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.
Fatalities on the peak were depressing, even though they were beyond our realm of responsibility. One day some frightened youths rushed into the cabin with the unwelcome news that one of their group had fallen. They indicated that he had apparently mistaken the Transom, or False Keyhole, for the real Keyhole. When they saw him fall, they had backed off and regained the usual route.
I hastened to the spot where I expected the body to lodge, the long ledge about 100 feet below the Transom that slopes down to the Agnes Vaile shelter hut. Here, indeed, was the crumpled body of a youth in his late teens. I wondered why he had fallen. The descent from the Transom is not technically difficult. Then I noticed a large box camera nearby. Perhaps it had hampered his descent.
As soon as I had determined there was no doubt about his being dead, I hoisted him up on my shoulder for the half-mile carry back to the cabin. A step away from where his body had lodged the ledge is very narrow, and as I swung around to head downward, the boy’s big climbing boots struck the rock wall, pushing me outward. Off balance, I stared down the near-vertical cliff at the rocks over 300 feet below, and I thought, “I’m going to have to throw him overboard to regain my balance, or we’ll both go over.” Thoughts come fast at such a time. I remembered then that his face was undamaged. What a pity it would be to smash it on those rocks. I teetered apprehensively, straining every muscle to regain stability while the debate—“to toss or not to toss” raged in my head. Moments that seemed like minutes passed until I finally rocked back to a safer stance, and could begin the sad trek down to the cabin.
The boy’s name was Grey Secor. His father soon came up from Longmont to the Hewes-Kirkwood Inn to learn what I could tell him of the accident. I was especially moved because I imagined my own father in that role should I become too careless.
One evening after dinner I thought I heard a most unwelcome sound, the yodeling signal which we used as a call for help. I rushed outside, hoping that I was mistaken, but there it was again. Gilly was at Chasm View, descending with a small group and avoiding the longer descent via the Keyhole to escape the onset of darkness. And Gilly was telling me that he needed help.
I quickly assembled first-aid kit, warm jacket, flashlight, and our longest rope, and set out for Chasm View at a trot. The trot lasted until the ascent became steeper, forcing a slight slowing of pace, but I was still pushing myself to the limit. About this time my stomach rebelled and said in effect, “You cannot expect me to digest that gluttonous meal while you are shunting all the blood to your lungs and legs. I quit!” And with a great whoosh, up came the dinner. Oddly enough, I felt no nausea, just the need to abruptly unload my dinner, and I was moving again.
When I met Gilly’s people on their descent from Chasm View to Boulderfield cabin, they advised me that he was waiting for my help in rescuing an injured climber who was lying on Broadway Ledge, calling for help. From Gilly’s vantage point at Chasm View, looking down and across the Diamond, the approaching darkness made it difficult to even see the victim. Gilly and I decided at once that he could be reached more quickly from above rather than having to go clear around Mt. Lady Washington, past Chasm Lake, and up from there. Accordingly, we climbed to the top of the peak, or nearly so, crossed southward above the Diamond, and descended to Broadway. Gilly remained about our rope’s length above Broadway to belay me with the injured climber up the first pitch. I found the injured man huddled on a rather narrow section of Broadway, babbling incoherently about falling. A cursory examination by flashlight revealed no deforming injuries, and as I talked to him he became more lucid.
He had evidently tried to climb the north side of the Notch Couloir. Just before slipping he had changed from hob-nailed boots to hemp soles, putting the boots in his pack. Where then was his pack? He had somehow fallen out of it, and when he hit the narrow ledge, the pack had gone on over and enjoyed the full thousand-foot drop to the waiting rocks below, a close call for him. After securing the rope around his middle, I called up to Gilly to take up the slack. Then, after explaining the shoulder carry to him, I hoisted him into position. We were not far from the spot where we had to leave Broadway and start our vertical ascent near the left side of the Diamond, but between us and that spot was a bulging corner of rock which we had to work around. Here the ledge underfoot was especially narrow and rather smooth, and it sloped alarmingly toward the black abyss behind us. I told my passenger to tuck his toes behind my back so that his shoes would not push us out into space.
As you start around this bulging corner it is necessary to plant one foot on the sloping ledge and commit weight on it while groping around the corner for a hand hold that you cannot see, but which you know from past experience to be there. When Gilly tightened the rope it provided the reassurance that if I slipped the man would be saved by the rope. He would no longer be my responsibility; he would become Gilly’s problem. Holding a flashlight in clenched teeth made it necessary for me to keep my head turned to the side. My fingers were really tingling as I flattened myself against the cliff!
After successfully negotiating that scary corner, I felt that we were home-free as I began the nearly vertical climb up the Kiener route to Gilly’s position. Hand and foot holds here were comfortingly adequate. Gilly moved on up for another belay, and we continued in like manner to the top of the peak, crossing above the Diamond and rounding over to the top of the North Face.
As we descended the cables, Gilly again belayed our injured climber, whom I can now call Leonard, since we had learned that his name was Leonard Thomas. He was still riding on my shoulders—I had not bothered to set him down yet—and as we descended the cables he tired of tucking his feet behind my back. Instead, he kept dragging his toes on the rock in front of me, but here I had hold of the cable for security. However, twice his toes swung free as we passed over inverted ledges, and each time he apparently relived the terror associated with his fall, for each time he let out a shriek that would frighten a banshee.
At Chasm View I accepted Gilly’s offer to carry Leonard, which he did all the rest of the way on down to the cabin. By morning Leonard was quite rational and we were able to determine that beside scrapes and bruises his only injury was a broken collar bone. Of course there was the concussion, but when Leonard’s father interviewed me a couple of weeks later he made no mention of complications.
Leonard had evidently remembered enough of my carry to give his father an earful, because the senior Mr. Thomas brought with him a man from the Carnegie who was to determine whether I was entitled to a Carnegie medal. The man’s reaction was favorable until he learned that I was a professional guide. That killed the whole idea, even though my responsibility to Leonard was zero, except for purely humanitarian reasons. Mr. Thomas ended the interview by giving me $50 (at least $800 in today’s dollars). Later, my father said, “You should have taken that Carnegie fellow up there. He might have changed his mind.”