, outdoor stores, and so on.

Once Salisbury had made an official name request he apparently did little more than visit the lower flanks of the mountain each year. A man, named Bradley Hight, continued to work with the board on an official name designation. He collected letters and did a good job of public relations. Unfortunately, Hight claimed credit for the name, and when he was interviewed by the Denver papers, he failed to mention anything about Salisbury, whom he knew. Several letters to the editor in local papers pointed out that Hight and his friends had no right to claim authorship for the peak name. One letter in the Gunnison paper was fairly angry about the way Salisbury was slighted by Hight. However, the outcome was positive and the geographic names board did eventually designate the mountain “Mt. Kiamia.”

A good Memorial Day thing to do

  There are many ceremonies to mark Memorial Day. The President lays a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The various veterans’ organizations fire twenty-one gun salutes. These are all fitting and good. On the other hand, the solitary walk up to Mt. Kiamia might just be a good idea too. I talked about these big public Memorial Day celebrations with a buddy who was seriously injured in Viet Nam. He’s a funny and fun loving chap, and, we’re not given to discussing the Viet Nam war. He does kid me from time to time about having served in a “defense strategic industry” (the railroad) while he was under fire in Viet Nam.

My buddy is mildly opposed to most of the big celebrations of Memorial Day. He thinks they lend credence to our recent wars, wars he doesn’t think ever should have been fought. He likes the Kiamia Mountain idea though, and wants to visit it. We’re planning to amble up that way one day, probably from the Silver Creek side. He’s got a few names he’d like to remember up there on the mountainside and I’ve got a brother-in-law I’d like to think of too. Our trip is not exactly certain. There would be a lot of car driving involved. But even if we don’t visit it, the mountain does serve its purpose as a memory gathering spot.

Will Kiamia Mt. show up on the maps?

  I’ve never seen Mt. Kiamia on any map even though it is officially designated now. The U.S. Forest service makes some attempt to put up signs pointing to peaks. In recent years they’ve faced big budget cuts, however. They have their hands full just trying to maintain mountain trails, much less do any informative signage. That’s probably just as well. The mountain was never meant to be big public draw. I’ve tried to find any forest service maps with the peak named, but nothing so far. That would be nice since folks planning to make a memorial trip could get a better idea of where to start.

Memorial Day is rather strange in this country

  Our American celebration of Memorial Day is a bit strange. Our British cousins have a similar day where they place red carnations in their lapels. There are prayers at local cemeteries. Sometimes honor rolls are placed in prominent places. But, there’s little of our hoopla. For us it seems to be an excuse for the gasoline companies (who already get massive subsidies) to raise their prices, or chain stores to offer sales. I’m not grouching here, but our customs do seem a bit odd. The idea of a less public hike up to the peak appeals more to me.

Do we need a Gilpin memorial mountain?

  There are other unnamed mountains. Some of them are in Gilpin County. One friend suggests that we begin a campaign to name one of them in honor of our fallen service people. I’m not much interested in that idea. The notion of spending five years or so in documentation and visits to the state naming board isn’t too appealing. Still, the idea is out there and there are some lower peaks available.

Why not name your own mountain?

It’s spring. What a nice time to stroll up a trail, have a picnic and bring up a memory or two. That way you could name your own Memorial Day mountain.

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