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June 16, 2011 7:18 am

SPORTS GUY: Getting ready to rumble

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An old rivalry will be rekindled this Saturday when yours truly takes part in the annual community hike at Heart Mountain. It has been two years since I last scaled to the top of this iconic Big Horn Basin landform.

As far as rivalries go, that makes it time for a rematch. Especially since in the time since our last encounter, yours truly has slammed through the invisible brick wall barrier of his 40th birthday. Time inevitably marches onward. Hopefully, Saturday will demonstrate that I can still keep pace.

As I’ve prepared for Saturday’s climb, I can’t help but think of the mountain that has been my life-long nemesis — Colorado’s Longs Peak. Situated at more than 14,000 feet, Longs Peak, the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park, became a siren’s call shortly after I saw the mountain and learned that anyone can stand atop its summit. Of course, that trip involves a 16-mile round trip and a gain of some 6,000 feet from trailhead to summit.

Like Heart Mountain, one face of Longs Peak is pretty much a vertical drop to oblivion, which just adds to the whole coolness factor associated with pointing to its top and telling anyone who will listen that you once stood up there. Only I haven’t been “up there.” Yet.

I’ve made three attempts. Shortly after leaving graduate school, I had plans to summit with a trio of friends. The week before we were to leave, I suffered a high ankle sprain that left me on crutches for the next several weeks. They returned from the trek with a wonderful series of photographs and stories for which I still hate them to this day.

We re-attempted the trip the following summer and reached the Boulder Field, a section of mountain that requires one to navigate over and around a tumbled mass of rocks, some refrigerator sized, some larger. The trail, at least in those days, consisted of a series of bulls-eyes the National Park Service had painted as a guide to get climbers to where they needed to be on the route. You stood at one marker, located the next and decided your own path of least resistance between the two points.

Dozens of hikers used this method to reach the summit each summer. It’s a process that doesn’t work well when the weather changes, as it is prone to do at high altitudes, and a thick mountain-hugging cloud suddenly envelops the region.

When it became apparent Mother Nature would win the day and visibility would not be improving, we waved the white flag and set about the task of trying to get off the Boulder Field. The task was made somewhat challenging considering we couldn’t see from one bulls-eye to the next.

We finally settled on a buddy system. Two people walked ahead in the fog in an effort to locate the next marker. Once there, they shouted to guide the other two forward to that point. The two stragglers’ job was simply to stay put at the last marker reached, in case the advance scouts felt they’d drifted hopelessly off-course and needed assistance getting back. 

Yes kids, this is the sort of fun we had in the 1990s before hand-held GPS units were standard equipment for the outdoor enthusiast.

A few years later, I scheduled time off from work to make one more attack at Longs Peak. Heading out just before the start of high school football practices in mid-August, I arrived at the mountain on the eve of a surprising early-season snowstorm. I awoke from my motel bed the next morning for breakfast and instantly knew there would be no climbing attempts that weekend.

Mountain 3, Man 0. Some might call it karma sending a subtle message.

In any event, until a trip to Colorado is again feasible, I can settle for Heart Mountain. Anyone wishing to join me is cordially invited to take part in Saturday’s community hike.

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