#70: Hike a “Fourteener” in Colorado
On Friday morning, in Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, Colorado, I reached the top of Long’s Peak (elevation 14,255 ft.), after an overnight hike with my buddy Paul Ross, and scratched off #70 on my list. This is the tallest peak I have ever ascended (exceeding the previous high by over 2000 feet). At the Iron Men X Anniversary Dinner in August, I will make some remarks about the most important lesson I learned from reaching this goal (I’ll post them here after the dinner), but here are a few other scattered thoughts.
First, I owe a great debt to my fellow Iron Man Paul Ross (and his family, including his wife Tommye), who graciously furnished me with my own cabin (one of three on their property) in Estes Park, as well as providing me with delicious food and pleasant company. Furthermore, Paul’s guidance, wisdom, and encouragement on the trail proved to be invaluable. I’m also greatly indebted to Carrie for running the Moreland household solo for four days, while I was gone. This trip would not have happened if not for either of their efforts and encouragement.
The National Parks Service posts a weekly report on trail conditions for the Keyhole route, which is what I used to climb the peak, here: http://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/longs_peak_conditions_report.htm. Their site also contains descriptions of different parts of the trail, and advice for what to do after the trail runs out (yes, the trail ends long before the climb does). Check it out for more pictures and descriptions. I cannot stress how important it is for climbers to check these reports before attempting an ascent; even in July, we saw quite a bit of snow (including several snow fields at least a foot thick). Luckily, we slipped into a perfect weather window (it only rained/hailed on us for a few minutes, well after we were down off the peak). Had we come a week earlier, I probably could not have made it to the top because of ice and snow; had we started up later on Friday morning from the Boulder Field (our campsite), I probably would have been caught in the storm that rapidly swept over the mountain after noon.
On the Narrows, I met a husband and wife team who were climbing Long’s Peak for the first time as well. However, they had climbed a few other 14ers before. When they asked how many 14ers I had climbed, I replied, “This is my first.” At this, the man exclaimed, “Holy s&$^%! You chose this mountain for your first 14er?!" By this point we were close to the top, so it made me feel pretty good.
The top of the peak is the size of a football field, which is rare in my experience. It was a fairly clear day. We saw Pikes Peak and the Collegiate Peaks to the south, several glaciers, waterfalls and mountain lakes to the west (which my friends Berry and Cyndi have toured with Paul), the aptly named Never Summer Mountains to the far west, the Front Range to the north and east, and beyond that…well, we saw Denver, Eastern Colorado, Kansas, Illinois…I mean, it felt like you could see all the way to the Appalachians.
We met several runners on the trail (technical climbers too), including one woman so swept up in the beauty of the scenery that she broke down emotionally. I casually commented that no man could make what we were observing; later, as we were purifying water from a snow-fed stream near a herd of about thirty elk, we met her again as she descended the trail. She said hi, and subsequently knelt down by the stream to drink directly from it! I offered her some filtered water; she replied, “It’s like you said! If God made this, then it can’t be bad for me!” Later, as I recounted this story to some people on the peak, I mentioned that I thought about saying to her, “Well, God gave you a brain too.” A fellow hiker chirped, “Not much of one, it seems.” Ok, so we had a little fun at her expense, but you know, if you saw what we saw, you might have understood her point of view.
We took several pictures of rock cairns throughout the park for our buddy Berry, including one (oddly) on the peak itself, which had a sign posted: “Descend Keyhole Route. Roll no rocks.” No kidding!
If I never had to go through Amarillo or Dalhart again, I wouldn’t mind it. However, I’d live in Canyon, TX, and Loveland, CO as well; both gorgeous towns (it didn’t hurt that I drove through both during the “magic hour,” but still).
You can keep your mansions and streets of gold; I’m pretty sure that Jesus will meet me in heaven at a log cabin, by a creek, under a canopy of pine trees, just before sunset. Hope you can visit.
I planned on the drive taking eleven hours; in both cases, it ended up taking thirteen. Outside Pueblo on the way up I-25, I was stuck in a dead-stop traffic jam for an hour. People were getting out of their cars to use the restroom, play football, etc. On the way back, I had to search for a public dumpster to unload a few bags of trash (sorry, Raton McDonald’s).
One other delay: in Denver, at 5:00 of course, I stopped at the Flagship REI store, which has hiking and river trails surrounding it, a three-story rock climbing wall, a parking garage, and every single thing a hiker could ever want or need. I bought a pair of hiking shoes (North Face Hedgehogs - broke ‘em in on the trail, and they did splendidly), as well as water-resistant cargo pants. I could have spent the entire day in that place.
On the way back through Boulder, CO, I probably passed 200 bicyclists. Cory Callaway would make friends there (even though they’re all a bunch of liberal hippies). Also, the cycling room at REI would have made your head spin, Cory.
On the way up to Estes Park, I listened to Alister McGrath’s C.S. Lewis: A Life, and started in on George Sayer’s Jack. Listening to a book straight through while driving is an interesting experience: I gave my full attention to the book, and when I arrived in Estes I felt like my mind was spent. (I also quoted Lewis to Paul for the entire trip.) At the end of the hike, my body was spent. And on the way home, I sang U2 and Delirious songs at the top of my lungs; when I arrived home, my throat was spent. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t recharge on vacations; that comes later. Nevertheless, my heart is full, and as always when I finish a strenuous hike, I’m reminded of the saying of Mother Pollard, an elderly woman who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in the Montgomery Bus Boycott: “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”