Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sunrise from Longs Peak

While perusing the National Park Service's online collection of park brochures a few days ago, I came across a Rules and Regulations pamphlet for Rocky Mountain National Park from 1920. The pamphlet, which appears to be more of travel brochure than a compendium of rules, includes an extremely well written and eloquent account of four women who climbed to the top of Longs Peak under the light of the moon in 1915.

The brochure describes the essay:

"A night ascent of Longs Peak is necessary to see the wonderful spectacle of sunrise from the summit. Here is the story of an ascent made in August, 1915, by Miss Edna Smith, Mrs. Love, Miss Frasher, and Miss Terry, under the guidance of Shep Husted."

Here is the account is by Miss Smith:
At supper time the chances seemed against a start. It was raining. Later the rain stopped but the full moon was almost lost in a heavy mist and the light was dim. Mr. Husted thought an attempt to ascend the peak hardly wise. At 11 o'clock I went to Enos Mills for advice. He said, "Go." So we mounted Our ponies and started, chilled by the clammy fog about us.

After a short climb we were in another world. The fog was a sea of silvery clouds below us and from it the mountains rose like islands. The moon and stars were bright in the heavens. There was the sparkle in the air that suggests enchanted lands and fairies. Halfway to timberline we came upon ground white with snow, which made it seem all the more likely that Christmas Pixies just within the shadows of the pines might dunce forth on a moon beam.

Above timberline there was no snow, but the moonlight was so brilliant that the clouds far below were shining like misty lakes and even the bare mountain side about us looked almost as white as if snow covered.

As we left our ponies at the edge of the Boulder Field and started across that rugged stretch of d├ębris spread out flat in the brilliant moonlight we found the silhouette of Longs Peak thrown in deep black shadow across it. Never before had that bold outline seemed so impressive.

At the western edge of Boulder Field there was a new marvel. As we approached Keyhole, right in the center of that curious nick in the rim of Boulder Field shone the great golden moon. The vast shadow of the peak, made doubly dark by the contrast, made us very silent. When we emerged from Keyhole and looked down into the Glacier Gorge beyond it was hard to breathe because of the wonder of it all. The moon was shining down into the great gorge 1,000 feet below and it was filled with a silvery glow. The lakes glimmered in the moonlight.

Climbing along the narrow ledge, high above this tremendous gorge, was like a dream. Not a breath of air stirred, and the only sound was the crunch of hobnails on rock. There was a supreme hush in the air, as if something tremendous were about to happen.

Suddenly the sky, which had been the far-off blue of a moonlit night, flushed with the softest amethyst and rose, and the stars loomed large and intimately near, burning like lamps with lavender, emerald, sapphire, and topaz lights. The moon had set and the stars were supreme.

The Trough was full of ice and the ice was hard and slippery, but the steps that had been cut in the ice were sharp and firm. We had no great difficulty in climbing the steep ascent, We emerged from the Trough upon a ledge from which the view across plains and mountain ranges was seemingly limitless.

As we made our way along the Narrows the drama of that day's dawn proceeded with kaleidoscopic speed. Over the plains, apparently without end, was a sea of billowy clouds, shimmering with golden and pearly lights. One mountain range after another was revealed and brought close by the rosy glow that now filled all the sky. Every peak, far and near, bore a fresh crown of new snow, and each stood out distinct and individual. Arapaho Peak held the eye long. Torreys Peak and Grays Peak were especially beautiful. And far away, a hundred miles to the south, loomed up the summit of Pikes Peak. So all-pervading was the alpine glow that even the near-by rocks took on wonderful color and brilliance.

Such a scene could last but a short time. And it was well for us, for the moments were too crowded with sensations to be long borne. Soon the sun burst up from the ocean of clouds below. The lights changed. The ranges gradually faded into a far-away blue. The peaks flattened out and lost themselves in the distance. The near-by rocks took on once more their accustomed somber hues. And in the bright sunlight of the new day we wondered whether we had seen a reality or a vision.

On the summit all was bright and warm. Long we lingered in the sunlight, loath to leave so much beauty; but we feared lest the ice in the Trough should soften, and at last we began the descent. We descended leisurely and stopped at Timberline Cabin for luncheon.

It was a perfect trip. It seemed as if the stage were set for our especial benefit. It was an experience that will live with me always. At first I felt as if I could never ascend the peak again, lest the impressions of that perfect night should become confused or weakened. But I believe I can set this night apart by itself. And I shall climb Longs Peak again.



Anonymous said...

What an awesome trip!

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Totally agree! Edna Smith has a magical touch when it comes to writing - I really enjoyed reading her account.