"Isabella and Jim Ascend, Longs Peak, 1873"
Isabella Bird, an eccentric Englishwoman, travelled through Colorado in the fall of 1873. Dressed in her Hawaiian riding dress, she scandalously rode astride her rented mare through a landscape with no roads or signs. After frustrating weeks on the trail with many wrong turns, she finally made it to Estes Park, where she immediately aspired to climb Long’s Peak.
In Estes, Isabella met Rocky Mountain Jim Nugent, a very handsome “desperado”, whom she described as “the kind of man any woman might love, but no sane woman would marry.” Learning of her desire to climb Longs, Jim offered to guide Isabella. When clear weather promised, they rode to tree-line, and bivouacked near Jim’s Grove.
The next day, Jim guided Isabella and two other climbers up and back the Keyhole Route. Isabella was wearing shoes that were 3 sizes too big, and was overcome with vertigo whenever she looked down. Jim basically hauled her up the mountain. She was the fourth woman to climb Longs Peak, and recounts her adventure in her best-selling book, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.
On their climb, Isabella and Jim formed some kind of romantic attachment. They were both in their forties, single, and in-love with mountain adventure. But after some intensely emotional conversations, Isabella broke off the attachment and they each went their separate ways. Jim was devastated, and vowed to Isabella: “I swear that I will see you again.”
Isabella resumed her journey through the Front Range alone, and soon returned to England where she wrote about her travels. The following year, Jim was shot in the head by his neighbor, and died 3 month later in Fort Collins. Isabella claimed that Jim appeared to her on the eve of his death, stood beside her bed and said, “I have come, as I promised.” And then he was gone.