Friday, June 13, 2014

From ‘Observatory Peak’ to Mount Ogden

By Lynn Arave

HISTORY never recorded the first climb to the top of Mount Ogden (9,572 feet above sea level). However, it does include the account of a climb in 1881, plus a name controversy and more tales for the tallest summit east of Ogden.
“Mountain Mounters” was a July 6, 1881 headline in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.
“On the morning of the Fourth a party of young gentlemen set out from town, bound for the highest peak of the mountains to the east of us. They had a seven mile steady, fatiguing march of it, but at last they conquered the acclivity and reached the towering summit with its rarefied atmosphere and glorious panorama.”
The report continued: “As proof of their achievement they lit a fire on the top of the lofty elevation, which was observed in this city and taken as good evidence.”
Mount Ogden was originally called Observatory Peak and many a visitor to Malan’s Basin resort, near the end of the 19th Century, hiked up there.
Then, by 1912, “Ogden Peak is the name of the mountain,” a Sept. 6, 1912 Standard story declared, as a “should be” title.
The “Observatory” name had come from the U.S. Government’s observatory marker on the summit, placed there in the early 1870s.  The peak’s height was thought to be 9,592 feet in 1912, 20 feet higher than modern measurements.
There was also a failed effort to name the peak Mount Henderson, in honor of a federal judge who hiked it.

A popular exaggeration in the early 20th Century was that a person could see into 7 different states from the summit.
In a Dec. 2, 1919 Standard letter to the editor, it was stated that “Mount Ogden” was the peak’s name now thanks to topographical department in Washington, D.C.
Writer A.S. Condon stated in his letter: “Observatory Peak, as said, means nothing and Mt. Ogden means something.” He argued the unique Ogden name set the peak apart, whereas the former name is affixed to hundreds of other U.S. peaks.
In the Standard of May 6, 1920, it was reported that the National Geographic Society had indeed changed the peak’s name officially to Mount Ogden and that now appeared as such on maps.
The Ogden summit also nearly received an electric sign in the 1910s. A Standard report on Aug. 23, 1912 talked about the strong possibility of an electric sign saying Ogden” being put atop the peak.

The Federal Sign System of San Francisco had come to Ogden with blueprints for a mountain sign, 80-feet-long and 28-feet-high.
That’s all that’s mentioned of such a sign and so it likely never proceeded beyond the blueprint stage.
A 1919 winter climb of Mount Ogden reported lots of industrial and house coal smoke obscuring the great panoramic view below.
By 1922 some 100 hikers climbed Mount Ogden on an early July day. Hikers were treated to accordion music along their trek, so their spirits would be kept high during steep grades.
Then, on Oct. 4, 1922, Elder David O. McKay, LDS Apostle, future LDS Church President and former principal of Weber Academy (forerunner to Weber State University), led 365 students on a hike to Mount Ogden. A flagpole, time capsule and memorial were placed atop the peak.

                                Mount Ogden from the southeast.

(This mass hike was similar to Brigham Young University’s annual Mount Timpanogos hike of that same era.)
This annual Weber hike continued for a few years, but was eventually shortened to reach Malan’s Peak only. In the 1930s, it was the “Flaming W Hike,” where a bonfire was lit on top of the lower peak. By 1946, there was no fuel left on Malan’s for a time.  In the early 1970s, fires returned and one year the fire department had to be called and so electric lights from henceforth lit up the “W.”
Meanwhile, the flagpole, memorial and time capsule had been destroyed in 1967 when the U.S. Forest Service started enforcing a law that required all unauthorized structures on mountains to be removed. The relics were then hurled over the eastern cliffs below the peak. Only fragments of them were ever found.
On Oct. 24, 1987, Weber State Professor Gary D. Willden revived the original annual “Flaming W Hike,” with a trek back to the highest summit, Mount Ogden.

                                 The helicopter pad on Mount Ogden.

The following year, on Oct. 1, 1988, the now annual hike included some 200 hikers and even helicopters rides to a nearby mountain saddle for seniors who were part of the 1922 hike.
Today, Mount Ogden includes a concrete helicopter pad and is loaded with so many high tech transmission towers rising heavenward that it no longer seems the rugged and open peak it was into the early 1990s.  Yet, its spectacular views of the Ogden area remain.

(-Originally published by Lynn Arave in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on June 13, 2014.)

                                      Some of the electronic apparatus on Mount Ogden.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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