History of the RKMF
On June 18, 1992, while climbing what would have been the second ascent of the Pink Panther route on Mount Foraker, Alaska, Peter Rittenhouse “Ritt” Kellogg, Jr., Tom Walter, and Colby Coombs were unexpectedly struck by an avalanche.
Over the course of two days, the group had completed most of the route’s major challenges, and were climbing toward the southeast ridge. They were moving fast, aiming to finish the mixed face in worsening weather. The avalanche hurled the team hundreds of feet down the mountain, where they stopped when their rope snagged on a rock. Ritt and Tom were sadly killed in this event. In spite of serious injuries, Colby survived, and spent six days self-rescuing through extreme terrain to emergency support at the Denali basecamp. A year later, Colby founded the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund at Colorado College with the support of Ritt’s family and friends.
To this day, friends praise Ritt for being a caring and grateful person who found humor and adventure in life. He was known to mow lawns to earn money as a teenager, to give a ride to injured mates on the back of his bike, and, on occasion, to savor single malt scotch. Ritt’s legacy continues at Outward Bound, the Berkshire School, and via the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund (RKMF) at Colorado College.
In late February of 1993, Ritt’s friends and family gathered at the Colorado College Cabin in the foothills near Florissant, Colorado to celebrate his life. Ritt, philosopher, Calvin and Hobbs aficionado, dory builder and sailor, champion skier, Outward Bound instructor, mountain biker, climber and soft spoken comedian had died the summer before in an avalanche accident at age 25.
At the gathering, known as the “initial meeting.” Colby led a conversation regarding a memorial fund in Ritt’s name that would chiefly give expedition money to CC students, but also build a memorial table near Ritt’s freshman dorm, McGregor Hall, as well as purchase books and maps for Tutt Library. With help from Ritt’s brother Kirk, and Ritt’s parents, the group imagined ways to celebrate Ritt’s memory.
After the CC Cabin gathering, the wheels continued to turn to build the foundation, largely by way of long-distance phone calls between Colby and Ritt’s father, Peter, who gave a large endowment to Colorado College that would yield approximately 5 percent interest per annum. The intention was for a committee made up of Ritt’s friends and family to allocate the money with the help of Margaret Hillman at CC. Their mission: to help Colorado College students promote imagination, challenge, and personal growth in their own responsible and conscientious pursuit of wilderness expeditions and education.
On January 20, 1995, Colby, Mike Alkaitis and Dave Pritham held the first official steward meeting since the gathering at the CC Cabin to discuss funds and criteria. To be eligible, they decided the trips must be a group of current CC students spending at least 14 days in the backcountry, and have a solid risk management plan. That summer four expeditions went out to Alaska and Canada.
From then on, Colby Coombs continued to move the dream forward with help from Dorothy Phillips, at the CC Leisure Program (now known as Student Activities). In the days before an RKMF Program Manager was in place, Dorothy counseled student candidates, disbursed funds, ensured grant recipients delivered a slide show or Catalyst newspaper article, and archived applications, post-trip reports, and photographs.
During these early years, Colby worked with the Tutt librarians, John Sheridan and Lana Slaton, to purchase library books and maps. In 1998 Colby and Bill Hochman, Dean of Summer Session, sent CC students on a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course with Wilderness Medicine Institute, then owned by Buck Tilton and Melissa Gray with an overnight post-course survival skills workshop taught by Mark Crawford in Pitkin, CO.
The group of stewards now called the RKMF Committee began to meet annually at CC starting in 1999, working directly with the Student Activities department and the Development department. The push for giving students the opportunity to advance their first aid skills led to WFRs eventually being hosted at CC.
In the year 2000, Colby created a program manager for the RKMF. This position created a bridge between the students and the committee, offering grant-writing workshops to help prepare students to write detailed and thorough proposals. Mary Bevington performed this role until 2005, when Maura Hanning took the reins until 2012. It was then that the program manager role became housed by CC through the Outdoor Education Department under Ryan Hammes’ supervision. Chris Dickson, Grace Brofman, and Andrew Allison-Godfrey succeeded each other in this new RKMF Coordinator role.
In 2001 the RKMF began to be more proactive about student education by way of two Alaskan guides, Jared Vilhauer and the late Johnny Soderstrom. Colby recruited these men to come teach glacier skills, self-rescue, anchor building, and the like, primarily in the Mt. Beirstadt area.
Ken Sims, early Committee Chair, brought in his passion for giving back to the great outdoors by bringing in the Rocky Mountain Field Institute as an annual service RKMF grant recipient. The late Mark Hess facilitated several spring break service trips to Indian Creek, in which CC students could rebuild trails, transplant vegetation, and learn about land stewardship in partnership with a Colorado College students’ service group called Break Out.
The application process, Committee bylaws, and collaboration with the College has streamlined and strengthened over the course of the last several decades. The Committee leadership, through founding members such as Colby Coombs and past Chairs (Ken Sims, Bosier Parsons, Melis Coady, Kishen Mangat, Johnny Thompson and Elena Mihaly) have furthered the RKMF and led to the success of the grants given—330 to date. Many Committee members, grant recipients, and members of the Kellogg family attended a 25-year celebration of the Fund held at Colorado College on October 6 and 7, 2017.
In 2018, the Fund supported its first stand-up paddleboard trip, as well as the first "Spirit of Ritt" trip, a newly-created funding category which grants more money for expeditions proposing to be out for at least 22 days that embody Ritt’s creative energy and spirt.
For more than 25 years, the RKMF has funded students as they explore remote rivers, ski tour across glacier-covered peaks, climb alpine spires, and put one steady foot in front of the other on some of the nation's most strenuous thru-hikes. For the participants, these are life-changing expeditions. Students are awed, inspired and humbled by the wilderness and wildness of their expeditions and educational experiences funded through this program. These powerful emotions, lessons, and joy-filled adventures are how we honor Ritt Kellogg’s memory.