Chasing Distant Dreams
Chasing Distant Dreams
Page Type: Trip Report
Colorado, United States, North America
40.25470°N / 105.6153°W
Chasing Distant Dreams
Aug 11, 2003
Created/Edited: Sep 15, 2004 / Mar 17, 2008
Object ID: 169604
Page Score: 72.08%
- 2 Votes
Vote: Log in to vote
Cold, Rocky Comfort
I was there once, years ago now,
The place where the wind smells like pine,
And where high above your head the aspen leaves
Dance in the gentle breeze.
Where the rocky heights, cathedral flights,
Climb up into the sky,
Where you can fly with your feet still on the ground.
It’s where the world opened up in front of me
As it hadn’t ever before.
My mind wondered and my spirits rose like a swell,
My thoughts drifting like the clouds among the slopes.
The high country doesn’t feel like home, but it warms you
Just the same.
And with that huge sky as a blanket
I slept and walked the dream.
In the giant’s loft the morning broke chilly
And soon the brightness soared even higher,
Drowsily rekindling that lighthearted internal fire.
On I wandered, and I saw different things,
But to home I belonged, and so I had to go.
I promised to return to the mountains, and took a part with me.
The mountains are still there and await my return.
Still they sleep washed in the light of the moon and the stars
And the alpenglow blazes in the setting sun.
The clouds drift past and the rain washes down
And the snow covers them gently without a sound.
I’m sure that you can still smell the pine,
And I know the aspen leaves still dance above;
Those distant winds I still remember well.
The monarchs still stand tall and reign supreme,
Untouchable, and distant, yet welcoming our challenge.
Departed I am still, separated as ever
But I’m not that far away,
And yet part of me lives there still, even now.
And every night that I go to sleep,
I’m one day closer to going back.
I don’t know exactly what year it happened, probably 1993, or 1994. I do remember where I was. I was at my grandparents’ house and had been flipping through a book when I found myself staring at a full two-page picture of Longs Peak. The picture had been taken from northwest of the mountain; it showed partially snow-covered Longs Peak looming high above everything in sight, with the jagged Keyboard of the Winds climbing towards the massive summit block. That picture just blew me away. I said to myself, “Someday, somehow, I am going to climb to the top of that mountain.” So started my love for the peak.
At the time I knew almost nothing about Longs Peak. I was even for some reason surprised that it was in the state of Colorado. I didn’t know that lots of people climb it every year. I didn’t realize that the mountain was as hard as it is to climb (having few non-technical routes). I guess that I thought that there was a ridge you could hike up to the top. I didn’t know that it was in the past likened to the Matterhorn in Switzerland, and like it thought for a time impossible to climb. I also had no idea how impressive the east face of the mountain was, a breath-taking wall towering nearly 2,500 feet above Chasm Lake. And I never realized that the mountain had as colorful of a climbing history as it did.
As the years went on, I slowly learned more and more about climbing and my goal of standing atop Longs was always in my mind. It wasn’t a burning issue, but it was always in the back of my mind. I assumed that I would have to travel many a road until I would find myself on the one leading to Longs. Still, my actual experience climbing left much to be desired. By the summer of 1996, I had gained a little experience scrambling and climbing very simple mountains and rock in New Mexico. Two years later I was introduced to the Colorado Fourteeners—well, in book form anyway. Now I actually had a known route to the top of Longs. Slowly, I was able to add some reality to my romanticism. Still, my current circumstances prevented me from climbing mountains in Colorado anytime in the near future.
During the summer of 2002, my situation finally was conducive to possible climbing trips. I soon had a pronounced case of Fourteener fever. I figured however that Longs was out of reach until I gained some experience on easier mountains (at least one season). The summer of 2003 looked like it would be the beginning of my quest to reach some of the mighty summits of Colorado. So it was in that summer that my sister Meghan and I found ourselves in Colorado.
