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Junkie (and Sara's) Longs Peak Trip Report


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#1 junkie

 
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Posted 07 September 2007 - 11:56 AM

My Longs Peak Trip Report (8/17/07)

We've been home for more than two weeks, but we've been swamped with the start of school, etc. But I have finally gotten around to writing up this trip report. I think most of you know that my 11 year old daughter Sara and I were planning to attempt Longs during our last trip to Estes in mid August. We had talked about it last year but my knees were killing me and Sara was pretty wishy-washy about it, so we decided to pass. Since last year, Sara had spent an entire school year of our district's gifted program researching and doing projects on her chosen topic: Long's Peak. So needless to say, her desire to climb it was much higher this summer.

Please note: I had the camera, so needless to say, a lot of my pics are going to be showing off my daughter!

Let me preface this report by saying that when Friday the 17th rolled around, I was NOT very optimistic about our chances of making it. Sara had not been a great hiker this trip so far – she had lagged back with my wife Lori on any uphill sections and had complained a little more than normal. My wife both commented (to each other) that our younger daughter Jen would probably have a better chance of making it up – as she had trailblazed many of the uphill sections. The day before we attempted Longs, we hiked up to the crater and Sara was clearly NOT into it. I kept thinking to myself – 'geez, if you are struggling with one mile of uphill trail, how are you ever going to tackle 8?'. On the way back from the crater, we stopped at the alluvial fan and Sara didn't even feel like hiking the .2 mile uphill to the fan, so she waited in the car with Lori – who was not feeling well at all. This of course really made me doubt our chances.

So when Friday rolled around, I was not in the greatest of moods. Our week had started great with 4 days of superb out-of-this-world fabulous hikes (gem lake, Odessa loop, shelf & solitude, and then sky pond). The 5th day was kind of a bust as Sara and I got turned back at the Chapin / Chiquita saddle by weather. I was just ill the 6th day as it was the nicest hiking day yet (cooler temps) and all we did was hike the crater (and saw no wildlife up top – disappointing) and stop at the alluvial fan (which was very fun). So here I was with 2 days left in our vacation – thinking we would likely fail at longs on Friday and spend Saturday packing up and leaving. The thought of possibly not scratching off a single destination from my list for the final 4 whole days really had me bummed.

The night before I got all of our packs ready to go and set the alarm for 1:30 (or so I thought). I planned to leave our condo at 2:00 for a 2:30 start. Luck was on our side as I somehow woke up at 1:30 on my own – the alarm was off. Evidently I forgot to switch it on. Whew. We got our stuff together and were out the door a little after 2:00 am. It took us a little longer than I expected to get to the trailhead – pulling in right at 2:45. After a quick bathroom break we donned our gear, switched on our headlamps and headed for the trail register. Sara logged us in at 2:50 am. Right behind us was a man and his son who looked to be about Sara's age. I was thinking 'cool – another kid along, maybe we could hook up at some point and they might help motivate each other'. We had originally planned to do this hike with lorenv (from the forums) and his son, but they decided to pass on Longs for this year.

So off we went. We made pretty good time to start. I told Sara we were going to go at a good pace for 9 minutes and then rest for 1. I figured I needed some structure to keep things moving along, or else we might be stopping every 100'. At our second 1 minute rest, it was obvious that we had on way too many clothes. We dropped our packs and lost our rain jackets. While we were stopped, the man and his son went past us – we had kept about the same pace from the beginning, so I figured we would probably be trading spots with them as we alternated breaks.

We did a good job of keeping a steady pace with the 9 on, 1 off routine up to tree line. I was feeling good and feeling better about our chances at this point as Sara was clearly more into this hike! Once we hit treeline, we didn't even stop every 9 minutes any more – we hit a rhythm and were cruising – we passed several groups – which I took as a very good sign.

Just above treeline the first unexpected delight of the trip came into view. The lights of Boulder, Loveland and Ft Collins were visible and it was a spectacular view. I had no idea to expect that so it was a very cool thing to stumble onto. The stars that night were also incredible – it was moonless night and the stars at treeline altitude were simply amazing. As JD mentioned in his report, the milky way is clearly visible. Being a city boy, it's not something I can say I have seen clearly before. I could have laid back and admired the heavens for a long long time, but alas, a mountain awaited, so we pushed on.

Finally we hit chasm junction where it was time for a privy and snack break. It was 4:30, so we had been going for 1:40. I thought that was pretty good time for 2.5 miles of uphill terrain.

Here is Sara resting at Chasm Junction:







After a 10 minute rest (during which I helped a lady change the battery in her flashlight – it had burnt out on her somewhere a mile or so before – I have no idea how she was making it in the dark – other than maybe following another group) – we set back out. I calculated that at our recent pace, we could make the next 2.7 miles to the boulderfield by about 6:20.

