Hull Cook worked as a climbing guide at the Boulderfield Shelter Cabin, at 12,750 feet on Longs Peak, during the summers of 1932, 1933, and 1934. These are his stories.
Bathing facilities at Boulderfield were limited. Usually we stood with one foot in each of two wash pans of warm, soapy water, with a third wash pan between the other two to help catch run-off, an arrangement that would have been less efficient in the case of a female bather. A kettle of clean water was placed nearby for rinsing off the soap. Bathing was sometimes interrupted by the unexpected arrival of tourists, who usually barged right in without knocking, thereby creating an entertaining scramble for cover.
After the brief but heavy afternoon rain showers that are frequent in the mountains, we would often reach the cabin drenched, and wish to change into dry clothes, only to find the place crowded with tourists seeking shelter. My wife believes that this is where I lost my modesty, because we boys changed to dry clothes, crowds or not. We would step to a corner of the room, and while facing away from the people, we would peel down to the bare facts and dry off. Women showed surprise, shock, and embarrassment until, seemingly reassured by our confident composure, their discomfort was usually converted to amusement.
When no overnight guests were present, Zumie [Clerin Zumwalt, another guide] often enjoyed starting the day by flinging open the heavy front door, stepping outside, and shouting as loudly as he could, “Hello, world!” And for this brief ritual Zum felt that the appropriate attire was complete nudity.
One morning, as Zum hailed the world in his usual manner, he failed to notice a small group of early-morning climbers lounging nearby, before roaring out his challenging greeting. Of course his loud cry commanded the attention of the group, both male and female, and while Zum was coming to grips with the realization that he was playing to a live audience they were entertained by the sight of a very surprised and very naked young man who suddenly wished for oblivion, or at least a G-string. A bit later, the act of serving this group breakfast did little to minimize his embarrassment.
We Boulderfield boys enjoyed a level of physical fitness that most people are not privileged to experience. Some act such as carrying people off the mountain, which might look like a stunt, was merely everyday living. Or if someone down at Hewes-Kirkwood Inn advised by phone that one of us had received a letter on the incoming mail, the recipient would eagerly jog the six and a half miles down trail to get it, and of course regain the 3,700 feet of altitude on the long trek back up again. Carrying people on rescues seemed almost a casual routine.
I recall one evening when I had a date to attend a dance in the Village [Estes Park] at around nine o’clock. I planned to leave the cabin as soon as supper cleanup was accomplished. I could jog down trail, take a three-pan bath, and make it on time.
Among our dinner guests that evening was a couple who had straggled in after having climbed the peak. They had hoped to go down trail after eating, but were so tired that we advised them to stay over. It promised to be a very dark night, heavily overcast, and without a light they feared getting lost, so they agreed to spend the night.
As soon as our guests had eaten, one of my fellow guides asked how soon I was going down trail. On hearing this, the tired woman brightened up and asked, “Oh, are you going down tonight? We can go with you! You know the way.”
“Lord save me,” I thought. I knew that these people could not maintain a pace that would get me down in time. They had no idea how fast I was planning to travel. Yet what could I say that would not sound selfish and inhospitable? “Yes,” I replied resignedly, “I’m going down trail right away.” On hearing this the couple assumed that I would guide them down. They arose eagerly from the table, trying to appear rested and ready for action.
And so we set out. I let them go ahead to set the pace while I provided direction with the beam of a flashlight. In 40 minutes we reached the far edge of the Boulderfield, a distance of one half mile. Our miserably slow progress prompted a bit of mental arithmetic. Eleven more half miles…over seven hours! Something had to be done. I knew that they would be crushed by the idea of returning to the cabin, yet my position deserved consideration also.
I said to the man, “You seem more tired than your wife. I’ll carry you. She can walk behind and flash the light ahead of me.” He objected, of course, not realizing how often we carried people. But with a firmness that he hesitated to contest I said, “That’s how we are going to do it.” So I hoisted him up on my shoulders, gave the light to the wife, and we took off again. Carrying someone in that position is not particularly fatiguing because your breathing is not restricted. We soon left the trail and followed the phone line, a very rough and rocky course, but shorter than the trail.
Before long the wife was having a pitiful struggle with exhaustion, so I said to the man, “Looks like it’s your turn to walk.” I set him down and picked up his wife, saying, “Give him the light.”
This method of alternately carrying first one, then the other, enabled us to make fairly good time. Before we reached Jim’s Grove we had switched back and forth several times, and the couple had accepted this intermittent riding as the way to go.
Below the Alpine Brook bridge, where the cutoff rejoins the main trail and becomes easy to follow, I set the current passenger down and said, “You cannot get lost from here. I’ll have to hurry on. I have an appointment in the Village. Just leave the flashlight in front of the cabin at the parking lot.”
I ran the rest of the way to base camp, managed the customary three-pan bath (but with cold water), and was only a half-hour late for my date in the Village. After dancing till nearly 3 a.m., I drove back to the base camp cabin, swallowed four raw eggs, and headed back up trail, arriving in plenty of time to take an early guide party up the peak. Any fatigue we Boulderfield boys felt from this kind of foolishness would be almost completely relieved by 10 or 15 minutes’ rest. I remember a comment made by John Cross after he had worked all summer on a trail crew. He said, “I don’t know what it is to feel tired.” Youth is wonderful.