13 miles, 12 hours, at 13,000 feet
We’re going to get straight to the point here. Miss Lucy did not summit Longs Peak. Anybody got a problem with that? Good—I didn’t think so! Because there’s a lot more to mountains than summits. Miss Lucy never wanted to join the Olympic Mountaineering Team anyhow. This is the story of how Miss Lucy turned a so-sad moment into a smiley face day.
It all started at 2 am—that’s what time our group of twelve hit the trail. Five Jinks’s and seven friends—news has gotten around about Jinks being a professional Longs Peak guide. He collected a dollar each from the non-Jinks’s, and got a $2 tip. A portion of that had to be paid to Jinks Jr. for assistant guiding services. For fourteen hours of hard work, Jinks earned himself a Starbucks.
The trip up was uneventful—it would have been more fun if Miss Lucy could have visited more with her friends, but the guide was pushing us hard and she had no air to spare. The other four females on the hike were Miss Lucy’s darling daughter-in-law Ashlie, and the wives of three of the guys. Ashlie planned to summit, but the other gals were nonchalant and noncommittal—they were basically just along for the ride. It was dark and overcast, and there weren’t as many hikers on the trail as might be expected on a Saturday in late July, but it had rained hard in the evening and the forecast was for more.
Thankfully, the sky began to clear after we finished our Boulderfield breakfast and began the push up to the Keyhole. Those nonchalant females turned into pretty strong hikers, and Miss Lucy was a little embarrassed to see that all the rest had already arrived and she was bringing up the rear. (In her defense, they were all younger too.) Those last fifteen feet up are tough, and Miss Lucy made a particularly embarrassing maneuver as she heaved herself up on the rock. She got stuck on her belly with her feet kicking the air behind her, and although he denies it, she swears she saw Jinks roll his eyes.
The arrival at the Keyhole is abrupt and startling for all. Miss Lucy took a quick look, got all woozy and plopped herself down in the center of the Keyhole like a quivering mass of jelly.
Everybody was ready to go up! Nobody was turning around like they had said. The mountain had seduced them. Lucy hated that they were all waiting on her. She knew it would only get worse from there, and besides, she was currently paralyzed with fear. She impulsively told them to go on. Jinks said, "You’re sure?" and looked at her sadly. He was the final one to step through the crack to the other side of the world. He gave one last backward glance, and then he too disappeared—it all happened so fast.
And so Miss Lucy continued to sit stiffly. There was a steady stream of climbers coming through. Most were friendly. One guy asked "Are you okay?" Miss Lucy was a little indignant, and wanted to reply, "What about me makes you think I’m not okay?" But she just said with forced enthusiasm, "Oh yeah, I’m great! Having the time of my life!"
And then Amazon Climbing Chick stepped into the box with her long legs and short shorts, flipping her blonde ponytail. She said, "Hey, are you going up or not? Either get going or get out of the way!" Miss Lucy just gave her the evil eye. She wasn’t blocking her way, and the chick didn’t even hesitate as she slipped on through the crack.
It remained to be seen what would become of Miss Lucy. It appeared that she may have found her final resting place. She was trying very hard not to move at all. Perhaps she would stay there forever, and would eventually become calcified and petrified, a new rock formation. In generations to come, future climbers of Long Peak would enter the Keyhole, pause a moment, lower their eyes respectfully, and mutter, "Remember Jinks’ wife."
But a simple twist of fate was about to change everything. One of the guys in the group that went on with Jinks had clipped a walkie-talkie on her pack as he left, saying she could keep track of the group. Just then, the thing began to squawk. Miss Lucy groped awkwardly for her pack to silence it, and her camera fell into a deep hole in the rocks.
She could see it, several feet down, but there was no way her arm would fit or reach it. The hole seemed to open up on a level down below, and Miss Lucy forced herself to look behind. Yes, there was another level, and in order to reach the camera, she would have to clamber down there. Or slither. Whatever worked.
She began to move, and as has happened before, the terror seemed to dissipate as she did. She found herself on a very stable slab of rock, hemmed in by a wall. She relaxed, retrieved the camera easily, and began to look around. She soon saw and identified the LEDGES of Longs Peak, with PEOPLE on them. And some of them, far away, were her FRIENDS! Beyond that, was the legendary TROUGH! Tiny little specks were moving up—they too were PEOPLE! She was enthralled. Soon she began to examine more closely the area of Glacier Gorge and identified all the lakes, taking lots of pictures. It was GREAT! Miss Lucy started once again to enjoy herself.
It was cold up there, and especially so, not moving. Miss Lucy realized she didn’t want to wait for her friends—it didn’t look like anyone was coming back soon. And then she thought to herself, "Lucy, old girl, it’s up to you. If you want to have a fun day, go have a fun day!" She briefly thought of perhaps following the group through the crack, now that she could see the other side, and then thought better. But she was immensely proud of herself for even thinking about it! She gathered up her stuff, and slid down the front of the Keyhole. It was much easier getting down than up. She took it slow, and instead of feeling driven, she simply enjoyed it. The sun was shining and it looked to be a perfect day. She climbed down a ways, and then decided to go up on the ridge on the right.
She soon found herself looking over the top of the ridge right into Chasm Lake. It was breathtaking. She got a call from the folks on the top—nine out of eleven of them had made it to the summit—the other two had waited at the bottom of the Homestretch. She was so proud of her daughter-in-law Ashlie, but was most proud of her friend Kathy, who had spent the summer before having chemo and radiation following a double mastectomy. Way to go, girlfriend!
Lucy climbed amongst the boulders on the ridge, seeing and photographing several spectacular views. She descended slowly and gradually through the lower parts of Mount Lady Washington and rejoined the Longs Peak trail far down from the Boulderfield. From there she hiked leisurely and with great pleasure, stopping to journal, to take pictures, to visit with other hikers, and just to breathe the clean mountain air and enjoy God’s creation. It was a SPECTACULAR day.
When she reached the ranger’s station, Miss Lucy took her boots off and laid down on a bench, enjoying the rest and warm sunshine. It was a very pleasant two hours before the others came dragging in. Mr. Jinks went straight to her and planted a big kiss on her lips. She said, "Humph! You’re just feeling guilty because you went off and left me, but don’t feel bad, I had a LOVELY day!" He said, "Yes, I felt bad the whole day, but there was nothing else to do. But that mountain is INSANE, and I was insane to ever think you’d enjoy doing it! I’m crazy to want to do it myself! You made the right decision."
He said then that he was through with Longs Peak, but the mountain was already working its dark magic. At supper he was saying "Eight isn’t a good number to end on….I probably should do it another two years to make ten, and then maybe every five just to keep it fresh…."
The rest of the group had similar episodes of cognitive dissonance. They loved it, they hated it, it was the most wonderful thing they’d ever done that they’d never do again. Yes, Longs Peak casts an astonishingly powerful spell.
But all the mountains have some degree of the same power. I’m sitting here typing this in the early morning, looking at the mountains, longing to be there. (Get out of bed, Jinks!) Tomorrow we start our backcountry camping trip in Glacier Gorge. I’m not sure what we’ll do today, but I do know there’s never a bad day in the mountains.