Colorado Rockies

David Hathaway

In the summer of 1970 I was turning 14 and went on a family trip from our home in Omaha, Nebraska, to Wyoming and Colorado, including a stop in Estes Park, CO. I had lived in the Midwest all my life and, despite some tourist drives to Yellowstone and winter ski trips, none of us had ever really done any mountain hiking. 

So when we were driving around Rocky Mountain National Park one morning and saw a roadside sign for a trail to Flattop Mountain, we thought it might be fun to hike up it, blissfully unaware of how unprepared we were. Flattop is a 12200′ peak and the 8.5 mile round trip trail started at around 9450′, so this was a significant mountain hike. 

We should have had food, water, warm clothes, a map, rain gear, and a current weather report. Instead, we had only a tiny day pack with a camera and perhaps a single light sweater for the six of us. I don’t remember what everyone else was wearing, but I had on only a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and sneakers. It was warm and sunny as we started up.  My step-father, who had heart disease, was the first to get tired, so he and my step-sister stopped and went down. A bit farther my brother, who was just a little younger than me, went down with my little sister. But my mother and I kept going. 

The trail itself was deceptively easy, but longer than we’d expected when we’d just set out for a “short hike.” We also didn’t appreciate how quickly the weather can change in the mountains, nor how much the temperature can drop as you climb. So we were a bit surprised when it started clouding over as we approached the summit.  Fortunately there were no thunderstorms, which are very common in the Rockies. It also got colder, and by the time we reached the summit there were a few flakes of snow in the air and I was shivering in my shorts and t-shirt. 

Having had no water, I was pretty thirsty and resorted to drinking water that had collected in depressions in the rocks at the summit. We didn’t stick around at the summit (the clouds meant there was no view anyway), but headed down right away.

On the way down the clouds that had gathered let loose with a moderately heavy but brief rainstorm, so we were pretty soaked by the time we got back to the car and the rest of the family. Many years later, having climbed hundreds of mountains, I appreciate how unprepared we were and how lucky we were to have gotten down safely and only gotten cold and a little wet.