What About the Mountain Featured in 16 Souls?

I’ve had several people ask about the mountain I featured in the story: Long’s Peak, which is essentially a gigantic granite monolith sitting at the southern end of one of my favorite spots on the planet: Rocky Mountain National Park.  The official height of the summit has traditionally been 14,255 feet above sea level (although contemporary re-measuring has added 4 feet).  Long’s Peak is one of 58 peaks in Colorado rising above the 14-thousand foot mark., and frankly it’s my favorite because – with the exception of driving up Pike’s Peak as a kid – Long’s is the only big mountain I’ve climbed, or, to be precise, tried to climb and almost succeeded.  And, of course, therein lies a story:

It was the summer of 1960 when my Dad and I started out around 4 am from the Long’s Peak trailhead –  the landing zone I wrote into the book.  Our progress to the boulderfield and then through the keyhole to the backside of the big mountain went pretty much as scheduled, and sometime before 10 am we began the trek along a very narrow path (too rocky to refer to as a trail) called the keyhole route.  Here’s how the National Park Service describes the Keyhole route today – a description neither of us were aware of in 1960:

“In the summertime, when conditions allow, thousands climb to Longs’ summit via the Keyhole Route. The Keyhole Route is not a hike. It is a climb that crosses enormous sheer vertical rock faces, often with falling rocks, requiring scrambling, where an unroped fall would likely be fatal. The route has narrow ledges, loose rock, and steep cliffs.” 

About halfway down the route, walking essentially along a 45 degree rock face 2,500 feet elevation above the first treeline below, I began to get hypoxic in the 12-thousand foot plus altitude. As my poor father looked back from twenty or thirty feet ahead, I was slowly losing consciousness and more or less (as he recalled it) rotating around the narrow spot where I stood.  Falling inward would mean a safe collapse.  Falling outward mean two thousand five hundred feet of 45 degree rock face to roll down, which would have been inevitably fatal.

Obviously, I fell inward long before he could get back to help.

Having been in aviation and medical safety for decades now, I’ve often wondered whether the decision “we” made (mostly my Dad made) in the next few minutes helped pave the way for all the things I’ve said and advocated about good judgement being the beating heart of safety.  My father, a busy corporate lawyer based in our home city of Dallas, had rearranged his entire schedule for months in order to get to Estes Park in time to prepare with me to summit Long’s.  We both knew there would likely never be another chance.   In other words, we both dearly wanted to press on to the summit, and yet I recall him saying (through my hypoxic fog), that it wasn’t safe to continue, and the only responsible decision was to turn back. 

 And no, we never had another chance at it, but I think I learned far more in defeat that day than if we’d struggled all the way to the top.

So the big mountain has a lot of multi-faceted significance to me, and just as with my character Marty Mitchell (and notwithstanding what he intended to accomplish on top), for anyone living along the front range from Denver north, Long’s is a dominating promontory and the benchmark I look for whenever I arrive in or fly over the Denver area.  How could I not feature it in a book?