We arrived in Rocky Mountain National Park the midmorning of August 10, 2003. Early that afternoon Meghan and I hiked to Mills Lake nestled in Glacier Gorge. The lake was clear and beautiful. For the first time ever, I saw trout swimming under the surface of an alpine lake. We ate lunch on the rocky sore of the lake with the monarch Longs Peak looming high in front of us. After eating we settled down to take it easy and to drink up the beauty we found around us. I set about to take the perfect picture of my beloved Longs Peak (my pictures wound up leaving a little to be desired). The early afternoon rainstorm was gathering above the summit and casting its shadow on the rock below. As I gazed at the summit, I saw a lightning bolt come straight down and seemed to strike it. The bolt looked a little small, so I suppose that it might have struck the upper reaches of Mount Meeker instead of Longs. I immediately realized that the lightning warnings on Longs weren’t exaggerated. Eventually, the rain spit on us for a short while, and I eventually got my non-shaded shot of Longs. Sitting next to that lake with Longs overhead felt to me as if many years worth of dreams and musings had come true and opened before me. Finally I saw the Keyboard of the Winds sweeping up towards the summit of Longs with my own eyes. Our plans for the next day had been set; we would try to stand on that mountain high above us.
After returning to our vehicle, we drove to Moraine Park to pitch our camp for the next few nights. After we ate supper, a hearty helping of macaroni and cheese (as it turns out, great Longs climbing fuel), we decided that it would be a good idea to drive to the Longs Peak trailhead. This way, we would know the way and wouldn’t wind up being delayed in the morning. And so we headed out. Driving through Estes Park was a far cry from the serenity of the mountains, but we eventually left the tourists behind up and climbed back up into the hills. We found our way to the trailhead without a hitch. Diving into the quiet parking lot, I felt one little step closer towards finally reaching my goal. We returned back to Moraine Park after another jaunt through Estes Park. Our campsite left much to be desired (to touristy for me), and I found myself missing Lost Man Campground where we had spent our first night of the trip. We loaded our packs for the next day’s climb and set things in order for an early morning departure.
I set my watch alarm to go off at 2:00 a.m. and tried to get some sleep. I didn’t sleep to well that night as I woke up every so often. I think that I remember waking up and hearing coyotes or something howling in the distance. Eventually, 2:00 arrived and we got up and got ready to leave. Driving through the quiet camp, I hoped to see a bear wandering around in search of a meal provided by a sloppy camper, but saw none. The drive through Estes Park was a nice one as the streets were empty. We pulled into the Longs Peak trailhead parking lot and found a parking spot. Around us a few people were getting ready to head out. We shouldered our packs and headed towards the lit trail register. I signed Meghan and I in. It was just after 3:00 a.m., a nice alpine start. We took off down the dark trail through the evergreen trees. The morning was cool but not chilly and the sky was clear. I shined my flashlight so we could see where we were going, or more so that we wouldn’t trip over anything. I noticed that the guy who was a little ahead of us wasn’t using a light of any kind. I figured that if he could see the rocks in the trail in the dark so could we. I turned my light off and we allowed our eyes to adjust to the dark. Well, I don’t know how the guy was doing it, but I couldn’t see very well and feared that I would soon trip and fall, and so, I turned my flashlight back on. As we hadn’t really planned on any alpine starts, we didn’t bother to get headlamps.
