Alumni Stories

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Jack Martin

Class of 1959

How not to climb a mountain

When I was a 14 year old newspaper delivery boy, I earned a two week trip to a “dude ranch” for boys in Estes Park, CO by selling new subscriptions. It is one of the highlights of my life, but there is a highlight within the highlight that is most interesting.

One day after arriving we talked one of the counselors into taking us to a climb a mountain called Long’s Peak. The mountain is called a “Fourteener”. One of many 14,000 plus foot high mountains in the Rocky Mountain Range. Long’s Peak is 14,259 feet high.

We first rode horses to what is called the “tree line”. The point at which trees and most vegetation no longer grow due to the high elevation and limited oxygen. From this point on we had to traverse a boulder field by foot. It was a long arduous journey, but fortunately streams of fresh cold snow melt flowed between and rocks in order to satisfy our thirst. This was sixty years ago and there was little concern for pollution at that altitude in the ‘60’s.

Upon crossing the boulder field we reached the base of a vertical climb. We ascended steep trails until we came upon a rock wall nearly straight up. This wall had steel cables strung along crags and crevices with which to hang onto while climbing. The last hour or more was spent climbing the 600 foot wall.

Once at the summit, we were in various stages of oxygen deprivation and much needed rest. We ate our sack lunches until a thunder storm started approaching. The counselor told us we were going to take a faster alternate route down to beat the storm. It was a descent without steel cables and was less vertical. It amounted to traversing a split lava ledge that ranged from two feet to six inches wide in spots and a few hundred feet long. The scary part was the lava flow angling down many hundreds of yards to a lake. It was important that we watch where we placed our feet and that we lean towards the upper portion of the wall in order not to fall backwards down the slope.

We made it back to our ranch, starving and almost delirious from fatigue. As the years pass, I frequently recall this trip. Each time I do I always wonder what in the world were we doing climbing this mountain as young inexperienced teenagers in street clothes and street shoes. Over 60 people died climbing this mountain since the mid 1800’s. It is amazing to me that none of us befell an accident. Although not all completed the climb, no one was injured other than minor cuts and scrapes.

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