Tag Archives: Mountain

Casualties of Copper: The Berkeley Pit, Montana

While wiling away the little free time I had at my previous job, I ran across http://sometimes-interesting.com. The articles are fascinating, well written, and each article is illustrated with enough high-quality photographs to warrant second and third looks. I admit, the article I first landed upon was about the amount of bodies on Mt. Everest, which, if you’re into the harsh consequences of pushing Mother Nature’s boundaries, you should read: http://sometimes-interesting.com/2011/06/29/over-200-dead-bodies-on-mount-everest/

If you have a weak stomach, stay away from that one. (It is a good read, though. I personally loved it. It made me dig out a book on Everest that had slipped between all my other books.)

A few weeks later, Mr/Ms/Mrs. Sometimes-Interesting posted this:

Casualties of Copper: The Berkeley Pit, Montana.

Ka-pow! The article immediately grabbed me, with the instinctual thought I always have when I run across something out of my usual reading range: Did Enos see it? Will this tell me something about him that I didn’t know before? Just a little snippet, I’m not asking for much!

The Berkeley Pit was dug decades after Enos Mills had worked there. He never saw it. Enos quit working at the Anaconda Copper Mine in 1901, but his time there gave him a unique perspective on what can happen to an environment if we pay no heed to how our industry can affect nature. He was well aware that the juggernaut of American Industry couldn’t be stopped, and he did little to try to.

Enos A. Mills, about the time he landed the job at the Anaconda Copper Mine. Or, at least one of the few times anyone could get his hair to behave. I could do a blog post just on all the funny pictures of his hair. Love the tie, I bet it was yellow. My great-grandfather, rockin' the yellow polka-dotted tie in 1887. I love it.

Enos A. Mills, about the time he landed the job at the Anaconda Copper Mine. Or, at least one of the few times anyone could get his hair to behave. I could do a blog post just on all the funny pictures of his hair.  Love the tie, I bet it was yellow. My great-grandfather, rockin’ the yellow polka-dotted tie in 1887. I love it.

Enos instead focused his efforts on saving what precious lands remained, and keeping them protected for the sanity and health of all of us who get to visit these wild lands. I’m tremendously fortunate to live on the cusp of a national park. My situation is unique in that us Millses have been in the same valley since 1871, and have remained here in one way, shape, or form almost the entire time. For those of us who live in cities and industrial areas, getting a real breath of fresh air is sometimes a unique and cleansing experience, and exactly what Enos had in mind.

I found the article enlightening and more than a little heartbreaking, as I had not done much research on the Butte, Montana, area. I knew Enos had been there, and had worked there over the span of about 13 winters, traveling or returning to his homestead in the summer and autumn. To be honest, I don’t know much about Enos’ time in Butte. I’m sure some biographers have gone into great detail about it, or at least made some assumptions, but I’ve got other books to read. No one asks me about what he did in Butte. People ask me what Enos did for Rocky Mountain National Park.

I would like to visit Butte, someday. What’s offered online about the town is interesting in an overview sort of way, but it doesn’t really show me the Butte Enos lived and worked in. Although, I did come across this:


Hey, it’s the longest running house of ill repute in the continental United States! (I make no claims that Enos ever went there. I make no claims that Enos never went there, either.)

Enos says very little about Butte. I’ve always compared it to the icky day job that paid for his youthful jaunts. He belonged to the University Club, a Poetry Club, he played baseball with the company teams sometimes and learned his trade quickly. We know he read a lot, we have his library card. When Enos was there, every walk of life went through that town. It was a hub of excitement, progressive ideas, and probably smelled really interesting, too.

It was probably good pay, and something to tolerate until he could go on walkabout back to his homestead here, near Estes Park. I don’t feel all that compelled to talk about my years as a waitress. It paid the bills and I got to travel a little, and I learned a lot about food and booze and people. Probably not unlike what Enos went through.

As it is, I will be keeping my eye on http://sometimes-interesting.com. And, I’ll be keeping my eye on news from Butte. I love it when someone can open my eyes to something, keep it up, buddy!

The Narrows, Longs Peak

The most popular question of my life…

There’s been many a day that I’ve been asked, “And how many times have you climbed Longs Peak?”


The expression upon the face of the one asking, usually accompanied by either a gasp or some disdain, has become rather thrilling for me. It used to annoy me, since the act of scaling one of the most dangerous mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park seems to be a prerequisite of being a member of this particular Mills family.

My great-grandfather, Enos A. Mills, held the record for the number of successful summits until recently, when it was broken by Jim Detterline. My grandmother summitted when she was eight years old. As did her daughter (my mother), Elizabeth. I was supposed to.

