Henrietta Hay Column February 27, 2009
Coming down from mountain is mandatory, but difficult
“Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” — Ed Viesturs.
Colorado has 54 mountain peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation, and there are many climbers who agree with the above quote. Members of the Fourteeners Club are men and women who have climbed some or all of them — and come down again.
As a lifelong lover of the Colorado mountains, I really should have been a member of the club, but I must confess that I am not. Well, I did come close to the top of one of them once. A trip, some years ago, took me within sight of the crest of one fourteener.
I was visiting with some friends who had a cabin a mile straight up from Howard on the Arkansas River. Phett was a rock hound and wanted to show me his favorite crystal deposit, which is on the top — and I do mean top — of Mount Antero in the Collegiate Range.
The mountain itself is prized for its gemstone deposits and has one of the highest concentrations of aquamarine in the country. Phett told me that in 1970 a group of rock hounds doing their thing near its crest found a spot, which quickly became a hole, in which they found hundreds of aquamarines, along with rock crystals and smoky quartz. He said that you could actually bend over and pick them up.
So he and his wife, Anne, and I took off in their Scout to see the hole. When we left the pavement, we had about 15 miles of fairly good road until we came to a sign that said, “This is not a public road — Impassable.” Of course, we turned into it and immediately went into low-low gear. The boulders were fair-size (like medicine balls for example) but we either straddled them or went around them. Most of the time I thought of adventurer and travel writer
Richard Halliburton’s reason for climbing the Matterhorn: If I had leaned out the window I could have spit a mile. On the few fairly level stretches there were streams so clear we drank out of them.
Seven miles later we emerged from the trees and there was Mount Antero in her utter barren, ferocious, lonely majesty — its peak 3,000 feet straight up.
Now I am no flatlander, but when I saw the trail to the top of the mountain, the one designed for mules and wagons, the one Phett intended to drive up in his Scout, I had had it. I announced that I wouldn’t go up that road in a Scout if he paid me in gold bullion. My reputation for cowardice was intact. Anne and I split off right there at timberline.
I will never know again, except in memory, the absolute beauty of that afternoon, as we walked through the talus. There were tiny wild flowers growing out of the rock, and icy streams underfoot. From that spot, we could see seven mountains over 14,000 feet high, with their barren tops and lovely green flanks.
Perhaps it was the altitude, but we became philosophers, discussing eternity, creation and life. This was not long after I had read “The Crystal and the Colloid,” and I found myself thinking about my relation to the mountain, about the crystals which had lain there for millions of years and humans just a few years old.
Surely without the mountains, the humans would be incomplete.
Although I didn’t do it the hard way, or get all the way to the summit, I knew then why men and women climb mountains.
But we had to come back down to Earth, literally and figuratively.
Schiller wrote, “On the mountains there is freedom. The world is perfect everywhere.”