Frederick H. (Frederick Hastings) Chapin.

Mountaineering in Colorado : the peaks about Estes Park online

. (page 2 of 8)
Online LibraryFrederick H. (Frederick Hastings) ChapinMountaineering in Colorado : the peaks about Estes Park → online text (page 2 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ranch. Mr.
Lamb senior
took up a
homes tead
claim here,
some ten years
ago, and for
many years
guided travel-
lers up the peak; but for the past three years
his son Carlyle has done this work, and had al-
ready ascended fifty-five times at the date of
our visit. He is a strong, willing guide ; and

Long's Peak from Lamb's Ranch.


he worked very hard for me, for our packs
were heavy. Until my acquaintance with him
began, he had never climbed any of the eleva-
tions west of Long's Peak. Lamb keeps a charm-
ing mountain-inn ; the house, which is built of
logs, is very comfortable, and our advance guard
announced that they had been served to a re-
markably good supper. All the supplies which
he purchases he has to haul up from the plains,
thirty miles distant. In the sitting-room of the
house is a very large fireplace, made of rough
stones, before which, while the logs were crack-
ling and blazing, we sat till late in the evening,
talking of the mountains ; and when we did turn
in, I did not go to sleep till after twelve, and was
awake at three o'clock.

Perhaps the stories of our host had something
to do with it ; for the elder Lamb tells some
very interesting ones of his many ascents of the
mountain, the most exciting of which, without
doubt, was that made in company with Mr. Syl-
vester C. Dunham, of Hartford, Conn., an account
of which was published in the magazine " Good
Company," April, 1881. Mr. Lamb's account of
that day's adventure is a thrilling one, and Mr.
Dunham's is equally so. When upon the summit
of the peak, they were enshrouded in clouds ; the


early morning had been clear, and the distant
views grand; but a storm gathered on Mummy
Mountain, and swept over the great range, culmi-
nating as an electric storm on Long's Peak. In
Mr. Dunham's words, the cairn on the summit

" hissed and crackled like a bonfire. We had sought
it as affording shelter from the approaching storm, but
we retired from its vicinity in a very informal manner.
The cloud had now struck the base of the horn, and
came boiling and rolling up the 'Trough.' Its ad-
vance guard of hard, sharp pellets of ice flew straight
up the face of the cliff, and in another minute we
were in the midst of the tempest, a whirling volley
of ice and snow, driven by an icy blast. Little points
of white light danced in the air and beamed from
points of the rocks ; and muttering thunder, of which
neither distance nor direction could be determined,
accompanied the storm."

In speaking of the electrical effects, Mr. Dun-
ham further states :

" My own occupation [of a cavern] was attended
by a violent shock, which fully convinced me that my
head was burned bare as a potato. Only by the im-
mediate investigation and the earnest assurances of
my friends, was I convinced of my delusion. . . .
After some minutes the iron-bound peak seemed to
exhaust the energy of the subtle fluid wherewith the
cloud was charged ; and although the tempest con-


tinued with unabated fury, we had no longer to fear
the weird and mysterious element which had sur-
rounded us. We were still in the midst of a furious
storm, but it was no longer a thunder-cloud in angry
combat with opposing forces."

The snow-storm was so severe that Mr. Dunham
and Mr. Lamb had many uncomfortable experi-
ences before they reached the ranch at night ; but
that with electrical phenomena was, of itself, such
as to make their ascent more worthy of note than
any other expedition to the peak.

At four o'clock the following morning we had
breakfast, consisting of ham and eggs, coffee and
gems ; and at 5.05 o'clock were on our way over
the trail. The sky was cloudy, but the peak was
clear. We rode up through spruce timber for
about half an hour, and then through pines, where
it was much steeper, and along the banks of a little
torrent which runs down to the St. Vrain Eiver.
Until within a year this route has been the only
one up the mountain ; but lately a trail has been
cut from Sprague's ranch at Willow Park, which
joins Lamb's trail at the " Bowlder Field," though
it is little used. We emerged above timber-line at
6.20 o'clock, and here were met by a snow-squall.
However, the clouds were light, and a brisk west-
erly wind began to disperse them. As we rode


over the pasture-land, the sun almost broke
through the vapor, and our hopes of a clear day
were considerably brightened. The plains were
free from haze, and all the foot-hills were sharp
and clear.