I SWEAR THOSE SIGNS ARE WRONG:

As we resumed, we continued our quick pace – passing several of the groups who had gone by us while we stopped at the junction. Soon we came to the junction with the North Longs Peak trail. By the amount of time elapsed, I expected it to say we had gone about 1.1-1.2 miles. But it told us we had only gone 0.7 and that the boulderfield was another 2.0 miles. I was not happy. Our pace was the same I felt, so the only thing I could think of was that the trail degradation (the trail is not as good as it was before the junction) was causing us to slow down some. So much for making the boulderfield by 6:20.

Shortly after this we met another group that had a kid in it – it was a group of 6 from Fort Collins that had started at 1:45 – about an hour before us. Their youngest hiker, Danny, was also 11 – so he and Sara were the youngest climbers on that day. (More about Danny later.) I got one of them to snap our picture under the first light of day:







About this time, we also got our first glimpse of the keyhole:






Shortly after this we had the pleasure of watching the sun come up over the horizon. When it did, we got this great view of the alpenglow on Longs:







The group from Ft. Collins were stopping quite often, so we cruised past them for a while. As we neared the boulderfield camp, some of their group came bounding ahead of us – apparently drawn by the need to use the two privies. We dropped our packs at the campsite for a snack and privy break. Let me say this about those privies – they stink!!!!!!!! Literally. I opened the lid and had to close it right back – the smell was so bad it made me queasy. I know, privies are suppose to smell bad, but these were extremely putrid. I had to plug my nose with a couple wads of toilet paper before making another attempt at privy use.

There were tons of very brave and very FAT marmots at the boulderfield. They must raid the campers regularly:




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#2 junkie

 
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Posted 07 September 2007 - 12:00 PM

We blew quite a bit of time at the boulderfield. Sara was beginning to tire a bit and the privy line was quite long. But finally we got our gear back on and began scrambling up. This was the first time all day that I really begin to feel a little bit tired. Honestly, up until the boulderfield, nothing is very steep or really tough. The trail to the boulderfield is continually upwards, but we had hiked much steeper sections of trail many times – gem lake was even steeper, so everything pre-boulderfield struck me as unexpectedly easy so far. That all changed in the boulderfield and it seemed especially grueling. The keyhole seems to move further from you as you climb initially – as if you are making no progress. We were making frequent stops to catch our breath, but were were slowly getting there. There are cairns in the boulderfield, but I honestly don't know if there is any reason to follow them – it seems to me that any path is about as good as another.

Here is Sara as we began the climb up:









As we were struggling to get through the boulderfield, Danny – the 11 year old we had met a bit earlier, came bounding up the boulderfield at a very steady clip. I was impressed - in no time at all he was at the Agnes Vaille shelter – way ahead of us - waiting for everyone else in his group. (He was yelling down to them that they still looked like dots to him).

Finally, I made it to the shelter. Sara was about 20' below me so I watched her as she found her way up the last section. Just before she reached the top – she yelled 'Dad' and held up her Camelbak tube. She had caught the nozzle on a rock and it had pulled off – her water was draining out. Of course the nozzle also fell way down into the rocks, so we couldn't retrieve it. I had her hold up the hose until she could get into the shelter. Then we quickly transferred her remaining water into my pack… great – just as my pack was beginning to lighten up – I took on a couple more liters of water. I really, really didn't need that, but I didn't want to have to pump water later unless I absolutely had too either.

We rested for quite some time in the shelter. We both felt a little headache coming on so we each took an advil and I tried my first GU shot – chocolate. While I wouldn't eat one just for the flavor – it wasn't bad. It worked too – I regained energy and the caffeine in it helped zap my headache. (I am sold on GU – I will always have some along on long hikes from now on.)

Sara in the shelter:







Finally we were ready to go through the keyhole. Knowing it was likely to be windier over there, we dug out our stocking caps and Sara grabbed her lightweight gloves. As we got to the opening in the keyhole, the wind really picked up. I told Sara to move on through and head up the ledges as I suspected the wind was only really bad 'in the blowhole'. After we got just a few feet into the ledges, the wind subsided and it was pretty pleasant. Sara on the ledges:







I took a couple pics of the lakes below, namely shelf that I had hiked too 4 days earlier:






Somehow seeing all those lakes above black lake has somewhat diminished my desire to travel to them. Seeing them from above in some ways makes it seem like you have been there.

We both found the ledges to be the most fun section of the trail up. It trends slightly downward, so it seems pretty easy. We quickly came to the infamous slab that contains the two metal rods. It wasn't as ominous as I expected. The drop-off wasn't as sheer as I thought it would be. We quickly climbed up and over the rock – the only real problem I had was that my thick pack made it a tight squeeze and I had to crawl over. This was the first chance for Sara to show some fear and there was none - so far so good. We cruised the ledges pretty quickly – there was a group of college age students behind us. I offered a couple times to let them pass and they declined, telling us were setting a great pace. (Oh yeah - more good feedback).

