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A Hiking Trip
Faithful readers of this column will remember that I used to climb many of our mountains. But those days are over.
So when my two sons decided to climb Longs Peak and they asked, more or less as a formality, if I'd like to go along, I demurred.
Still, I told them, I might go up Glacier Gorge and meet them at Black Lake, on the west side of Longs. They would come straight down from the Trough rather than going back to the Longs Peak campground by way of the Keyhole. They're both young and strong and would have no difficulty.
So I found myself on the Loch Vale trail, starting from the Glacier Gorge trailhead at ten minutes of eight one morning, expecting to meet the boys at Black Lake about two in the afternoon.
I've been on the Loch Vale trail often but I've never been to Glacier Gorge, so it was a surprise to find the unspoiled beauty of Mills Lake less than a mile after turning south off the trail to The Loch. I met few other hikers; the ones I saw were older women, climbing alone, who looked and sounded like teachers (whatever teachers look and sound like).
Mills looked to me the way Bear Lake is in the memories of my childhood. Bear Lake today, with its asphalt and fences, trampled undergrowth and the sound of many voices, is a place visited by thousands of tourists and presidential candidates. They would be better advised to take an hour and ten minutes and hike to Mills. They would see a place worth preserving; it's too late for Bear Lake, I'm afraid.
The Glacier Gorge trail is steep and narrow, so horses aren't allowed. Those of you who walk our trails understand what a difference that makes.
It's 4.8 miles to Black Lake, and the stretch between Mills and Black is tough. The last pitch, up the face of the rock dam, I took very slowly. Still, I arrived at Black Lake, a quarter mile round of dark, cold looking water in a gorgeous cirque, a few minutes after eleven o'clock.
Unfortunately, one doesn't have a very good view of the west side of Longs from the lake. I was forced to make another very steep 300 yard climb to a tundra shelf where I had a magnificent view of Storm Peak, the Trough, and the west side of the summit of Longs.
After lunch, I lay back in the tundra a few yards above the trail. I could keep an eye on the talus slope above me where I expected to see my sons descending. The sky was overcast and I could see the clouds blowing over the summit, but here it was warm and windless, and I soon fell asleep.
About one o'clock I was awakened by the sound of voices. I looked down to see Henry-York and Rich on the trail below me, but they were headed toward Longs instead of away from it.
"Well, hello, boys," I said. They both turned, looked at me, said something unintelligible and collapsed to the tundra, spread-eagled on their backs.
They had been on the Peak trail at two in the morning, had been at the Keyhole at seven-fifteen, and had to turn back because of high winds and the lack of warm clothing. They had returned home at nine-fifteen, found I had gone, and decided to walk to Black Lake to find me. But they had already hiked almost 13 miles and didn't know they were in for another 10. And not an easy 10 at that.
Still, we had a good time on the return trip in a light drizzle, passing, on the Loch Vale trail, children barely old enough to walk, some riding on their father's shoulders to Alberta Falls, and one middle aged lady in a house dress.
So even though they didn't get to the top of Longs, it was a good day, and we have a good memory to share of a long and tiring but nevertheless quite beautiful day in the mountains.
And I learned something, too: by the time we reached the cars, we were about evenly matched in tiredness. So if you want to go hiking with your kids, send them on the first 13 miles.
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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