Early this month at Colorado Springs’ downtown Christmas parade, Priscilla Clayton marched in front of a merry band of gentlemen, waving as she held the AdAmAn Club banner. She waved to her family in the crowd, including her father-in-law, who clapped and leaned over to the stranger next to him.
“That’s my daughter-in-law!”
The man from Clayton’s native Texas has known the AdAmAn Club as the historic fraternity ascending Pikes Peak to shoot New Year’s Eve fireworks. He’s known it to be exactly that, a fraternity, growing by one man every year, as per tradition since 1922.
His daughter-in-law, living at the foot of the peak in Cascade, had tagged along as a guest hiker since 2016.
“He thought, maybe they’re just stringing her along,” Clayton said. “He’s so proud.”
There she’ll be Dec. 30 at the base of Barr Trail, the club’s new member leading an expected 33 others on the two-day mission culminating in the midnight spectacle atop the 14,115-foot mountain.
“I used to always say, ‘I want to be the fourth woman member,’” Clayton said. “And here I am.”
The retired nurse and avid hiker is the first woman added to the 99-year-old roster in a decade. She’s the second to have no family tie to the club; prior to 2011, two wives of male members were added.
Since the founding men of 1922, the famed “Frozen Five,” the club trend has been to add friends and family. With spots limited, years of guest hiking are required on the path to prospective membership — along with a resume of climbing and volunteering — and guests, too, have commonly been selected on a who-knows-who basis. This has perpetuated the perception of “a good ol’ boys club,” some outside critics and some within club ranks have recognized.
Dan Stuart, the club’s president, recognized this in a previous Gazette interview in which he said diversity would be a priority heading into AdAmAn’s next century.
“I’m aware that we can’t change our past,” he said, “but I do think we can change the club’s future.”
On this year’s guest list of 15, four are women — more than usual. One is Stephanie DiCenso, a Springs native who grew up watching AdAmAn fireworks and has spent her adulthood checking off Colorado’s 14,000-foot summits. She was finally awarded a guest spot after five years applying.
The representation “is important,” DiCenso said, “just because it shows other girls and other women that they can do it. As much as people think the club is against women, it’s really not. I think it’s just that sometimes women don’t know they can do it.”
That has been Clayton’s observation. She remembers being nervous in 2016, when she was first invited to the annual banquet bringing together members and guests. With her husband unable to attend, she was entering a space of strangers. A space of almost all men.
“I overcame quite a lot of anxiety to go to that dinner alone,” Clayton said. “But I was so determined to do this.”
She felt determined ever since she moved from Texas to Colorado in 2012. She fell in love with the Rocky Mountains years prior; she and her husband, a pilot, would fly for weekends of mountaineering. Clayton counts more than 60 fourteener summits across 35 individual peaks, to go along with expeditions in the Sierras and extreme reaches of Ecuador.
It was the challenge that kept her going. And it was the beauty — “incomprehensible,” she said.
Incomprehensible, like the week she moved to Cascade.
The moving truck became an evacuation vehicle as the Waldo Canyon fire raged. The dream of life in the mountains suddenly became a nightmare.
The trauma still lingers, Clayton said. “Something like that really affects you.”
In a positive way, it deepened her appreciation for the mountains; she went on to plant trees across the burn scar and join stewarding organizations, such as Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. Also, it made her grateful for each passing year.
With friends, she’d celebrate at midnight on New Year’s Eve atop a local mountain, watching the fireworks high in the distance. She’d be up there with the AdAmAn Club eventually, she told herself.
Now, she finds herself sifting through handwritten correspondence between past members — research for the club’s centennial celebration next year. Members signed letters with “AdAmAn” by their names, she’s noted.
“AdAmAn Bob or AdAmAn this,” she said. “I have to say, I may or may not in the last few weeks been signing my name AdAmAn Priscilla.”
The pride is evident. “I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe it is partly because, as a woman, you feel like you have something to prove.”
Maybe it goes back to when she was 5, growing up in Dallas.
Her father died of lung cancer, leaving a wife and three girls. Norma Jean Baxter kept a book around, Clayton recalls: “You Don’t Need a Man to Fix It.”
When they were grown and raising their own children, Clayton and her sisters weren’t aware of their mother’s fight with lymphoma. She never told them upon her death in 1988. Maybe she didn’t want them to worry, Clayton thinks.
“She raised three strong women,” Clayton said. “I think she’d be proud.”