Honoring Olga Little on the summit of her mountain

Friday, Sept. 7, 2018 8:47 PM
Kai Hamza signs the summit register on top of Olga Little Mountain.

When I first moved here, I would go to the top floor of First National Bank of Durango and look at the Olga Little display consisting of her large mineral collection, photos of her and her burros, and her exceptional life story.

As I read about her, she really made an impression on me by saving the lives of miners, the way she cared for her burros and the fact that she also could do the demanding work of a burro packer.

After reading Andrew Gulliford’s recent story in The Durango Herald (July 14), with its poignant plea to make a memorial for her on her namesake Olga Little Mountain, I emailed to offer help. To honor and respect her, we took Andrew’s story, laminated it and put it in an ammo case decorated with a simple drawing of her and one of her burros on the outside of the case.

With the help of a couple friends and a four-wheel-drive vehicle, we drove the hour-plus route into the wild and beautiful La Plata Mountains. It was touch-and-go hiking toward the top of Olga Little Mountain, as a large black cloud loomed over Babcock Peak, the heart of these mountains.

We persevered and made it to the top, taking in the spectacular view but leaving little time to place a dilapidated summit register into the ammo case and insert it in the eagle’s nest of rocks on the summit. We succeeded in our quest to honor her with the case and hopefully to inspire others to follow her lead.

There was an early clap of thunder in the distance, prompting us to skip lunch and the usual summit photos. We quickly ran down the peak, hail and rain pelting us. Once off the peak, we slowed down and safely made it to the truck. We enjoyed our lunch while watching the churning clouds roll over the incredible San Juans. the Wilsons, Lizard Head, Engineer, Potato, Hermosa, the Grenadiers and the Chicago Basin grouping. As a Nepalese friend once said, “This must be heaven!”

Returning down the road, I imagined what it would be like to meet Olga Little. To understand this sweet yet tough woman who lived in a man’s world but survived and thrived.

Paul Pennington is a photographer, mountaineer and teacher in Durango.