Peak(s):  Meeker, Mt  -  13,911 feet
Longs Peak  -  14,255 feet
Date Posted:  01/30/2019
Modified:  03/25/2019
Date Climbed:   07/15/2000
Author:  flyingmagpie
 Sweet 16: Climbing RMNP's 13ers: Introduction  

Sunrise From Chasm Meadow. Meeker Ascends Toward Heaven on the Right.
I was climbing with three companions that day. Our goals were first Meeker, then Longs via the Loft Route. This was after I had first completed that circuit
with Teresa Gergen. There had been many forest fires that year. The sky held a smoky haze, and the rising sun reddened the haze.

In 2010, six years after I had begun my quest to climb all the Colorado 14ers, on a beautiful warm summer morning without wind and never once threatened by rain, I stood on the summit of Capitol Peak, my 54th 14er, and thus my finisher. It was also the summer before I turned 60 the following winter—two significant events that by seeming happenstance, occurred the same year. As you might expect, both of these events seemed to me to be capstones of long journeys (for journeys they both had proven to be, as I had realized somewhere along the course of each).

My climbing apprenticeship had actually begun over 10 years before, when I had returned to Estes Park, and bought a home there. Estes had figured memorably in my early life, and I felt I had strong ties to this “village.” Still do. I would have been born in Estes, where my parents had first settled down after my father had returned from combat in the Pacific Theater of WWII. In 1949 there was no hospital in Estes, however, and only two doctors, one of which was ours. I wasn’t born in Estes. I was born instead in the closest hospital below, which happened to be in Boulder. Estes Park would be my home for the following six years. I went to kindergarten there. Then my father took a better paying job down in Fort Collins, and we moved. So, really, I was returning home in 1999. I think of Estes as my hometown. One of the first things that I did after returning was to climb Longs Peak again. I had first climbed it as a kid in college, in 1969, using the cables still present on the old Cables Route up the North Face! That is how long ago that first climb had been!

The second really significant thing that I began in 1999 was beginning to climb all of the 19 Rocky Mountain National Park 13ers. They were right there, I figured, so why not? I found I really enjoyed hiking and climbing.

I had become a serious distance runner many years before we moved. I had trained year-around seriously for running, at least five days a week and sometimes more, even through the long, cold, and icy Colorado winters. I had run many races in truly competitive times, 5K’s, 10K’s, and half-marathons. Running was even bigger then than it is now. It had become a movement, really, popularized by the success of Jim Fixx’s famous book. My running career was capped by my twice completing a marathon I think might still be held in Lincoln, Nebraska every spring. I ran both marathons in my 40’s, the second race five years after the first. Highly motivated, I ran the second marathon even faster than I had run the first, though I was older. My goal in both had been to run a sub-three-hour marathon, and I felt I could do that. I trained really hard, but not hard enough, I guess, for in neither instance did I manage to sub-three. My second one I had come close. To begin, I had run 20 consecutive seven-minute miles, but that next mile I had hit that infamous “wall” so many marathoners have come to know. I didn’t just want to slow down a bit. I had to slow down. Not reaching my goal was a humbling experience, but none-the-less a good one. This had been a true journey. I had learned a lot along the way.

I had a friend at that time, during my running years, who had run over 50 marathons, and as a young man had trained and raced as a member of the University of Oregon’s cross-country team. He had met and even run with the great Steve Prefontaine before his untimely death. My friend and I were both older now, and together we trained for the Lincoln Marathon both of the years I ran it. My friend used to often repeat a joke that was funny but held so much truth I have remembered it to this day. The joke went like this: “You know why I now run my marathons at least five years apart? Because it takes a full five years for me to completely forget just how much pain my last one had inflicted on me!”

Towards the end of my running career, I felt I was beginning to injure too often. Twice, while training for the Bolder Boulder, which I ran many times, I injured myself and ended up walking the course, not running it as I wished. There came a time when I felt that to keep from seriously injuring myself for good, I needed to slow down. So my running career segued kind of naturally first into hiking, and then again into climbing. I still hike and climb to this day, even though I am now approaching 70. Didn’t imagine I’d make it this far at all, really.

What kind of climbing do I do? I am not a technical climber. I don’t protect myself like they do with a rack of hardware and a rope kept safe by redundant anchors while they scale vertical cliffs. Instead, I am a scrambler. Usually, my “gear” consists of only my hands (sometimes protected by gloves) and my feet (always protected by boots), and a trekking pole. Through scrambling I have attained many of the same satisfying summits that technical climbers attain, but in a simpler and admittedly less elegant way, by completely different routes than they employ to accomplish the same thing. In many ways, this comparison can be likened to the comparison between a boxer, and a street fighter. Both get the same job done, but by different means. The first is truly an artist, the second only a brawler. But even a brawl, if it is well and fairly finished, can be satisfying. So, when I returned to Estes Park, I began to explore Rocky Mountain National Park, hiking its many glorious trails, and also, much more significantly, beginning to climb the Park’s nineteen 13ers. This is the story of my path along that ensuing journey. Sometimes, during my next journey, in which I would continue to hike in the Park, but also succeeded at climbing the Colorado 14ers, I wore a helmet, and crampons, even carried an ice axe, but I didn’t do any of this while climbing the Park 13ers. I hadn’t yet learned how.

You see, every real journey is also a learning experience, and sometimes the lessons journeys teach us can be taken as nothing less than profound. The same journeys often mean different things to different people, but all those differences don’t need to be mentioned here. Instead, I prefer to mention that besides being a learning experience, every real journey for everyone seems to involve both personal growth and a strengthening of the spirit and soul. Every journey for everyone, if it is indeed a true journey, seems to become spiritual as well as physical at some point. That spirituality, that gained enlightenment about the self and the world, the self in the world, eventually becomes the journey’s most important element. The spirituality may be different for different people, but it always seems to be there, beneath the surface at first, but growing increasingly more present as the journey progresses. And, I think, it is specifically that quality of spirituality which makes the most important of our journeys so meaningful at all to us as the separate human beings, the frail mortals, we really are. After all, “the mountains don’t care,” as we have all learned in different ways along our differing paths. It is only we humans who not only can, but must, do exactly that.

Having finished the last paragraph above, I think I should also close this Introduction and get on with the writing of the 16 chapters which will follow (though there are actually19 Rocky13er summits, on three of the climbs it is possible to just as easily tag two summits as one) and an Afterword. Maybe the best way to finish would be to refer to a snippet of dialogue in a movie that has become one of my favorites. The dialogue takes place between Chief Dan George, as the wise Cheyenne leader and mystic Old Lodge Skins, and Dustin Hoffman, whom he has raised as a son and named Little Big Man. Old Lodge Skins believes it is his day to die, and wishes to do that in a holy place, so he says to Little Big Man, “Come now, my son. We will go.” Innocent of his Grandfather’s purpose, Little Big Man asks him, “Go where, Grandfather?” Old Lodge Skins replies simply, “To the mountain. To the top.”

After succeeding in climbing first Meeker, then Longs via the Loft on a fine day that held fair and clear, my climbing buddy Randy leads our descent, which he
learned when I led our ascent. If you look closely, you can see other climbers finishing the "Ramp's" ledge system, just below the near slope, and silhouetted
against the far cliff. You can only see their torsos and heads. Randy is looking right at them, because he knows as well as I that we must let them clear the
ledges before we ourselves can start down. They will clear just to the right of Randy, and only then can we continue to descend.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
That's some prose, sir!
01/30/2019 21:35
I look forward to reading more


This will be good!
02/01/2019 12:44
I look forward to reading all 17 chapters!

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