.All Trips / Central USA / Colorado / North America

Camp Hale, Colorado

07 Camp Hale

Though today it’s mostly just the quiet pastoral scene you see above, with a few scattered concrete ruins as markers of it’s historic past, Camp Hale was once a very busy site with as many as 15,000 soldiers living and training here.  Camp Hale is at an elevation of 9,200 ft (2,800 m) above sea level and was used to train the elite troops of the 10th Mountain Division during the second World War.   

Camp Hale is situated in Colorado’s Eagle River valley between Red Cliff and Leadville. The camp was named in honor of General Irving Hale and was built in 1942 by the U. S. Army at a cost of $30 million.  It was here that soldiers who became the 10th Mountain Division received their training in cold weather survival, mountain climbing, Alpine and Nordic skiing, and the use of a variety of weapons.  Camp Hale was decommissioned in November 1945 and except for a brief period in the late 1950s and early 1960s when a small part of the camp was used by the CIA to train Tibetan Freedom Fighters, it has remained little used for 70 years.

Camp Hale during the 1940s

At its peak in the 1940s, the camp included dormitories, mess halls, infirmaries, a ski shop, administrative offices, a movie theater, and stables for livestock.  To help with recruitment of ski-experienced soldiers, two wartime (propaganda) movies were filmed at Camp Hale which featured the white-clad elite troops—Mountain Fighters in 1943 and I Love a Soldier in 1944.  There were not enough skiers in the country to fill the required ranks as skiing had not yet attained mass popularity, so rugged outdoor types were targeted as recruits.  Many of these men developed a love for skiing and Colorado, and settled in the state after the war.

Conditions in Camp Hale were harsh: the cold winters were long and the altitude required acclimatization.  Recreation (outside of skiing) was nearly non-existent because of the camp’s high mountain isolation.  Besides the 10th Mountain Division, Camp Hale was used to train the 38th Regimental Combat Team, the Norwegian-American 99th Infantry Battalion, and soldiers from Fort Carson conducting mountain and winter warfare training exercises. When Camp Hale was deactivated in November 1945, the 10th Mountain Division moved to Texas and for a while was deactivated, only to be reformed especially becoming active for the Afghanistan war (and it is now headquartered in New York state).

Troops from the 10th Mountain Division training at Camp Hale, 1940s

Camp Hale was also temporarily used as a Prisoner of War camp and held about 400 of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps.  In 1965, Camp Hale was dismantled and the land was deeded to the U.S. Forest Service (and is part of the White River National Forest).  Since 1974, the area has become a youth development training center, although in my many visits to the area I’ve yet to see that organization in action at Camp Hale.

Many of the soldiers of the 10th mountain developed a love for skiing and were important in developing the Colorado skiing scene after WWII ended. For example, Pete Seibert, a 10th Mountain Division soldier, founded the Vail Ski Resort.  Today it is one of North America’s top ski destinations.

In 2003, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a cleanup effort to remove some of the unexploded ordnance at the site in conjunction with several other government agencies, an effort which is still ongoing.  There are camping grounds where overnight camping is permitted on this former army base.  Several informational plaques are located throughout the area.

Some photos of Camp Hale and its ruins follow, captured recently during a visit to the high altitude country of Colorado.

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance the slideshow)

 

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