The hike climbing up through the peaceful dark forest was nice. Eventually we stopped and sat down on some rocks along the trail for a few minutes to eat a granola bar before we continued on. Every so often we would hear another group somewhere on the trail and catch a glimpse of headlamps through the trees. Eventually we heard water rushing up ahead of us. This turned out to be the creek that the trail crosses twice on nice bridges. As we hiked on, we overtook a few other parties. Up we went, and eventually the trees began to thin out. After a while we turned around and saw the dark silhouette of Twin Sisters Peak. Turning to the southeast, in the distance beyond the mountain, lights shimmered out on the plains below. We kept a good pace, climbing higher and higher, leaving trail behind us until the trees around us disappeared all together. Now looking behind and below us, we could see groups of headlamps moving along the trail. Now there was no mistaking the fact that we were indeed making our way up into the heights of the mountains. Vegetation gave way to rocky alpine tundra. Eventually, we could see the plains over the top of Twin Sisters Mountain. We followed the trail as it wound its way up the vast high rocky slopes. In the distance, the dark masses of the mountains stood above us and high rocky fields stretched out around us. The alpine ambiance still drowsily veiled in the predawn twilight gave one the feeling that they were indeed in a different realm. I was no longer in the world that I had spent my life in. No, this world was one that existed far in the distance and far above. And still, it only seemed to exist in a dream-like reality. There I was, fully awake while dreams and romanticism seemed be blurring with reality. I had longed to be in this world for so many years, yet I never knew it. Maybe I was finally in my giant’s loft, and the morning was breaking. Yet I wonder if that world I found myself in that morning really exists. Were I to go in search of it today I fear I would never find it again. And such are so many things in our lives, we find the most sublime where we don’t look, and when we look for them again, they are gone. I had tasted this alpine world before, but never like this.
As we hiked on, it became clear to us that we had covered a good deal of ground and had gained much altitude, yet we had done so almost easily. Make no mistake, we were well aware that our legs were working hard, but we would have thought that they would have been more tired. Eventually, there was enough light that we began to see the ground around us better. The alpine tundra of rocks covered by their lichens surrounded us. We passed a group of ptarmigans a few feet from the trail, and around us could be heard squeaks of the pikas that remained hidden among the rocks. By the time that we were entering the gentler lower reaches of the Boulderfield, the sun had climbed above the eastern plains. Longs was awash in the alpenglow, the East Face and the Keyhole (the shadow of Mount Lady Washington just having just descended and thus unveiling it, but still covering the rock below it) shining brilliantly. In the Boulderfield before us more climbers could be seen and a spirit of the challenge past the Keyhole began to fill me. The hike would soon become more of a climb.
As we made our way through the Boulderfield we passed the interesting roofless, solar latrine and the campsites in which people were heating up breakfast; it was now about 6:00 a.m. On we went, over increasingly larger chunks of rock. There were some cairns, but for some reason it was hard to follow them. A trail didn’t matter much anyway; all you had to do was keep going on towards the Keyhole. Eventually, the route turned up at a higher angle as we started to climb up to the Keyhole. An easy scramble up the last of the rocks and we had reached the Keyhole. We passed through and sat down. Passing through the Keyhole was like passing through a door into a different world. And what can I say; I finally found what I had been looking for for so many years. I hope that I will never forget the way I felt; I don’t think that there is any way to write it down. On the other side of the Keyhole opened up a cold expanse of rock and empty space that made up the upper reaches of Glacier Gorge. The sun had not yet reached this gray realm this morning. There now was no question that we were now high up on a real mountain. I guess that I felt like I was finally living a dream. I was perched on the rock that I had only touched in my thoughts. Meghan and I sat down and shared a package of Pop Tarts. The cool wind chilled us as it hit our slightly sweat-moistened shirts as we drank in the scenery. The real fun was soon to begin.
A bit below the Boulderfield we had caught up with another group of climbers. As we went on, Meghan and I realized that we were pretty much traveling at the same pace as this group. At the Keyhole we informally teamed up with this group for the rest of the ascent and the return to the trailhead. The group consisted of a guy in his mid-forties to mid-fifties, who I assumed was a native of Colorado; he had climbed Longs at least once before; also a father and his son and daughter (who were college age, the daughter maybe late high school) who were from Texas. Another guy went up with us, but wound up hanging back with a rather strange guy from New York from the Trough on down.
