GOLDEN, Colo. (KDVR) – While driving through Golden, sooner or later, your gaze is likely to land on the M-emblazoned mountain lording over the city.
Something you may not know, however, is why that letter was placed there in the first place. The simple answer to that query can be traced back to 1908, when the creation of a tradition to help acclimate incoming students was set in motion.
Hard work from day one
For those arriving at the Colorado School of Mines for their first day as incoming students, the “M Climb” is a rite of passage. The tradition began in 1951. To partake, all newcomers must simply bring a hard hat, a 10-pound rock from their hometown, and a ready-to-go attitude because, according to the university’s M Climb page, “at Mines, the hard work starts on day one.“
That hard work consists of taking that 10-pound homegrown stone all the way to the top of Mount Zion, and adding it to the other rocks that already make up the M.
“The M Climb remains one of my favorite experiences at Mines—you feel like part of a secret club or something when you’re done,” Dylan, a civil engineering student from Larkspur who made the trek in recent years, said. “If you bring the biggest rock, you might win a prize!”
Bordering either side of the climb are students who already performed the climb in years past, singing the school song and spraying the newcomers with water in order to cool them down on their upward journey.
After placing their fresh rocks on the letter, the M is hit with a fresh coat of whitewash and thus, the new Fall semester is underway.
Where the M comes from
The M was first brought into existence when Herbert Everest was trying to solve a geometry problem for his 1908 thesis. That problem was how to get the 104-by-107 M onto Mount Zion’s 23-degree gradient. He found the answer and, on May 15 of that year, the M found its new home, according to the School of Mines.
The M has undergone several makeovers in the years since its initial installation, including the addition of permanent light fixtures in 1932, the addition of new conduits and multi-bulb terminals for easy color transitions in 1989, and the complete wireless computerization in 2003 to make color and arrangement change an easy affair.
In 2008, on the M’s 100-year anniversary, the lights bordering the installation were switched from incandescent to energy-efficient bulbs.
Today, the upkeep of the M as well as the maintaining of its tradition is overseen by the Mines’ Blue Key Honor Society.