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The Hull Cook Journals: Trauma

May 19, 2010 Hike 2 Comments

Base of the North Face of Longs Peak, just above Chasm View. The cables on the North Face were installed in the mid-1920s and removed in the early 1970s. Photo by Hull Cook

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.

Everyone at Boulderfield felt a serious responsibility toward all persons who came up trail, although we were in no way required to do so. For everyone who went beyond the cabin we made a mark on a paper tacked to the door of the phone box. Then, as people straggled back, we would mark them off. If at the end of the day there were uncanceled marks remaining, one of us boys would scout the peak, ascending the North Face, going over the top, and returning by the Keyhole route. We would often find victims in various stages of exhaustion and fright, perhaps unable to move without assistance.

Of course occasionally climbers would descend by way of Wild Basin or Glacier Gorge rather than returning to the cabin, in which case the would-be rescuer would find no one and [would] shrug off his effort as a recreational climb.

Not infrequently someone would arrive breathlessly at our cabin-hotel with news that an injured or exhausted climber needed rescuing. The messenger would request, often demand, that a rescue party be organized at once. A couple of Boulderfield boys would perhaps toss a coin to determine which one should go. This casual inability to appreciate the gravity of the emergency was apt to infuriate the messenger. “You don’t understand. This person cannot walk! We need a rescue party.”

“How many people need help?” we would ask.

“Why, just one. But he cannot even stand up!”

“OK. Just tell me where he is.”

One of us would then hasten to the spot, usually finding the person surrounded by sympathetic friends. If the person were conscious, he (or hopefully she) would be hoisted onto the rescuer’s shoulders. If it happened to be my mission, I would say, “Just hang on to my head and keep your fingers out of my eyes.” I would then stride off, usually leaving the rest of the party well behind. Our motivation was not entirely compassion. I must admit we were enjoying a chance to show off a bit too, but I am sure the people we carried had scant criticism for our making an ego trip out of their rescue. And this one-on-one method of rescue was not just a macho exhibition stunt. We found that having the victim sitting on our shoulders made for a far easier carry than trying to use a littler. Managing a litter over a jumble of large rocks is no easy task.

But for the victim, the one-on-one rescue could be terrifying. Where previously he had been anxiously creeping and holding onto every projection he could reach, he was now high in the air, completely detached from all reassuring contact with the mountain, and entirely dependent upon the surefootedness of an unknown rescuer. It was interesting.

During the first year that the Boulderfield Hotel was operating Bill Ware, with the aid of a rope, pulled three fellows back up top who were trying to descend the East Face, and brought them down the North Face. And little Mick Maguire rescued two big football players, each twice his size. I have not seen mention of either of these incidents in print, but most of our rescues went unreported anyway. They were probably too frequent to sustain public interest.

I recall a premium climb, one where my only client was an 18-year-old girl. Her mother remained at the cabin while I took Janet up the North Face and down via the Keyhole. Janet was not slender. She admitted to 170 pounds, and by the time that we reached the Keyhole on our descent her legs gave out. I suggested that I carry her the remaining half mile to the cabin. She thought that I was joking, but I finally convinced her of the practicality of the idea, and hoisted her onto my shoulders. My trusty hob nails and edging nails enabled me to negotiate the mass of rough rocks with comparative ease.

When about halfway to the cabin we met her mother, who had decided to meet us on the last stretch. On observing our approach she began laughing almost hysterically. “I never thought I’d see this,” she exclaimed. “Her father couldn’t even carry her across the room, and here you are jumping with her over these awful rocks!”

Another carry was far less amusing. It was tragic. It occurred following a disaster at Chasm View, where my party of four were admiring the view across the East Face. Robert Fulton Smith had been asking about the hazards associated with making rescues, and he made a comment (his last) that soon assumed gruesome significance. He said, “I’d rather be a live coward than a dead hero.”

At that moment I was aware of a flash of something just above his head, and I was horrified to see his brains splash out. I jerked off my pack and quickly laid it over his head to spare his wife the gruesome sight, and I tried to conceal the larger fragments of brains by standing on them.

Shocked into a state of numbness, and terribly distressed, the wife asked, “Can we get a doctor?” To this pitiful request I had to reply, “Mrs. Smith, I am afraid no doctor can help him. I am the closest thing there is to a doctor around here, and I know for certain that he is dead.”

As we all stood there dazed, George Greely came panting up from a position nearby on the ridge leading to Mt. Lady Washington. He said, “I heard a falling rock, and looked up and saw it headed your way. I couldn’t see your group, but when the rock took a final long bounce, and I didn’t hear it hit rock I was worried.”

Mrs. Smith was solid. She did not rant or scream. She did not heap abuse on me. She was one superb lady.

George escorted my people, including Mrs. Smith, back to the cabin, while I remained to carry down the body. Ev Long met me halfway to help. When we checked Mr. Smith’s injury we noted that the scalp, with hair intact, was resting on the tentorium, the smooth bony floor under the brain. All of the skull above the eyebrows was sheared off. The rock had been only slightly smaller than a man’s head. It had been dislodged or rolled by some boys who were above the cable. When they came down we showed them what their rock had done. They soon went on down trail, seemingly showing less remorse than we expected. From the cabin Mr. Smith’s body was packed out on horseback.

Only a few days after Mr. Smith’s grisly death I received a letter from Mrs. Smith. Her character shines through better than I could describe it, so I shall quote her verbatim.

August 3, 1932

Mr. Cook, Guide

Boulderfield Cabin

Dear Mr. Cook:

I want to thank you for your kindness to me at the time of the recent accident to my beloved husband. I shall never forget your thoughtfulness of me, although I must have taxed you greatly. The shock has been almost too much, but I shall never be quite satisfied until I make that trip again. Would it be asking too much if I should want you to go with me?

Circumstances evidently prevented her returning. But what a lady!

More stories:
The Cabin
Pack Burros
The Power of Love
An Unforgettable Rescue

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Greg says:

    I had the very special honor to meet Hull Cook in 2001 when he attended a Central Rockies Section / American Alpine Club banquet at Trio’s in Boulder. he was the nicest ol fella and it wasnt hard to get him to share a few great stories. Im glad to see him live on in these historic tales.

  2. What a story, I read every word, absolutely enthralled. As an aging outdoor enthusiast headed for hip replacement, I can only share in the outdoors vicariousy. While I’m glad I wasn’t on this trip I did enjoy reading about it. Thank you for sharing. What a lady, indeed.

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  • Jamie Jones: The secret chute was only a secret top all you easterners....
  • Jeff: Awesome!!!! Are they ever going to be published in book form! These stories need to be made into a movie!!!!...
  • Karen D McCall: What a story, I read every word, absolutely enthralled. As an aging outdoor enthusiast headed for hip replacement, I can...
  • Kirk Miller: New rats in the Platte. Well done sir....
  • Dale: I met Clerin Zumwalt hiking on the Long's Peak trail back in the 1990's. He was with his family and was wearing his RMNP...
  • Ben Collett: Dougald, I miss the updates on this site. Anyway, there is a great route on the 4th Flatiron (see MP.com for details) th...
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  • 14er Sports: Awesome accomplishment!...
  • Kailas: Yes Wick there are that many people. And they are all from back east or Texass... booooo. I've skied up here for ove...
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