I wish there was still a “hotel” on the Boulderfield on Longs Peak. And a cable car to it from the trailhead.
I don’t really want that. I just got spoiled living in Chamonix last summer. But that’s a different story.
Still, wouldn’t it be fab if you could get a coffee and a slice of cake partway up Longs Peak? The deliciousness of the idea is part of the reason why I’ve been into the Colorado Mountain Journal’s (coloradomountainjournal.com) series from the memoirs of Hull Cook, a guide who worked at the Boulderfield Shelter Cabin in the early 1930s.
Cook’s stories from the “hotel” — a 14-by-18-foot building at 12,750 feet on the flank of Longs — feel relevant now but still surprise. I nod knowingly as he tells about the hotel’s roof being ripped off by the wind the first winter, leaving behind a stone cube packed with snow. I think of modern tourists when he tells a story about literally carrying slow clients on his shoulder. And I wince at the lightning stories, having had my own close calls.
The cabin — which stood on the Boulderfield for 10 years and served clients being guided up the Cables Route on the north side of Longs — is unique in American mountain history, says Dougald MacDonald, editor and creator of the Mountain Journal.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of huts like this in the Alps, and they’re staffed and catered, so they’ll cook for you,” he said. “But that’s never really happened in the U.S.”
MacDonald, a freelance writer and editor in Louisville, first heard about Hull Cook when he was doing research for his book “Longs Peak: The Story of Colorado’s Favorite Fourteener.” Last year he wrote a story for Backpacker magazine about Cook and fellow guide Clerin “Zummy” Zumwalt’s hike to Grand Lake for lunch. The hike turned into a 55-mile epic that ended with a bivy in Glacier Gorge — all on a shared slice of pie bought with spare change in Grand Lake (each thought the other had brought his wallet).
Cook’s son, Hull “Cactus” Cook, saw the story and contacted MacDonald. Cook offered him an unpublished manuscript his father had written about his three summers on the Boulderfield.
MacDonald posts a new chapter from the manuscript on the site every Wednesday; he has four or five more chapters to post.
“There’s still some really good rescue stories and climbing stories coming,” he said. Back then, the rangers didn’t have technical climbing abilities, so the guys at the Boulderfield Cabin conducted rescues themselves.
“There’s an incident I will have on the site before long where a guy gets injured on the east face, along Broadway,” MacDonald said. Cook carried the injured climber up the east face, where he met other rescuers, who carried him down the mountain.
“I think the thing that really appeals to me about these stories is that they just exemplify the exuberance of youth — being up there in this situation and making the most of it, really just loving life,” MacDonald said. “That’s what I love about it. They knew they were in a special place at a special time.”
I love that these stories make it easy to connect past with present, because they’re familiar but fresh. Regardless of age, everyone has a Colorado lightning story (mine’s on Skywalker Couloir, Indian Peaks). Everyone has seen unprepared hikers on a fourteener (cotton T-shirts?!?). And everyone has at least one strong friend who could probably carry you up and down the trail (you know who you are).
Don’t worry, strong friends — I’m holding out for the Chamonix-style cable car.