Such great heights
A moment of rest on a childhood hike offered a very special view that Krista Dulac of Blue Earth would never forget.
She stopped along a path on Deer Ridge Mountain to take in the horizon. It was decorated with trees, blue sky, white fluffy clouds and a mountain range that dominated the sky line.
It was a sight beautiful enough to make anyone stop to enjoy. But, it was a specific point on the horizon that day that stood out to Dulac that point was Long’s Peak.
“I was on a hike with my grandfather along Deer Ridge when we saw Long’s Peak,” Dulac says. “And we both knew we had to try to climb it.”
An instant dream was formed between her and her grandfather, Harlan Kruse.
But, just as quickly as the dream was born, it was taken away.
“On the way home from the trip that August, he suffered a massive heart attack,” Dulac says.
Kruse passed away that October he was just 58 years old and Dulac was only 14.
“From then on, I never lost the itch to climb Long’s Peak,” she says.
The urge to complete the climb instilled a sense of perseverance in Dulac that led her back to Colorado, more than once.
“I tried to climb it twice before,” Dulac says. “But obviously the third time was the charm for me.”
On Aug. 8, her dream to hike Long’s Peak became a reality. A reality she shared with her sons Calvin and Christopher Sanders, nephew Zach Vaske and family friend Kolt Gorg.
But, the adventure didn’t come without some fear and doubt and a few twists and turns along the way.
Long’s Peak is known as a ‘Colorado Fourteener’ which means it’s more than 14,000 feet in elevation. It is 14,259 feet in elevation to be exact, the 15th highest and 8th most difficult out of the 50 different Colorado Fourteeners.
“Out of every 10 people that attempt the climb, only three complete it,” Dulac says.
Planning, packing and practice all determine a hiker’s success on the 16-mile round trip hike.
“We did a bunch of smaller hikes, from three to 12 miles, to condition ourselves,” she explains.
They also had to plan for the perfect day with very specific conditions, in order to attempt the climb. The ideal day for the hike would be a clear day in mid-July through mid-September.
And, you have to reach the summit by noon, otherwise the storms roll in and make the climb much more challenging and technical.
That means Dulac and her group had to be awake and ready for the climb by 2 a.m. they were on the trail by 2:45 a.m.
“You don’t get a lot of sleep the night before,” she says. “You’re pretty anxious anyway.”
Their packs for the trip included food, water, layers of clothing, whistles and since they took off during the night flashlights and headlamps.
Dulac knew it was important to pack the right things, but she also saw significance in using the right pack.
The right pack was a backpack she has owned since she was 18 years old.
“I always said that pack would make it to Long’s Peak with me one day,” she explains.
It accompanied her on her first try at Long’s Peak when she was 20 and again on her second attempt a few years later. The pack didn’t reach the peak on either of those trips and it almost didn’t on this trip either.
“The strap on that backpack broke right away, so my sons and I rigged it up to make sure it made it all the way,” she adds.
That delayed them, but with the pack in tow, they traveled the first couple of miles in a pine forest where they were only able to see by the light of their flashlights and headlamps.
“When you break the tree line the stars just jump out,” she describes.
But, her brief moment to enjoy the beauty of the night sky was replaced by the dilemma of a dead flashlight.
“I had to use the flashlight app on my phone to catch up with the boys,” Dulac jokes.
Also at that point, Dulac began feeling the affects of the altitude and told the group to go ahead without her.
She was 4.2 miles and four hours into the journey, the boys leading the way and she lagging minutes behind.
Dulac arrived at the ‘Boulder Fields’ and the boys were in sight again.
Farther along, they came across a place called ‘Keyhole’ where a stone hut stands. It was put up in memory of a climber who was the first female to attempt a winter descent from the peak. She didn’t make it.
“That hut serves as a good reminder to climbers as they pass, to stay safe,” Dulac explains.
She says that at that point most people begin experiencing more sickness from altitude and the real panic from fear of heights settles in for climbers.
A moment of doubt overtook Dulac at that time.
“I told Calvin to go ahead without me and when he gets to the top and sees clear skies to keep going to the peak,” she says.
After falling back from her group, Dulac experienced a moment which removed that doubt again.
“I came up to a mother and son who were having a hard time getting over the gully,” she explains. “He pulled her up as I pushed and she was able to continue on.”
Helping that woman and her son, gave Dulac a burst of motivation to continue on herself.
She got to the next point known as ‘The Saddle’ and from there she could see the south side of the mountain.
“I saw the clear skies and knew I could keep going,” she says.
From there, she went through ‘The Narrows,’ a ledge that leads to a sheer edge of the mountain which Dulac describes as climbing a granite ladder.
“There was a point there that I just felt stuck,” she says.
She felt she was too short to reach the next foothold in the climb and too tired to stretch out far enough.
“A man came along and helped push me up so I could reach,” she says.
She ended up joining with another family at that point in the climb who saw her to the end.
“I felt there was safety in numbers,” she explains.
The sense of community she felt, motivated her and when she was just 50 feet from the top she experienced something even more motivating.
“My son Chris looked over the edge just at that time and saw I was so close,” she says. “I will never forget the look of excitement on his face when he saw I had made it.”
Chris cheered and yelled, “she made it. Mom made it,” to the others at the top of the mountain.
Dulac had finally completed the climb to Long’s Peak.
“At 11:06 a.m. on Aug. 8, we reached the peak,” Dulac says. “And we all cried. I?cried because Grandpa wasn’t there. I cried because I had finally done it. And I cried because I knew I had eight miles to go back down.”
She made it with her trusty old back pack and an old bandana that had belonged to her father.
“We tied the bandana around a rock and buried it up there,” Dulac adds. “It will be a symbol that our family was up there.”
The climb to Long’s Peak is one that will not quickly be forgotten by Dulac and the rest of her group.
Climbing mountains is something that gives Dulac a rush, but it also makes her feel a closeness to God that nothing else can.
This climb was no different in that respect, however it also made her feel close to someone else.
“I felt closest to my grandpa there,” she says. “Even though he wasn’t actually with us, I could feel him there that day. He was watching over me and watching over the boys.”
She accomplished a lifelong goal that day. But, she saw a spark occur in the boys on that summit, as well.
“This gave them such self confidence,” Dulac says. “Now they can go conquer that next mountain whether it be an actual mountain or just an obstacle in life they have the confidence that they can do it.”
She set her sights on Long’s Peak back when she was just 14 years old. Now she can move on to conquer other mountains herself.
“It’s a mental block and you’re the only one that can squash that,” she says.