“Self reliance is essential,” the sign said. That got me to focus. Which got me to be cautious. Which got me to think of mortality. And then to the Meaning of Life.Warning sign at Boulder Field on Longs Peak

It was here, the Boulder Field on the route up Longs Peak, that my brother Ken first cheated death. As a teen, he bounded from boulder to boulder, dodging lightning bolts. He since has taken a licking, but his heart keeps ticking.

Deep thought: If I were to die today, it would be a heroic end. Maybe that’s why I do this, for a noteworthy epitaph. But, all in all, I would rather leave behind a heroic story after having lived to old age.

Time to stow the hiking poles — a new accessory to accommodate aging knees — and scramble hand-and-foot up the Boulder Field.

I think of the Riddle of the Sphinx: What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?

I am climbing solo, which isn’t advised by the National Park Service. Even though there are climbers all around, they say two heads are better than one when calculating risks on this 14,255-foot peak. But I need to be alone with my thoughts and I vow to myself to be conservative at my checkpoints.The Keyhole, as seen from the top of the Boulder Field

The Boulder Field is checkpoint 1 and all is a go.

The Keyhole at the top of the Boulder Field is checkpoint 2. The wind is whistling, but no lightning storms in sight. I feel good. The Ledges lie ahead, and if I accomplish nothing else today, I want to confront my fear of precipices. Onward.

The Trough is checkpoint 3. A fellow climber gave me the excellent advice to stick to the large boulders on the side to avoid rockfall from climbers scrambling up the middle.

The Narrows was checkpoint 4. Having conquered The Ledges, this was the devil I knew. A 1,000-foot fall from 13,850 feet is no worse than a 1,000-foot fall from 13,500 feet, I figure. Cake.The Narrows section of the route up Longs Peak

The Homestretch was checkpoint 5. I turned the corner and my heart fell. The Homestretch face was much steeper and longer than I imagined. I was tired and behind schedule. Most climbers who had summited were on their way down. This was a test of my vow to be conservative.

I turned my back to the rock face and took stock. I was only 300 feet from the top, but I did not want to succumb to summit fever. I think: If I turn back now, I would try again someday, maybe this climbing season. That didn’t help.

After 5 minutes of rest and thought, I turned back to the rock face, not sure what I was going to do. I started to climb.

I am glad I did. The breather had eased my oxygen deficit. All body parts were working. The weather was holding up.

As I neared the crest, the college girls who had passed me in The Trough looked surprised to see me as they began their descent. “The old coot did it,” I saw in their smiles. But what they said was: “Yeah, you’re gonna make it. But don’t linger.” The rain was beginning.

I was the last to make the top. I spent all of 2 minutes on Longs’ spacious summit. Just enough time to locate the USGS marker and take a pic.USGS marker at the summit of 14,255-foot Longs Peak

The rain was sporadic as I renegotiated the Homestretch, Narrows, Trough and Ledges.

As I reached the bottom of the Boulder Field, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then twisted my ankle.

Out came the walking sticks, crutches through the 6 miles to the trailhead. I think again about the Riddle of the Sphinx:

Three legs in the evening.

Ah, but the evening is still young!

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