I speak of this part of the trail as leading
through pastures, and it certainly is a splendid
grass country. Much more rain falls here than
in the valleys, and the soil is moist and rich.
The cattle, however, never go above the timber;
and as the deer, big-horn, and elk have forsaken
this mountain for the northwestern peaks, this
sweet feed seems to go a-begging. The average
altitude of timber growth on the northern slopes
of the mountains is only a little above 11,000
feet, while on the southern side it is as much as
12,000 feet, especially where it can follow the

We reached the edge of what is called the
" Bowlder Field " at 7.30 A. M., and there tethered
the horses in good grass and near plenty of water.
At 7.45 we began the hard walk to the "Key-
hole," a cleft in the wall of the mountain,
through which one must pass in order to climb the
high peak from the west side, as the east face is
inaccessible. The finest view of the great cliffs
of the peak is obtained just before reaching the



" Key-hole." The face of the centre of the moun-
tain is one nearly vertical wall of about 2,000
feet. There are but few so-called " precipices,"
even in Switzerland, which prove to be really
worth the name when closely examined ; but
these walls are truly perpendicular from a point

about two hundred feet from the summit to a
gorge far below the ridge which hides the base of
the precipice. I shall refer to this marvellous
wall again when relating the story of our descent.
At 8.40 A. M. we were standing in the " Key-
hole," having made fairly quick time, considering


the delays occasioned by my haviug a camera along.
Lamb carried my twelve sensitized plates and our
lunch, while I carried the camera. I mounted it
on the tripod when we left the horses, and had no
serious trouble with it the whole day. In fact,
there were but two places on the mountain where,
while I climbed or descended, I had to hand the
instrument up or down to the guide. At the
"Key-hole" one looks down upon a grand am-
phitheatre, lying beyond the ridge just climbed.
Over a deep gorge rises a mountain wall which
hides the distance ; and the vapor rolling up from
the depths was continually changing and lifting,
adding to the grandeur of the scene. No signs
of animal or vegetable life were visible. Several
lakes lay in the bottom of the gorge, or at the
base of snow-fields on the opposite mountain.

The difficulties of the ascent of Long's Peak
are frequently exaggerated. There is hardly a
place on the mountain where the climber need
use more than one hand to help himself up.
About one hundred people have been upon the
mountain annually for several years past ; but this
large number is made by parties, sometimes as
many as twenty, coming up from Longmont or
some town by the foot-hills, and all going up at
once, or trying to go up, for Lamb says that


many of them do not get beyond the " Key-hole."
Many claim to be exhausted and out of breath,
and lay it to the rarity of the air, but as most of
these people are not in training for mountain
climbing, this is not surprising : the same persons
would probably fail in undertaking a similar walk
at a lower elevation.

Immediately after leaving the " Key-hole," the
ledge traversed is quite narrow, and if one should
be very clumsy or careless and slip, a fall would
probably be fatal, for the rocks are placed at a
very steep angle, and there is nothing to prevent
a slide of at least a thousand feet to the gorge
below. Yet the narrow table which runs around
this side of the mountain is, on an average, about
six feet in width, and there are good footing and
flat surfaces of rock to step on; so there is not the
least danger unless one should be dizzy. There
have been no accidents on this mountain ; al-
though one death has occurred just below the
" Key-hole," the result of over-exertion and utter

From the ledges we entered the " Trough,"
which is a deep gully running up between the
main peak and a ridge of the mountain, on the
right. This gully is quite steep, but free from
snow and ice, although there is a large field of



snow on its side and base. There is a great deal
of loose rock and debris strewn through it, and to
traverse it is a good pull, but there is no actual
climbing : it is simply a long walk. The moun-
tain wall ascending on the right is very smooth
and steep, but on the left the argte of the main peak
is broken up into beautiful ledges, towers, and
minarets ; and as the rising vapors whirled and
rushed over them, now covering and then partly or
entirely exposing the cliffs, the effect was wonderful.
Prom the table-ledges we had been able to look
down 2,000 feet upon the lakes and upon a little
stream which is one of the fountain-heads of the
rushing Big Thompson Eiver ; but from this curv-
ing trough the view was upon the distant snow-

We reached the top of the "Trough" at 10.15.
Here the plains and the mountains above Boulder
Canon come into the prospect ; but the most re-
markable sight is the view of some wonderful
columnar cliffs on the southeast spur of the peak.
The upright shafts, though not detached from the
face of the cliff, are cubical on their outer surface,
and seem to be exactly perpendicular. The rocks
on the other portions of this spur, which seem not
to be so firm in texture and not tipped to vertical
position, are more easily w r asted and worn away



by aerial forces ; and this probably explains the
formation of the long jagged arete, seen to the
right of the tower in the frontispiece. This arete is
but one of the many broken ridges of the peak.