The Narrows, Longs Peak

Do you see the little man? I think that’s where I would freak out.

As a child I heard stories of how dangerous the mountain is, how steep the “Narrows” is, how slippery the Trough and Homestretch are. How long the whole hike is. How there could still be stretches of ice that could send one to an ultimate demise in late July. Enos was able to take horses up to Boulderfield, cutting out half the hike. At the time, only a dozen people or so were attempting the peak. He could take his dog, Scotch. If you don’t believe me, you haven’t read many of Enos’ stories.

The original plan was that I would go up Longs with my father, a man who walked swiftly and would occasionally outpace my mother and I on shorter simpler hikes. Or in the grocery store. We would be accompanied by my uncle, an accomplished climber who claimed to know the peak very well. My uncle also had really long legs.

I was short for an eight-year-old.

This recipe, for my little mind at the time, could only result in an emotional disaster. I would get exhausted, want to go home, inevitably cry mid-tantrum and get yelled at during an inopportune moment. Say, on the edge of the Narrows. It seemed to amount to a generally miserable time to be had by all.

The day of my ascent grew nigh. Plans were being discussed, phone conversations among family members went long as they prepared for my initiation into…whatever this was going to be. I swiftly became a morose brat.

One day, my mother turned to me, gave me a long, stern, motherly look. I braced myself. I knew the question and I knew my answer. This event seemed so important to so many people, particularly my grandmother, that I was terrified of the emotional aftermath and the initial argument between my mother and I.

“Eryn, do you want to climb Longs Peak?” asked she.

Firmly, but at the same time a bit shaky, I said, “No.” I steeled myself to the coming fallout. A corner of my room where I would cry in frustration beckoned.

“Okay.” She simply shrugged. “You don’t have to.”

I had to pause, remember to breathe in. Collect my thoughts. “Oh. Really?”

“I climbed it twice. There’s nothing up there. If someone has to drag you up that mountain to prove some point, you’re doing it for the wrong reason.”

I think my father, once he heard, was rather resigned about it. I’m not certain he had been looking forward to the trip, either.

The weight of just the idea of the trip had been lifted off my tiny shoulders. If there were arguments between my mom and grandmother, I usually went to another room or went outside. Grandma was pissed. I didn’t care, really. As far as the rest of the family, at least on this matter, my mom had my back she remained steadfast about it. After a while only visitors and friends pressed the issue.

Then I turned nine. The deed had not been done and the tradition was too late to uphold. I had nothing to prove then. I didn’t care much of what the rest of the mountain-loving community thought of me. I still don’t. No, I have yet to climb it.

Solitude at a gem above 9,000 feet.

Solitude at a gem above 9,000 feet.

I do still enjoy hiking. However, when it comes to climbing, I do not share Enos’ enthusiasm for it. If it’s an outcropping with lots of places for my fingers and toes, I’m all for a bit of scrambling fun, especially if it’s at a somewhat reasonable incline. Wandering the pathless woods, treading isolated glens carpeted with alpine flowers, most certainly my cup of tea. Skirting the shoulders of the jagged remainders of a distant glacial age and straining the muscles of my neck to behold the indifferent gazes of these great peaks, only then to come home and spend twenty minutes with a thesaurus to write this paragraph, certainly! Maybe that’s what Enos and I have in common.

Enos and Longs Peak had a rare relationship. He fell in love at a young age with it, and could not stray from it for too long. He loved the peak in an Edwardian-era romantic way and wanted others to feel the enlightenment he gained from knowing it. Always did he want to know it better.

He explored and dallied elsewhere, as someone with any sort of curiosity would do. One cannot appreciate home without relinquishing it for a time. Longs Peak was the great love of his life, right up until he met my great-grandmother.

Longs and I have an entirely different relationship. Any curiosity I may have had about scaling it has long since vanished. It slips away even further when someone insists that I must climb it. All through my childhood I have lived with that mountain’s moods and shadows and winds.

For me, Longs Peak is more of the silent best friend, the friend I can ay the trials and troubles of life at its feet and it neither complains nor offers any sage advice I wouldn’t come up with on my own. It’s my compass point. As long as I know, even generally, where it is, I know my place in the world.

Another current deterrent it the number of people on the Longs Peak trail these days, even in bad weather. When I venture into the quiet wild, I go for some peace, to scrape out the inner lining of my brain pan so when I return home, I am calm and centered. The idea of following a hundred people up a steep and treacherous mountain, with another hundred huffing and puffing behind me, negates any hope of peace.

I therefore choose another path, and sometimes I choose something that has no path at all.

Mt. Meeker, Longs Peak, and Mt. Lady Washington.

Mt. Meeker, Longs Peak, and Mt. Lady Washington.