Woman completes adventure

BLUE EARTH – Krista Dulac connected the future to the past when she climbed Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado earlier this month.

Dulac and her husband Shane have an active family. They spend quite a bit of time outdoors hiking. Their son Caelan, 11, and daughter Madison, 7, have gone on shorter hikes, but for the 16-mile round-trip on Long’s Peak, Dulac took her older sons, Calvin Sanders, 17, and Christopher Sanders, 14; nephew, Zachary Vaske, 15; and family friend Kolt Gorg, 16.

Dulac wants to pass on the joys of hiking to the younger generation because she has fond memories of hiking with her grandfather, Harlan Kruse.

Native to the Blue Earth area, Dulac’s family vacationed in Estes Park when she was a child.

“My grandpa had vacationed out there with us for years,” Dulac said. “For some reason, he and I started taking special hikes together [when she was 8]. We’d climb a mountain called Deer Ridge Mountain. From Deer Ridge Mountain, you can see Long’s Peak. We’d sit and marvel at Long’s Peak and wonder if we’d climb it some day.”

That trip never happened.

Kruse was coming home from a vacation in Colorado one August when he suffered a massive heart attack. He died in October at age 58. Dulac was just 14.

The loss of her hiking buddy did not deter Dulac from enjoying the outdoors, however.

“I love nature,” she said. “The smell of the mountain air, the pine trees, the scenery. It’s sentimental for me. I feel closest to God when I’m on a mountain. Everybody has their vision of heaven and that’s mine.”

Long’s Peak remained a special, but unattainable vision.

“I’d tried to climb it two times prior,” she said.

The first time, she was about 20 and went by herself.

“I didn’t have the physical or mental stamina to do it by myself,” Dulac said.

“The second time, I was with my brother, Josh Blair, and my son, Calvin. We got about 300 feet from the top and then a cloud moves in and a helicopter rescue is going on. It was incredibly unnerving.

“We didn’t know what the weather was going to do,” she said. “We needed to get off the mountain right away, so we didn’t finish.”

Sixteen miles doesn’t sound like much until you realize what terrain must be covered.

“Colorado has a number of what they call 14’ers,” Dulac said.

The term refers to mountains 14,000 feet or more in height. Long’s Peak is the 15th-highest mountain in elevation in Colorado.

“You can only hike Long’s Peak at certain times of the year,” Dulac said. “Best time is mid-July to mid-September. Any earlier, there is ice and snow and wind, lightning strikes. Altitude can affect people.”

Dulac prepared by working out five days a week, doing interval training, weight lifting and strength training. She encourages people to do smaller hikes of 4 to 10 miles and work up to a lengthy hike like Long’s Peak, which has special challenges.

“You need to summit the mountain and be off by noon,” Dulac said. “The weather changes in the afternoon and that’s when you deal with storms, rain, wind, lightning.”

That means a very, very early start.

“We were on the trail at 2:45 in the morning,” she said. “It can take people anywhere from 10 to 15 hours to do this climb.”

Dulac and the boys dressed in layers and brought several quarters of water, high energy food, flashlights and whistles; and checked the weather reports.

As they began, Dulac sent the boys ahead.

“They are all level-headed kids, and very athletic,” she said. “I didn’t want to hold them back from doing something amazing because of my – maybe – physical limitations.”

The hike is sometimes unmarked and passes through rough territory.

“At Granite Pass, you’re 4.2 miles into the hike,” Dulac said. “It took me four hours to do 4.2 miles.”

Then came Boulder Fields, which has a solar-powered bathroom and where she met up with the boys again.

She later sent them ahead again with permission to go for the summit. She would wait for them to come back if she couldn’t make it.

Eventually, Dulac reached the Home Stretch.

“You are climbing at this point, not hiking,” she said. “I got into a family of climbers. Felt like safety in numbers because we were all together and doing it.”

But her own family was still ahead.

“When I was 50 feet from the top, Christopher looked over the edge and his face was priceless,” Dulac said. “He just lit up. I could hear him yell, ‘Mom. It’s Mom, she made it.’ All the boys were peering over the edge. That was fun for me to see them.”

The boys had been up there about 30 minutes.

“I summited Long’s Peak at 11:06 a.m.,” Dulac said. “And I cried, just cried. Cried because I had done it, cried because I had done it with the boys, cried because I had done it for my grandpa and cried because I had eight miles to get back down.”

She and the boys took some time to enjoy the view. But the hard part wasn’t over.

“Descent is very serious,” Dulac said, “because it’s where most of your accidents and deaths occur.

“You’re tired, physically weak, altitude can affect judgment,” she said. “Slow and steady wins the race, literally.

Dulac says she is left with a lingering sense of accomplishment over her adventure.

“That [hike] has been on my list forever,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve got to find that next thing.”