After a short rest we climbed the roof of the
peak, and at 10.50 stood upon the summit, a
large flat surface, composed of slabs of granite.

It needs evidently only
a pyramidal cap of a

View from Long's Peak Westward.

thousand feet, to make it an ideal summit. All
was clear to the east; we could see the smoke
from the smelters of Denver, and, far beyond, the
parched plains, the most extensive view I have
ever had in that direction. The great range of
Pike's Peak, a hundred miles to the south of us,
was so clear that I could recognize three differ-


ent summits in the chain, that I had ascended.
Cheyenne Mountain, the eastern spur of Pike's
Peak, was a landmark on the edge of the plains.
We could see the bluffs east of the town of Chey-
enne, far in the north ; and towards the west
there were wonderful cloud effects over the great

Some snow and hail now fell on the summit,
and we had to be content to await the clearing of
the storm, and meanwhile study the view and
landscape in the east and trace the course of
rivers on the plains. But even when the clouds
were thickest in the west, there would be open-
ings which would let us look into deep gorges, or
show us some peak in the Eabbit Ear Range in the
west, or the Medicine Bow group, the mighty
range of mountains in the northwest. Our most
distant view was far away to the snow-caps in
Wyoming. I looked down over one low divide
where Lamb pointed out trees growing on the
Pacific slope. While the west was obscured, we
spent some time gazing into the crater-like basin
on the east peak, the sides of which are smooth
and steep, but not as abrupt as the face of the
peak we stood upon.

For a while we thought we should have no
clear views of the western peaks ; so I set up


the camera at the west end of the summit, and
took two pictures of the partly exposed ranges,
to secure something in the way of a view from
the top, even though it should be a cloud scene ;
for I feared the storm would grow fiercer, and
the mist envelop our peak for the rest of the
day. But soon the wind drove the covering from
the Front Range, and Middle Park, with Grand
River cutting a clear line through it, and all the
snow mountains which encircled the high valley,
were plainly shown to our expectant eyes. Then,
as we waited, the high pile of cloud, witli its
lower fold resting on the range, was driven to the
southeast, and the peaks Gray, Torrey, and the
Mountain of the Holy Cross gradually ap-
peared ; and with the exception of the great mass
of Mummy Mountain, we had secured a complete
view of all the peaks and ranges ever visible from
this famous elevation. A long streamer of cloud
stretched away from the top of the Mummy
(which is the next peak in height to Long's Peak,
in this district) ; but it held fast to the summit,
and refused to reveal the crest of the mountain.
The Elk, Rabbit Ear, and Medicine Bow ranges
were now clear. Estes Park lay spread out like
a quiet green pasture, and Willow Canon made a
deep black cut up through the mountains to the


northwest, towards the Medicine Bow Range. A
long snow-line marked those mountains.

We reluctantly left the top at one o'clock,
having remained there two hours. The outlook
facing us going down the " Trough " was grand ;
the smooth surface of the rocks now on our
right, and the towers and broken ridge on our
left, made a magnificent frame through which to
view the distant ranges. In this gully Lamb
had a fall, and for a moment I was dazed at
seeing my much-prized plates spinning in the
air; but luckily there was nothing damaged, as
I found, much to my wonderment, when I un-
packed at night.

The " Key-hole " was gained at 2.10 P. M. ; and
then we followed down the " Bowlder Field" un-
der the stupendous precipices of the peak. On
this field, covering perhaps a hundred acres, are
strewn great slabs of granite, some as much as
twenty feet in width and thirty feet in length,
and between them are heaped bowlders, great and
small. These rocks must have been levelled by
the action of frost, which split them from the
once higher ridges, and left them here in past
ages, in the days when Long's Peak may have
had the hypothetical cap which I have desired
for it. Even now this great mountain shows signs


of disintegration ; the northern precipice is scarred
and worn, and seamed with enormous cracks ;
slabs are loosened from its cliffs, and hang, to all
appearance, like thin pieces of slate from its sides.
But all the despoiling of the mountain, upon this
face, is by vertical cleavage ; and there are no
changes going on that will destroy the absolute
precipice which now exists.*

I have already referred to precipices and so-
called precipices. It is probably true that Ameri-
cans are more familiar with the Alps than with the
Rocky Mountains ; for the high valleys of Switzer-
land are so easy of access, and the distances are
so small, that one can cross many glacier passes
and ascend important peaks with much less
trouble than he can visit such an out-of-the-way
place as Estes Park and climb the mountains
which surround it. Many are undoubtedly famil-
iar with the view of the Matterhorn as seen from
Zermatt. The east face the one seen from Zer-
matt is generally spoken of as a precipice, and
looks like one too ; but Whymper said of it, in his

* It seems to me that the explanation of the formation of
this cliff is not easily found ; but I would refer others who, like
myself, may have an interest in the question of the general
formation of the range, to Clarence King's "Report of the
Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel," article "Col-
orado Range," Section I., by Arnold Hague.


account of his seventh attempt to climb the moun-
tain, " that the east face was a gross imposition ;
it looked not far from perpendicular, while its
angle was, in fact, scarcely more than 40." The
ascent of the Matterhorn from Breuil is probably
one of the most difficult climbs that has ever been
attempted and accomplished ; yet when standing
above Breuil, one can see plainly how the moun-
tain is broken up into ledges, and in no place is
there a vertical surface of more than 500 feet.
A peak of peerless beauty in the Alps is the
Zinal-Kothhorn, near Zermatt. Placed far back
on the range, this mountain is not at all popular,
and is not even visible from Zermatt, the great
mountaineering centre. But those who have
looked upon its steep sides from a near view-point
would say that they had looked upon a precipice,
and one who has scaled its cliffs would certainly
carry away a vivid impression of the vertical. Al-
though made up of a series of precipitous ledges,
the mountain-side falls far short of making
straight up and down lines. The opposite side
of the Rothhorn also makes a grand rock-slope,
too steep for snow to lie on, yet that is also
placed at an angle of about 40. But the tower
on Long's Peak exposes an unbroken front of 1,200
feet, as smooth as the side of Bunker Hill Monu-


merit. Former estimates have credited the preci-
pice with 3,000 feet of altitude. We should have
to look to the walls about the Yosemite, to find

The Cliffs of Long from the East Side.

anything superior in actual vertical heights to
those of the Front Range. I know that our party
lingered long gazing at this sheer cliff; and only


the fact that we were liable to be benighted in the
forest forced us to hurry away.

We reached the limits of the " Bowlder Field "
at 3.30 P. M., and mounting our horses were at
Lamb's at 5.20 o'clock. But, sad to relate, as we
reached the lower edges of timber-line, we heard
thunder booming on Estes Cone and saw flashes
of lightning on the upper peaks. The dashing
rain was immediately upon us, and we rode into
Lamb's enclosure at a gallop, camera and sensi-
tized plates dancing on my horse's back at great
risk, and all of us drenched by the torrents which
were poured upon us.


HIGH up on the northeastern slopes of Long's
Peak is a lonely lake situated under the re-
markable precipice. Not easy of access, I was
unable to visit it in 1887, but put this trip
down in a list of expeditions for 1888. Lamb
wrote me during the winter reminding me that
this alone was worth another trip to Estes Park,
especially as no one, to his knowledge, had ever
been beyond the lake to the base of the perpen-
dicular cliff.

For the purpose of accomplishing this long-



contemplated trip, accompanied by my wife I
drove in a blackboard from Ferguson's to Lamb's

Lake on Long's Peak, Lily Mountain in the Distance.

early in the morning of July 11. The valley in
which Lamb's cabin is located lies between Lily
Mountain on the east and Long's Peak on the


west. Finding that we had the time for it, Car-
lyle Lamb and I ascended Lily Mountain in the
afternoon. We started for a point midway be-
tween the north and south peaks. These peaks
I have already referred to, as being called on the
plains the "Twin Sisters." In the ascent we
found a cold spring immediately under the final
ledges of the south peak. Lamb informs me that
good springs burst out from the ledges all along
the west side of the mountains. It hardly seems
as if enough snow and rain fell on the range to
keep up the supply, but the springs are ever-

At four o'clock, two hours from the ranch, we
were on the summit of the north peak. The
clouds were high in the west, and at times ob-
scured the sun, and their great shadows were seen
moving over the wide plain. The view of Long's
Peak was very fine, for, on account of our great
altitude (11,453 feet) and our proximity, we could
look into the upper canons and gorges. The
tramp up Lily Mountain well repaid me, for it
yielded good results in photographs of the Front
Eange from a new stand-point.

A friend joined us at Lamb's in the evening,
and early in the morning, accompanied by Carlyle,
we rode awav, bound for the marvellous lake. We


followed the usual trail to the peak, to a point
about 500 feet above timber-line, then bore
off to the left, and, without ascending very much,
reached the edge of the gorge which holds the
tarn to which we were going. From the brink
of this gorge several other lakes were seen rest-
ing far below us. Making the horses fast to some
' big rocks, we " let down," as Lamb's phrase has
it, into the gorge. Descending as little as possi-
ble, we made for the water, which was hidden
from view by a great dike which holds it in.
We reached our goal at ten o'clock, three hours
and a quarter from Lamb's. We estimated the
size of the lake at a quarter of a mile long and
one fifth of a mile wide. We skirted above it on
the north side, and a half-hour was consumed in
going the length of it. The occupation was
neither climbing nor walking ; it was a continual
jumping from slab to bowlder. There is no beach
by the lake, only a mass of big rocks on the
north and west sides. The dike on the east is
solid and smooth, while on the south side a nearly
vertical cliff runs down straight into the water to
a great depth. Wherever there is a break in this
cliff, snow fills the gullies, hangs over, and is mir-
rored in the water. There is no passage-way along
that side. When we saw it the lake was free




from ice, with the exception of two small floating
masses. The elevation is 11,000 feet.

We did not stop long at the lake, but continued
on and up till we . ^ !JU)M|I . , , ,,..^ ^^^^^_ reached

the base of
the snow-
field, only
the upper-
edges of
which are
from any
point be-
1 o w or
from any
m o u n-
tains that
I had as-
c e n d e d.
We fol-
lowed the
ice -stream

for three quarters of an hour, and were greatly
surprised to find a snow-field whose whole length
it would surely require an hour for a fast walker

Winding Snow-field on Long's Peak.


to surmount from base to summit. In its wind-
ing course downward, the track of the snow-slope
is first directly south, then turns east. Curving
again sharply toward the north, a very steep arm
joins it in the bend from the south. Soon it
turns to the east, and is joined by another tribu-
tary from the north. The end of the trunk is
about two hundred feet above the lake. The
surface of the snow was hard and granular, and
gave good footing, and ascending by it was much
easier than by the rocks. At the base of the
precipice the barometer registered 900 feet above
the lake, making the elevation 11,900 feet, or
2,371 feet below the summit of the peak. This
fact, together with other observations, gave us
opportunity to estimate the height of the vertical
cliff above us. Commencing 300 feet below the
summit, the cliff plunges straight down for at
least 1,200 feet, and is only a little removed from
vertical for the remaining distance of nearly 900
feet. A stone thrown from the upper edge of the
precipice, if projected out but a little, would
reach the snow 2,000 feet below, before finding
lodgment. While we were there, debris dislodged
from a point half-way up fell upon the ice with
a crash. We did not linger to investigate.

At a point on the snow which we paced off as


two hundred feet wide, we placed a number of
cairns, in line with two larger stone men, one
placed on the lower or moraine side, and one on
the ledges or upper side, planning a second visit
in order to observe whether the ice moved at all
down the mountain. There was hardly any slope
at this station. We observed but one crevasse,
a small one, about a foot wide, near the precipice.
Against the base of the cliff and from the sides
of the mountain the ice had pulled away, and deep
chasms and rifts were shown.

Again, on July 28, we visited Lamb's ranch.
This time Mr. Benjamin Ives Oilman was to be
my companion in a second visit to the lake, snow-
field, and precipice. An evening spent before
Lamb's big fireplace is always enjoyable, and

2 4 5 6 7 8

Online LibraryFrederick H. (Frederick Hastings) ChapinMountaineering in Colorado : the peaks about Estes Park → online text (page 2 of 8)