We shouldered our packs again and set off across the Ledges. The going was easy enough following the bulls-eyes on the rocks. You did have to pay attention to where you were putting your foot down now and I was starting to grab the rocks as I went by for a little extra balance. As we traversed the face via the Ledges, we slowly lost altitude until we found ourselves in the Trough. We started up very carefully as the Trough is full of loose rock. As we ascended, we passed some stubborn snow and ice that still clung to the right (south) side of the couloir. Try as we might to be careful, Meghan and I both started a few small rocks sliding. Fortunately, they all stopped within a few feet. As loose as the rocks are in the Trough, when it is full of people it is an accident waiting to happen! Up we continued, just happy to be leaving each rock we climbed past behind us. After a while we ran out of couloir and came upon a big rock stuck in a cleft in the mountain—we had arrived at the chockstone. I think that most people would agree that the Chockstone is the single toughest move on the route. Here a bottleneck had formed as climbers one at a time climbed over the chockstone. A descending climber just decided to bypass the whole thing by down-climbing the rock to the right of the chockstone. As he passed the group waiting to go up, he made a comment about how it wasn’t very hard, you just have to use your hands and a lot of people don’t trust their hands—and in his case it helped that he climbed—no doubt a shot at the less experienced! Around this point in time, this climber or another descending climber told those of us on the way up that the rest of the route to the summit (or at least after the Narrows) was a cakewalk. Some cakewalk!
When it was my turn, I was offered a hand from above. I decided to accept the gesture and was helped up into the crack. On the other side of the chockstone I looked down to see the Keyboard of the Winds stretching out below us. For many years I had gazed on pictures of that jagged ridge climbing up into the sky—now I was standing above it. I knew that the route was soon to get more interesting with the Narrows coming up. I had seen some pretty hairy looking pictures of the Narrows. But all that didn’t matter, the Narrows was between the summit and us and it wasn’t going to stop us.
Traversing the Narrows was quite interesting. The ledge that we were walking on was indeed very narrow at some points. There was also lots of air below and next to you. But hey, what is mountaineering without some exposure? One could roughly describe the Narrows as a cliff with a narrow and really beat up sidewalk (ledge) stretching across it. If you were to fall off of ledge, you would really be in trouble! However, I never was particularly nervous while I was traversing it; I just paid attention to where I was putting my feet and added some security by grabbing the rock beside me as I went along. For some reason, pictures of the Narrows seem to look worse than the route actually is when you are on it. At this point, the scenery was looking quite impressive, mountains and rock everywhere as far as the eye could see! After the traverse, I found myself looking up at the very last obstacle standing between me and the goal I had made for myself so many years ago; the Homestretch.
The Homestretch is the weak spot in the cliffs that guard the summit. Looking up at the top of the Homestretch, the rock just stopped, the summit of Longs Peak was within reach, right there. Finally. The Homestretch constitutes the most difficult sustained climbing on the route (class 3). The foot and handholds were plentiful. Some of the flat slabs of rock were a bit slick, but didn’t cause much of a problem. However, I have to say that I wouldn’t want to be on the Homestretch when it was wet. We ascended the rock placing our feet where they would hold and our hands above for stability. We passed sections of angled granite on the way up until they finally ran out. The rock above us had disappeared and now we looked out across a broad, flat expanse of rock. We were on the summit! I was finally on the top of that mountain in the book. I had met the only climbing goal I had ever made. Longs Peak was no longer that high mountain shrouded in some sort of dim mystery, far off in the distance, calling me, waiting for me. Now I knew want what lie on its slopes. Now I knew what was on its summit. I knew what it was like to ascend every foot to the top.
