THE ROOT ISSUE
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IN HONOR OF YELLOWSTONE’S
147TH ANNIVERSARY A Story About the Importance of Being Prepared and What Happens When You’re Not!
On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone National Park opened its gates for the first time, protecting the home of over 67 species of mammals and over 1,000 species of trees and plants. In honor of this park’s 147th anniversary, I want to highlight a particularly memorable trip into the great outdoors, one that taught me the importance of being prepared and what can happen when you’re not. My son, Nathan, had spent a month or so preparing for a hike up Longs Peak Mountain with his Boy Scout troop. He was 17, so he didn’t need massive amounts of endurance training. But still, hiking a route that traverses over 15 miles of difficult terrain up a 14,000-foot behemoth of a mountain requires some preparation. The night before the adventure, one of his troop leaders bailed, which meant that the hike was cancelled unless one lucky father volunteered. That’s where my story starts. Nathan and I rushed to the store to buy all the gear I would need for the eight-hour excursion and grabbed what small amount of sleep we could before meeting the other hikers at 2:15 the following morning. When we arrived to the base of Longs Peak, it was still dark out, so we put on our trusty headlamps, packed our gear, and set off. Although I hadn’t adequately trained for the hike, my body responded to it well during the first several miles. Getting to watch the breathtaking view of the sunrise as it
cascaded over the side of the mountain definitely helped too.
Several hours later, we reached a point in the trail known as the boulder field. As you can infer from its name, this was the rockiest part of the hike — pun definitely intended! At this point, we started having some issues with the boys. Blistered heels and twisted ankles threatened to slow us all down, but we all made it over the rocks to the base of the infamous keyhole. The keyhole is a weakness in the ridge between Longs Peak and Storm Peak, providing the only nontechnical passage to the west side of the mountain. We scrambled across large granite boulders, where the last 100 yards became increasingly steep. Stepping through the keyhole was one of the major highlights of the entire trip, but once we got to the end of that section, we had reached the most terrifying part of the hike. The keyhole is situated above the timberline, and to reach the summit, you have to traverse a granite cliff face on a narrow 3-foot ledge. Regarding this section, hiking enthusiasts claim, “Knowing when to stop is honored wisdom,” and while I didn’t feel particularly wise stopping before I reached the summit, as I stared at the trail before me, I knew I simply couldn’t go any further. My legs were exhausted, my footing was unsteady, and my level of fear had reached its peak.
Nathan and several others continued to the summit, and the whole group descended Longs Peak together once they returned. On the way down, everyone was hurting, but we eventually made it back to the car around 5 p.m. When I got home, I immediately noticed how great it felt to sit down. Sure enough, I had to have Liz and Nathan help me back up again! I’ve spent a lot of time beating myself up for being unable to overcome my fears at the top of Longs Peak, but what I’ve come to realize is that this trip taught me a lot about physical preparation, and even mental toughness. While I hadn’t physically trained for the trip, my mindset helped me make it to the keyhole. I danced with my own fear, pushed myself as far as I could, and gained a whole new perspective.
If given the opportunity, would I do the hike again? Maybe, but maybe not.
– Dr. Scott Lowry
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