It was my Dad's goal for many years to climb Blanca Peak after turning 80. He did it. This is the story of his final climb.
The “road” to Como Lake is more traveled than ever, yet less passable than ever. Five miles below the lake we unburdened Ryan’s truck and started hiking. As we hiked, the clouds grew darker. We knew we were in for a wet afternoon; the only question was how wet. About 3:00 p.m. the thunder boomed and rattled all up and down the valley, accompanied by a steady, drenching rain. We donned our ponchos and plastic trash bags, and hiked on in the rain for well over an hour. Then we huddled together under some tall trees for 20 or 25 minutes, hoping to wait out the rain. While we stood there our spirits grew wetter along with our clothing and camping gear. While our gloved fingers turned numb from the cold, we considered our options. But then the downpour turned to a sprinkle, and it was Dad who got all of us going again.
We arrived at Como Lake some time after 5:00 p.m., to find numerous other campers, some just crawling out of their tents following the rain. The place was abuzz with the word of a climber who had just fallen off Little Bear Peak, above the lake. A father-son pair had been hurrying off the mountain to get out of the way of the lightning storm. Lightning struck within 100 feet of them, which gave them even more urgency to get off the mountain. The father, who was from Colorado Springs, slipped on some loose rocks and fell 500 feet to his death. That could easily happen on Little Bear, especially in wet conditions.
After supper Chris and Ryan built a roaring campfire out of wet wood and other materials. We attempted to dry out our socks over the fire. The socks got dirtier, but not much drier. Well after dark, a Flight-for-Life helicopter approached, circled the area, and landed on the opposite side of the lake. It stayed for about a half hour then took off again. A short time later, two search and rescue jeeps pulled in right next to our tents.
At daybreak we got back on the trail. A cloudy sky threatened us most of the way up, but by 9:30, we were snapping pictures of each other on the 14,345’ summit of Blanca Peak. Dad accomplished what most 80 year-olds would not even dream of attempting! What a feat. Of course, all our fellow climbers on the peak that day were duly impressed. Blanca was also the first 14er that Dad climbed, over 50 years ago. It became Chris’ first 14er on this day.
On the hike down we were passed by the jeep carrying the dead body of the father from Colorado Springs. I’m sure he never dreamed he would be leaving the mountain that way.
Dad was worn out and hurting long before we got down the hill. To say that Dad and I brought up the rear would be a generous understatement. As we drove down the “road” a fast hiker stayed in front of us for a mile or two. That speaks more for the condition of the “road” than the speed of the hiker. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.