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.
One time that I carried someone down the mountain remains vivid in my memory; it was more prolonged [than usual] yet not severely fatiguing because love was a factor in maintaining endurance.
In endeavoring to reach something on a high shelf, Dorothy Collier [co-proprietor of the Boulderfield hut] placed a foot on the edge of the stove, and to support herself grasped one of the metal tie rods overhead. Her hand was slippery from soapy dishwater, causing her to lose her grip. She fell backward, striking her head on the cement floor. She was dazed by the impact, but she soon got up and tried to pass it off as of no consequence. However, 20 minutes later she abruptly lost consciousness and again fell to the floor.
This delayed loss of consciousness alarmed me greatly, as I feared it indicated intracranial bleeding. I carried her over to the downstairs bed, placed a cold-water compress on her head, and, since her husband was in Chicago, I phoned her family doctor in Denver. He wanted her brought down, and was quite distressed when I explained the difficulties of transport. About this time she regained consciousness, so we decided on quiet observation as long as she appeared not to be deteriorating. Her main problem was a vicious vertigo that recurred every time that she sat up or attempted to stand.
I closed the curtain around the downstairs bed to conceal our injured lady from curious eyes, and hung a sign that read, “QUIET, please. Patient has concussion of the brain. This is not merely mountain sickness.” Most people were very considerate.
This situation went on for several days, creating a mild scandal in the Village [Estes Park] because we boys were providing nursing care. Dorothy could barely stand, even with help, and her vertigo rendered the long trek to the outdoor privy out of the question, so it was up to one of us boys to help her on and off the pot. When tourists were present this function was something of a production. Everyone was shooed outside so that she could enjoy a modicum of privacy. Then, as soon as she returned to bed, the helper would emerge with the thunder bucket, and as he passed through the crowd on his way to the privy he would grant permission for the people to reenter the building. Dorothy said that she preferred me for her attendant because I was in medical school. But she mentioned another reason for my handling the thunder bucket. She said, “George bangs the lid so! Like cymbals.” So from then on I was the nurse, a situation that lasted a week. By then Dorothy decided her head could withstand the bouncing six-mile trek out on a stretcher.
Somewhere during this week a lady do-gooder, an Englishwoman from India, heard of Dorothy’s plight and was horrified that she was being cared for by young men. She determined to climb the peak, and incidentally check the situation out. She phoned us for reservations, mentioning on the phone both reasons for her coming. She evidently felt that Dorothy was in uncouth hands, so we boys felt that we should not disappoint her.
After dinner we set up a poker game. Ev was down trail, leaving George, Zumie, and me for the card game. Zum and I pulled out our hunting knives and laid them on the table. At this George produced Bob’s .38 revolver, saying, “I’m gonna keep this game honest.”
The game was punctuated by a few threats and cuss words, but we soon tired of the charade and retired. Next morning the woman from India chose me for her climbing guide. Conversation lagged somewhat until we reached the cables [the steel cables that, until the 1970s, provided a hand rail for ascents of Longs’ north face]. Here I followed close behind her in case she should lose her grip on the cable. Too close, perhaps, because she kicked me in the nose with a heel. Immediately I had an impressive nose bleed. She was very contrite and apologetic, and also embarrassed that she had caused injury to her guide.
I grinned and said, “I guess that makes us even.”
Puzzled, she asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well, last night we tried to frighten you into going back down trailk, so I guess I had this coming.” We enjoyed a good laugh…and for the rest of the climb our relationship was refreshingly cordial. After our return to the cabin she had a long visit with Dorothy, who convinced her that she was being well cared for, and the woman departed, perhaps surprised that no major moral overhaul was necessary.
The condition that prevented Dorothy’s going down trail on horseback was the miserable vertigo that was brought on by standing or sitting upright. As the vertigo was slow in clearing, we decided it was time to rig a stretcher and carry her out. We should have brought up a conventional stretcher, but instead we improvised. In a lumber pile in the stable we fund two ten-foot 2 x 4s for stringers, and separated them with two short lengths of the same material. For support under the toboggan mat used for padding, we wrapped climbing rope between the stringers. Our stretcher [was] a cumbersome thing of about 40 pounds.
I phoned ranger headquarters, requesting two husky rangers to trade off with two Boulderfield boys on the stretcher. I was advised, rather condescendingly, that such a project would require a much larger crew. They promised a group of CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] boys, and in a few hours a crew of 22 arrived, plus ranger Harold Radcliffe, supervisor of the southern area of the Park. Dorothy did not like the idea of CCC boys carrying her stretcher. When they were doing shoulder work on the road to the Village, some of them called vulgar taunts when she drove by in her convertible. This had happened several times, and their boss had not silenced the insults. (That boss was not Harold. He would not have tolerated such behavior.)
So I said, “I’ll carry the front end of the stretcher.” Harold assigned two CCC boys to the back end, and we started. The two C-boys soon tired and were replaced. When we passed the first half-mile marker I thought, “This isn’t so bad. I can go another half mile.” I had the same thought at the next marker, and the next. The boys kept changing off every few hundred yards, and they resented my refusing to trade off. At one point I overheard the current pair plotting to show me up. One said, “Let’s run him down.” And they started going faster and faster, thinking that I would have to give in. Soon we were almost running, leaving the crowd behind. Before long the ranger noticed our pace and roared loudly, “For God’s sake, where’s the fire?” So we slowed down.
I had several unfair advantages over the guys on the back end. I was in superb physical condition; my edging nails made me sure-footed; I was walking in the trail while they had to struggle up and down over rocks on either side of the trail; I could see more clearly where to place my feet; and for a clincher my effort was a labor of love for the woman on that stretcher. At three miles, I thought, “That’s halfway. I can do that much again.”
And I did. Six miles without setting it down, and the only discomfort I felt was caused by blisters from the rough 2 x 4s. I should have worn gloves. From base camp Dorothy was taken to Denver and hospitalized. If this account sounds like offensive bragging, I simply say that it is true. And I state again that anything which we Boulderfield boys did can be exceeded by any determined athlete. We merely did what needed doing as a matter of course.
In two weeks Dorothy was back on the mountain. Her personality and unusual experiences attracted the attention of The American Magazine which, in the ’30s, was running a series called “Interesting People.” In each issue the magazine featured four people from throughout the country, with a picture of each, and a little commentary mentioning just why each was of interest. Dorothy appeared in the issue of November 1933.