It was now about 9:00 am. We walked a short distance away from the top of the Homestretch to where I dropped my pack and got the cameras out. We were still a little ways away from the actual summit. The summit of Longs is large, about the size of a football field, and remarkably flat, covered with talus. We took a few moments to rest and drink in what surrounded us. Around us stretched gray peaks highlighted with white snow, jagged and high, a whole different world than the one that exists below. Those distant peaks were tall, but standing on the summit of Longs, we were higher than all of them. Above us was a deep blue sky. It seemed to be bluer the higher up it went. We had been lucky that day to have great weather (well, on the way up anyway). Before walking to the summit boulder, Meghan and I went over to the edge of the summit that perches high above the east face of the peak. Sure enough, there was Chasm Lake and Peacock Pool far below, and of course, Colorado’s largest and finest mountain face was hidden below us out of sight. We walked across the talus to the summit boulder. Meghan and I signed the summit register, then climbed up on top of the boulder and had someone (I think the guy who asked me to snap a picture of he and his female companion) take our picture sitting on the top. While we were still around the summit boulder, a guy showed up who said that it had taken him two and a half (or 3?) hours to climb the mountain! He sat down to eat some trail mix-like food and catch a short rest. Soon he was off again. As he left, we walked back over to the top of the Homestretch to watch him descend. Sure enough, he was moving down the rock at a very quick pace. I was surprised that he felt safe moving that fast. Then again, maybe safety didn’t matter much to him. I told Meghan that I wanted to see what the north end of the summit looked like, so we walked off in that direction. The summit area slopes downhill a bit toward the north, so after we had gone to see the north face (what we could see of it standing above) we had to go back uphill to where our packs were.
We rejoined our informal group at our packs and sat down. Someone commented on how we had had perfect weather. As a lady wearing blue jeans who had just ascended the Homestretch walked by seemed to be a little offended when the guy who accompanied us on the way up (and part of the way down) said some thing like, “You don’t look like you should be up here.” He wasn’t trying to be offensive, he just thought that the lady reminded him of his wife and he knew she wouldn’t have been climbing Longs. The dad was putting on a Longs Peak t-shirt. Apparently, he bought the shirt the day before, but his son and daughter wouldn’t let him wear it until he had actually climbed the mountain. The summit was nice and was indeed the place that I had wanted to be for such a long time but the climb was only half over, we still had to go down. After spending forty minutes to an hour on the summit, we shouldered our packs and made ready for the descent.
Our group headed back down over the edge of the Summit and we were back on the Homestretch. The descent was easy; I just put my hands down and let my feet and butt slide down a ways before repositioning my hands and sliding again. After coming to the bottom of the Homestrech, we turned right and headed back towards the Narrows. As we traversed the Narrows, we met the same two-way traffic that we would meet for the whole descent to the Keyhole. Obviously, the traffic was a bit more noticeable here. Once again, I watched where I was putting my feet and grabbed some rock to my side for added balance (or should I say security). After a little while we were back at the chockstone and the bottleneck. A bunch of people were waiting to come up, several of us were waiting to go down. When our turn came, over and down we went, easier this time than going up. Now for the Trough, or should I say the high angle shooting range? The sun still hadn’t reached the couloir yet. At the top I took a few moments to admire the rock on the other side as it curved, vaulting upwards towards the sky. I think the hardest part about the descent here was making sure that we didn’t send any rocks down. Fortunately again, anything we started moving stopped soon after. After we reached the bottom of the Trough, only the Ledges remained before the Keyhole. This part was actually gently uphill. As we made our way across the Ledges, our time towering above Glacier Gorge was coming to a close. We were leaving the exposed part of the mountain behind us. Just before I climbed back through the Keyhole, I looked back across that way we had come and noticed some dark clouds above the mountain. Where did those come from I though to myself? I said something about them to the others, but apparently they had already noticed them. We now had good reason to head down quickly. All I can say is that I hope that the people further up either turned around or were heading down from the top.
