Hardened competitors celebrate mining heritage

Photo by William Woody—Ouray resident Jesse Pattridge bores a hole in solid Gunnison blue granite on Saturday during the fourth annual Highgrader’s Holidays in Ouray. Pattridge and other entrants, most of them hard-rock miners, competed to see who could bore a 3-foot hole the fastest. Competition continues today, with the main event at 3 p.m.: double jacking, in which two-man teams try to drive a steel bar into granite.

OURAY — The mining of gold, silver, lead and copper transformed the small town of Ouray into one of the richest places on Earth a century ago. On Saturday, the town’s mining heritage was celebrated during the fourth annual Highgrader’s Holidays in Ouray’s mining park.

Team drilling, hand mucking, single and double jacking were some of the events planned for the two-day festival, which concludes this afternoon.

Lifelong Ouray resident and former silver miner Aaron Calhoon said the event resembled a family reunion in which everyone unites for friendly competition. Calhoon said he used to mine silver with many of the competitors in the Grizzly Bear mine in the steep cliffs above Ouray.

“It’s about growing up here and knowing what built this town,” Calhoon said.

Event co-organizer Eli Doose said nearly all of the competitors are miners who work in various hard-rock mines throughout the West.

Doose’s grandfather also was a hard-rock miner in the tunnels above Ouray.

The event was started decades ago but ended in the early 2000s because of a lack of funding and organization. Doose said the event resumed four years ago and has barely managed to stay afloat. He said the event welcomes donations, which help pay for the park space and grandstands.

“We are not a has-been mining town; we are a mining town,” Doose said.

Event co-organizer Bumper Williams, a fifth-generation miner in Ouray, said Highgrader’s Holidays is a great way for people to learn about hard-rock mining and raise awareness for an industry that remains strong.

Twenty-seven entrants competed in a timed drilling event designed for each man to bore a 3-foot hole in a large chunk of Gunnison blue granite. The drill bucked and pushed away the more inexperienced competitors. The men with decades of time underground made the challenge appear effortless.

Williams said the double jacking event, scheduled for 3 p.m. today, is the main event. Two-man teams attempt to drive a steel bar into granite. One man holds the steel bar while the other uses every bit of strength to drive the bar with a sledgehammer.

“It’s really cool,” Williams said. “Some of those guys make it look so easy.”


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