October 22, 2020

The Kid Was Tougher than He Looked

Some of the same Scouts, on a five-night trip the next summer.
The other kid's initials were R. A., so I will call him that, in case he ever Google-stalks himself. Later on, his mother would be one of my English teachers at Fort Collins High School. I was 14, and he was younger — 12? 11? 

We were both members of Boy Scout Troop 97 in Fort Collins. Wayne Parsons, the scoutmaster, was on the staff of the Roosevelt National Forest there (as yet unconsolidated with the Arapaho), and he was all about outdoor experiences and outdoor projects. We never did a service project in town, and that was fine with me. (It looks like Troop 97 still tries to be outdoors-focused.)

This event was to be an overnight backpack trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. We would start at the Bear Lake Trailhead, cross the Continental Divide on Flattop Mountain, camp somewhere, and then descend to the little resort town of Grand Lake, on the park's western edge. 

My mother picked up R. A. and drove us to Bear Lake. For some reason, we had been delayed, and when we arrived, the others had already left. 

Crossing the Continental Divide
on Flattop Mountain, 12,000 feet.

"It's OK," we said, not wanting to be quitters. "We'll catch up to them." Satisfied, she drove away. We started walking, up onto the high plateau that Flattop its name, at about 12,000 feet. A line of cairns guided us across this treeless plateau. Overall, it was a fine August day.

But then we came to a junction. To the left was (I think) the North Inlet Trail, which was just under 13 miles to Grand Lake. To the right was another trail (Tonahutu Creek), which was a bit longer, about 14 miles, making the entire trip about 17–18 miles.

We had to make a choice. R. A. looked to me. I guessed that Our Fearless Leader would take the longer trail. I was wrong.

We walked. On and on we walked, dropping steeply from alpine meadow into forest. We stopped for a snack. The sun was sinking. The forest was thick and dark, Troop 97 was nowhere in sight, and we were tired. After a bit more hiking, we agreed that we had to stop.

A view down from Flattop,
before I stopped taking pictures.
We did have sleeping bags, we had food, and the weather was fine. We knew in a general sense where we were. R. A., bless his heart, never said, "You dummy! You took the wrong trail!" but just kept his thoughts to himself.

He was wearing high-top sneakers, which were the recommended hiking gear for youngsters with fast-growing feet. I saw that a blister had popped and bled through the canvas a little. He had never uttered a word about that. I had Bandaids at least.

The next morning we rose early, rolled up our sleeping bags, ate something, and started walking. We did not know where the pickup point was or when pickup was scheduled, and our new fear was that we would be left behind in Grand Lake.

I remember once we saw a sign that said something like "Grand Lake 6.2 mi." We walked and walked and then there was another sign, "Grand Lake 6 mi." (or whatever the whole number was), and we opined that that was a very long two-tenths mile.

Finally we came down through some tourist cabins and out onto a paved street. No sign of other Boy Scouts. I had enough money in my pocket for one celebratory Coca-Cola. We located the end of the trail that we should have come on. Then we waited. And we waited.

Eventually, after maybe two hours, the rest of the Scouts marched out of the woods. They probably had lazed around camp making pancakes or something while we were on our forced march to Grand Lake.

Some of the parents made room in their cars for us. I don't know whether we came back over Trail Ridge Road (US 34) or down US 40 (probably) but somehow we returned to Fort Collins. And it was no big deal. I don't remember anyone fussing over R. A. and me.

All of that might be burned now. Probably is. The East Troublesome Fire looks to be climbing up the same drainage that we walked down. Now that is something to think about.


Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

"He was wearing high-top sneakers, which were the recommended hiking gear for youngsters with fast-growing feet."

Man, what awful outdoor footwear advice that was.

When I was a kid, back in the Pleistocene, we all had some sort of Red Wing boots that were for kids. About 100% of us had them. Our parents bought them in the Fall, at which time we retired our canvas high tops for the winter. This was apparently universal as Patrick McManus actually notes this occurring when he was a kid in one of his short stories. Later, (this was in the mid 70s), a lot of us had "waffle stomper" hiking boots.

Sneakers for hiking? Yikes. Even now I hate it when my adult children wear something like running shoes for outdoor activities.

As an aside, do you know what became of your protagonist later? I always wonder about the characters later on.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I did some Google-stalking too, as my protagonist had an unusual first name. It appears he earned a PhD in mechanical engineering, now lives in the Pacific Northwest, and is also something of an artist. (I think.)

This hike occurred on the eve of the Great Backpacking Explosion, and I remember seeing some booklet on introducing your kids to backpacking (from the Forest Service?) that recommended high-tops. I don't know what I had. In another photo from the same summer I am wearing some high lace-up boots, which were either (a) hand-me-downs from Dad, before my feet grew some more or (b) a pair of those green kangaroo-leather crepe-soled upland hunting boots.

I know I did a five-night backpack in the Medicine Bow Range the next summer wearing some cheaper ankle-high leather boots because I had outgrown the green ones.

A couple of years later, he bought me some "real mountaineering boots" at the Holubar Mountaineering store in Fort Collins. Woo-hoo! The real thing. Vibram soles with little crosses.

WyoHunter said...

I've known several guys who hunted deer in high tops. In Kenya, 1974, professional hunters wore tennis-tennis shoes–great for stalking. They would follow elephant for up to 100 miles for days in those shoes. Now they have to wear Couteneys or custom Russells you couldn't touch for less than $300.

Plus les choses changent moins elles sont pareilles.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

"(a) hand-me-downs from Dad, before my feet grew some more"

My feet never reached that size. Eventually, when they'd stopped growing, my father bought me a pair of Red Wing logging boots, a style that were then very much in vogue and which a friend of mine had just bought. They were great boots and lasted for about 30 or so years, by which time I'd acquired some Hathorn smoke jumpers boots, which is what I favor now.

When I say favor, I have to admit I have a lot of boots. Everything from Galibier mountain climbing boots to surplus to USMC jungle boots, and on to an assortment of riding boots. So I'm well shod.

"(b) a pair of those green kangaroo-leather crepe-soled upland hunting boots."

I never had a pair of those, but I recall them now. They were all the rage for awhile.

"A couple of years later, he bought me some "real mountaineering boots" at the Holubar Mountaineering store in Fort Collins. Woo-hoo! The real thing. Vibram soles with little crosses."

I think I got my first pair of boots of that type some time in high school They weren't the best but they were good hikers. If I recall correctly, they were also Red Wings. The Galibiers I bought while in university and I still have them, over 30 years later. With a solid, unbending, steel shank, they aren't something I wear often.

Bad boots, I'd note, are a bad deal. A couple of work associates I have/had both had a fondness for cheap boots. I was with one when he blew out his ankle wearing them. The other blew out his ankle high in the mountains a couple of years later.