10th Mountain Division and Nelson Rocks – Did you know?
It’s obvious from looking at Nelson Rocks that there is a lot of history here. Most people immediately go back millions of years and concentrate on the geological history of formation of the rocks. While this is a huge part of our history, I’d like to let you know about events that took place much more recently and could be almost as important.
Most people are unaware that during World War II there were nearly 50,000 US military personnel stationed in Pendleton County (current population of the county 7,700 as of 2010 census). What were all of these military personnel doing in the county? Nearly all of them were involved in training exercises. The area, especially the North Fork Valley, closely resembled the terrain and weather that the troops were fighting in northern Italy and central Europe. The area was ideal for practicing maneuvers related to “mountain problems” – leading men through rugged terrain, moving supplies, and evacuating casualties.
The use of via ferrata (by way of iron or iron road) as a way of increasing the efficient movement of both men and supplies had already been established in Europe so training young soldiers in the technical aspects of climbing and establishing safe routes was a critical part of these training exercises. Training was conducted on all available rock in the area, but the two most often used were Seneca and Nelson Rocks. Today, we can still see evidence of these exercises in the few iron pitons – iron rings that were hammered into the rocks as protection points; that remain in the rocks. Look for them on our modern via ferrata climb or when at Seneca Rocks. These are small reminders of the sacrifices that so many young men made for our country during this time. These pitons are considered a historical artifact and should be left undisturbed for everyone to see.
For more information on the training maneuvers in Pendleton County visit the following websites: