Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More scary paths

My follower Kent Schnake had much to add after seeing my post on the Camino del Rey in Spain.

He sent photos (images 3 and 4) that were taken by some friends of his on a recent trip to Machu Picchu in Peru and remarks, "The second shot definitely qualifies as a scary path in my book."

He sent a link to the trailer for Himalaya (1999) with the comment, "I was astounded by the paths that the salt caravan walked year after year."

And the "scariest path in the world" evoked a memory from 25 years ago, when he was at a family reunion in Estes Park, Colorado. He writes, "The tallest peak in that area is Long's Peak at well over 14,000'. [My wife] Barbara's parents, siblings, and I decided to climb it. There is a popular trail that is basically a 'walk up' of about 7 miles. The first 5 or so miles are mainly tedious as one winds up the much less steep side of the mountain. We all made it to the 'keyhole' [image 1], which is an opening through the sharp spine of the mountain, still several hundred feet of elevation from the top. Wind rushes through the keyhole since it is the lowest east-to-west opening along that ridge. Then you find yourself on a trail that winds along the side of the much steeper face of the mountain. The trail is reasonably wide and level. I remember it resembling a sidewalk set into the side of the mountain [image 2]. The drop-off is not a sheer cliff, but it is far too steep to catch yourself were you to fall. The wind gusted against me and caused me to sway on my feet. I chickened out at that point. It is just as well, the trail only got scarier until you got past a point called 'narrows' where apparently you have to hold an iron spike in the wall and swing around a boulder that protrudes into the path. I hugged the wall with sweaty palms as I went back, and nonchalant hikers passed me as they continued to the top."

Thanks for sharing, Kent! English travel writer Isabella Lucy Bird (1831-1904), who visited Colorado in 1873, found inspiration in Long's Peak and wrote about it in one of her best-known books, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains:

"Long's Peak, 14,700 feet high, blocks up one end of Estes Park, and dwarfs all the surrounding mountains. From it on this side rise, snow-born, the bright St. Vrain, and the Big and Little Thompson. By sunlight or moonlight its splintered grey crest is the one object which, in spite of wapiti and bighorn, skunk and grizzly, unfailingly arrests the eyes. From it come all storms of snow and wind, and the forked lightnings play round its head like a glory. It is one of the noblest of mountains, but in one's imagination it grows to be much more than a mountain. It becomes invested with a personality. In its caverns and abysses one comes to fancy that it generates and chains the strong winds, to let them loose in its fury. The thunder becomes its voice, and the lightnings do it homage. Other summits blush under the morning kiss of the sun, and turn pale the next moment; but it detains the first sunlight and holds it round its head for an hour at least, till it pleases to change from rosy red to deep blue; and the sunset, as if spell-bound, lingers latest on its crest. The soft winds which hardly rustle the pine needles down here are raging rudely up there round its motionless summit. The mark of fire is upon it; and though it has passed into a grim repose, it tells of fire and upheaval as truly, though not as eloquently, as the living volcanoes of Hawaii. Here under its shadow one learns how naturally nature worship, and the propitiation of the forces of nature, arose in minds which had no better light."

The Keyhole Route, Long's Peak's only non-technical - but still very challenging - hiking pathway, is open for hiking for only a short time most summers. This was the route taken by Isabella Bird. Altogether, approximately 50 people have lost their lives on Long's Peak.

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