Camp Hale

As the battles of World War II raged on, the United States military decided that mountain warfare would be a tactical skill necessary for achieving victory. The war department sought out to find an ideal location that would allow for mountain warfare training, and eventually settled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, creating the military base of Camp Hale. Named for the Spanish-American War veteran, Brigadier General Irving Hale, soldiers who would be expertly trained in downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, rock climbing, endurance through treacherous mountain terrain, and winter/mountain survival, all with a combat-oriented mentality would emerge from Camp Hale, ready to depart to the European theatre to use their specialized training in the war effort.

An ideal location was the main goal in securing a base that would be sufficient in terms of offering appropriate geography and accessibility for the War Department. Officially established in 1942, Camp Hale offered both of these with ample accessibility and more than adequate geography. Lying in the Pando Valley in Eagle Park, between the Colorado mountain towns of Leadville and Red Cliff, the base was easily reachable by road (located just east of highway 24), or by a railway stop for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The geography was nearly perfect, sitting on a flat mountain plateau where most of the structures would be erected, while also being surrounded by tall cliffs on every side that would be used for training purposes. Another necessity taken into consideration making this spot a suitable location was high annual snowfall, as it would be specifically needed for ski and survival training. The camp stood as an active base from 1942 through 1965, and in those years ranged in size between 5,000 and 247,243 acres.
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At the camp, the military trained the 10th Mountain Division, the 38th Regimental Combat Team, the 99th Infantry Battalion, and additional troops from Ft. Carson, CO. In its later years, the CIA also used the camp for the secret training of Tibetan soldiers. Eventually over 16,000 military personnel and 3,900 animals (mostly mule and horses) would be stationed at Camp Hale; the 10th Mountain Division would make up the overwhelming majority with 14,000 personnel.

Soldiers in training at Camp Hale were forced to not only adapt to, but become ready to face combat in the brutal conditions that were created by the high altitude and freezing conditions of the winter months. An additional obstacle the soldiers were forced to live with was high levels of pollution at the camp. As the main source of fuel for both the structures within the camp and trains frequently running in and out delivering supplies, the frequent burning of coal created large amounts of pollution that settled in the valley. This working hand-in-hand with the high altitude caused severe coughs and lung sickness in many troops, and became known to them as the “Pando Hack.”
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Their training included learning to survive in the cold with minimal supplies, learning to ski, rock climbing, crossing ice-cold rivers, and crossing long distances in the snow on the sides of mountains, doing most activities in full snow gear wearing a ninety pound back pack. From the start of the camp in 1942, many of the troops grew anxious waiting for deployment, and were finally rewarded when in January of 1945, the 10th Mountain Division was finally sent to Italy to join the battle.

Once in the Italian Alps, on the night of February 18, 1945, the 10th Mountain Division used their specialized training in the seize of Riva Ridge, scaling the cliff side and surprising the German army occupying it. From there, they captured Mt. Belvedere followed by other adjacent mountains, eventually pushing back the Germans until the German army in Italy finally surrendered on May 2, 1945.


For additional Reading:

http://www.camphale.org/History/History.htm

https://www.msudenver.edu/camphale/camphalehistory/

https://www.msudenver.edu/camphale/10thmountaindivision/