Just on the other side of the Keyhole, a marmot was busy eating an orange peel near the Agnes Vaille Shelter, exotic food for a mountain dwelling marmot! I snapped a picture and started down the boulders. What can I say; the hike/rock-hop back across the Boulderfield wasn’t especially fun. My knees were starting to feel worn out and banging my way across the rocks didn’t help. After plenty of knee punishment, we passed the campsites, then the weird, roofless, solar latrine. By now there were even more clouds threatening with rain—or worse—in the sky above us. As we went along, the danger of lightning was prominent in our minds. The further out in the Boulderfield we went, the less protected we were. After a while the big rocks ran out. We had finally made it out. By now the sky was clouded up enough that the sun had been blocked out.
Then I finally saw what I had heard stories of but had never seen with my own eyes… I looked at my sister’s hair and saw that the hairs on the surface were standing up! I knew what that meant—lightning! I said the first thing that came to mind, “Shit!” and let everyone know what was happening. My immediate reaction was to loose altitude as fast as we could! I looked for the fall line and headed off that way, off-trail of course. Meghan asked me what I was doing and I realized that I should follow everybody else down the actual trail. I noticed that the other girl’s hair was also sticking up where it wasn’t secured. Off we went, not running, but hiking as fast as we could. It started raining as we went, not too hard thankfully. We had put on our raingear at a previous stop and good thing too as I sure wouldn’t have stopped to put it on now! Down the trail we went, descending the switchbacks; down rocky step after rocky step, bang, bang, bang, it seemed to my tired legs. Those one-foot high steps didn’t seem so bad on the way up, but now in our downhill flight they were almost a bit too much. From my position high up in the alpine tundra I could see that other parts of the Park seemed to be getting harder rain than we had been getting; apparently we had missed the worst that this particular storm had to give. We passed Granite Pass and kept right on moving headed for Chasm Junction. On this straighter stretch of the trail, Meghan and the brother and sister from Texas went a bit faster than I did and moved ahead. Their dad and the Colorado guy were together some distance behind me. When the three ahead of me reached Chasm Junction they stopped to take a break. When I reached them I stopped too. I had wanted to stop here on the way down to admire Longs’ East Face and to take of few pictures of it. No such luck. When the other two reached us, the guy from Colorado told us to keep going as we were not out of danger yet as we were still too high and exposed. Needless to say, soon enough we were back to pounding down the rocky trail.
Even now with the weather in the state it was in, hikers were still heading up the trail. As we went along, a guy wearing mostly black that must have been an EMT or paramedic of some sort came up behind us. He soon passed us on his way down the trail. As he overtook the four of us (the two brother-sister pairs, the other two were a ways behind), he asked us if we had reached the summit. We said that we had. He then commented that the rain had moved in early this day. As he went on I wished that I were as in as good shape as he was, spending so much time swiftly hiking on these high mountain trails. Down we kept going; down more steps on the trail. After a while we started to pass more and more vegetation. The further down we went, the taller it started to get. Eventually we descended down below timberline back into the welcoming sanctuary of the trees. It seemed that we were back in the world to which we belonged. It was interesting how what had been so magic in the early morning had been changed and now reared an uglier head in the late morning and afternoon. The peaceful uplifting tranquility of the dawn had been replaced by dimly seen gray forces that pursued us, chasing us out of a land that we really didn’t belong in. They showed us their teeth, but fortunately that was all.
By the time that we were hiking down the trail through the trees, the rain had for the time being ceased. I still had my rain jacket on but didn’t bother to take it off. The lightning threat wasn’t chasing us down the trail anymore, but we were still moving on with a purpose. On our way down we crossed the creek again that we twice crossed in the morning. This time as we passed during the day we could actually see the water as it hurriedly rushed past down the slope. After hiking nonstop from Chasm Junction we finally halted. The Texan brother and sister wanted a photo of the two of them together. They pulled out their camera and I snapped the picture. Soon after the photo we were back on our way. On and on we went down the trail. After some time the trail began to level out more. After some time on this flatter trail I started to think that the trailhead had to be just beyond the bend in the trail, just through those trees ahead. When we rounded the bend and the trees which had previously blocked our view we found that the trailhead still lay somewhere beyond. I repeated this same anticipation then disappointment experience several more times; the trail just seemed to go on forever! A ways further down we came across a mom with kids sitting on the side of the trail. A boy asked us if we had made it to the top and then congratulated us. As I passed by him, he gave me five. The trailhead proved to be not too far ahead. Finally, the trees ahead did break.
We exited the trees and found ourselves back at the trailhead; our successful attempt at Longs Peak was over. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon. I dropped my pack and sat down next to the trail. I had done it! I had climbed Longs Peak, that mountain in the picture that had captured my heart so many years ago. I had met the only mountaineering goal I had ever made for myself. We were really worn out but very happy at our success.
Eventually I got up and went inside the ranger station to look at the stuff they had on display. I looked at Paul or Joe Stettner’s climbing shoes and some pictures and other things before I went back outside. The two eldest members of our party had returned. It started to rain lightly again. We talked for a little bit in the rain before we said goodbye and went our separate ways. Meghan and I walked across the parking lot felling drained and a bit beat up. We loaded our packs in the truck and pulled out of the parking lot. As I drove out I felt like “so now what do we do?” The struggle to the top of Longs that for so long I had perceived in front of me was over; everything seemed downhill from here.
We drove back into Estes Park and stopped at the same convenience store that we had bought sunscreen at the night before to pick up some Gatorade. We drove back through town and eventually made our way back to Moraine Park Campground. Neither of us felt like doing anything, we were so tired. I changed my clothes and took a nap. I told Meghan that I felt too tired to cook anything that night so we should just eat in Estes Park. She apparently had been thinking the same thing. Besides, we had reason to celebrate. After sleeping and moping away the afternoon we drove back into town. Man, were we both tired and stiff! Walking was a real effort for me as my legs were so shot. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant that we stopped at, but I do remember that the outside was decorated with flags of many countries. We went in and sat down in a booth. I ate a big hamburger. Man did it taste good as it was so well earned! It was nice to be able to sit in some comfort after our day’s climb. After we ate we decided to go next door to the gift shop as I was thinking about buying a Longs Peak T-shirt. There were some steps going up to the door. I took a step up them and about fell over, as my legs were so stiff. Frankly, I scarcely could walk. Meghan felt about the same. I had to pull myself up by the handrail and walk my useless legs along below to make it up. I didn’t really find what I was looking for so we decided to go further into town. We drove downtown and eventually found a place to park. We walked to several stores looking for T-shirts and also an outdoor gear store, as Meghan wanted to look at down parkas. As we walked around my legs started to loosen up a bit. I eventually found my T-shirt and I also bought a little pin that looked like the USGS maker on the top of the summit boulder. Yes, I guess that I have to confess that I was acting a bit touristy; but hey, this was a once in a lifetime event. Speaking of touristy, Estes Park was just that! After visiting I don’t know how many stores, we made our way back to the truck. On the way we went past a small park where I guy with a guitar and a cowboy hat was singing song in front of a small crowd. He was singing, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” We reached the truck and drove back towards our camp. As we made it back into Rocky Mountain National Park, the sun had sunk below the mountains to our west, bathing the world below in soft evening light. Above, Longs Peak proudly stood, displaying its East Face to us, reigning as the supreme monarch of the northern Front Range. As we drove into Moraine Park, across the valley a cloud of smoke hung over the trees of Moraine Park Campground. My goodness, it looked like everyone must have had a campfire going! We reached our campsite and settled in for the night feeling better physically than we had in the afternoon. While in camp, a group of people walked up the road in front of me and I heard one guy say to his companions that they should have asked for the “no smoking section.” No kidding! That evening I pulled out my guitar and strummed away on it quietly for a short while, as I didn’t want to annoy any of our neighbors. I put the guitar away and set things in order for the night. With the light of the next day we would be saying goodbye to the mountains of Colorado and driving back home to Kansas.