Finally we got to the trough and started up a bit. The trough would be very slow going for us – we certainly didn't race up it like Jinks and Jinks Jr – 21 minutes – NUTS! Sara was tiring quickly, so we would try to take 10 good steps and then stop. About every 10 it seemed you needed to pick a new path anyway, so it worked out well. We didn't follow the targets in the trough going up – it seemed that any path you picked was as good as the next. Ahead of us in the trough were the college students we led through the ledges and the group of 6 from Fort Collins with the 11 year old. Both were quicker than us, but we kept along at our own pace..

There were lots of people back on their way down by this time. One of the things that was very helpful is that most all of them stopped to ask Sara how old she was and to pass on encouragement and praise for her trying such a tough climb. I think it helped keep her going through the difficult slog that is the trough.

At the chockstone we finally ran into the kid that had logged in 2 minutes behind us at the trailhead. They had already made the summit and were on their way back down. I was amazed – that kid was awesome – and as it turned out he was only a year older than Sara too. His dad said he had been having a hard time keeping up with him all day. I believe it. Also at the chockstone was a lady who said she could go no further. She had tried both routes – to the left and directly up the chockstone without success, so she had planted herself there while the rest of her party went on. Having heard that I began to worry about making it up, but the chockstone proved to be no big deal. Sara slipped on her first try getting started, so I boosted her up a couple feet to the first foothold – after that there are plenty of good holds and she scooted right up. (I am sure it drove that lady nuts that this kid just flew right up it.) I too had little trouble and soon we found ourselves in the narrows.

I knew if there was someplace Sara would get nervous it would be here in the narrows. Lorenv had mentioned to me a friend of his took his 9 y.o. up last year and got to the narrows and turned back. The drops spooked them. Maybe this helped to build up my expectations, but I never really felt too nervous in the narrows. It probably helped that the winds were very calm on that side of the mountain – in fact once we turned the corner, there was a very light breeze and nice sunshine, so it was very pleasant. There were a couple of places that I could see could be dangerous and I reminded Sara to really watch her footing - to which she kind of just groaned at me – she had this thing under control I guess.

A couple pics of Sara in the narrows:









The last part of the narrows features another chute to climb through and we carefully climbed up that to find ourselves in the homestretch. It was great to be able to look up and see the end. The homestretch (along with the boulderfield and trough) is the last section of really tiring terrain. We were slow here too – stopping to pick a path every few feet. A lot of the homestretch is done on all fours, which in a way is kind of fun. A little ways into the homestretch we encountered the party of 6 from ft Collins – unfortunately Danny (the other 11 year old) had cramped up (stomach cramps) near the beginning of the homestretch and they were resting until he felt better. We scrambled past them and on up to the top… I summitted and whipped out the camera in time to catch Sara topping out:







I love that pic – it looks like you climb up out of nowhere (its an illusion JD – trust me). The college students we met in the ledges were just above the crest and all gave Sara a big round of applause which I thought was very cool (Sara thought it was embarrassing… sheesh , kids).

We reached the summit at 11:12 – 8 hours and 22 minutes after we started. We weren't fast, but dang it man – WE WERE THERE!

We ate lunch, took pics, and signed the register. (Notice the downer comment by the chick from Wisconsin – must be another amazon hiker?)











Once on top we could see the clouds beginning to build in the west. As we started to head back down, you could tell they were building pretty quickly and I began to get concerned. It was still sunny on us as we slid on our rumps down the homestretch. About 50' down the homestretch, the group from Ft Collins had once again stopped. Danny had moved quite a ways up but he was now doubled over, clearly in pain. I was hoping maybe he was puking – figured it would make him feel better. But he hadn't – yet anyway. As we past him, he regained some composure and his party began helping him towards the top so he could rest better…. Just as we neared the one turn that exists in the homestretch, we looked up and saw that he was making it the final few feet to the top. While I was excited he made it, I also was concerned about them with weather beginning to build.

It seems like it should be quick coming down, but the homestretch is about as slow coming down as it was going up. Once we reached the narrows, you could see across to the west a little better and you could make out actual rain clouds. Not a good sign. At this point, I was thinking, please, just get me off the narrows while its dry. Soon enough we made it to the trough, and you could really see the storms to the west. I tried to tell Sara to keep moving as fast as we could… my thinking at that point was … please get me to the keyhole before we get wet…. As we continued on – the storms pretty much just stayed where they were to the west, dropping their rain. We got to the bottom of the trough – still the same… actually a little sun on us – rain across glacier gorge. We kept moving, quickly through the ledges, which by the way are a heck of a lot tougher on the return trip. We were really getting tired at this point, but no way did I want to stop until we got to the keyhole with the rain over our left shoulders. Soon enough we were back to the rock with the metal rods – it seemed slightly more dangerous to me returning on it than it did coming back over – but we hopped through it and eventually made it back through the keyhole.

I half expected to find the Agnes Vaille shelter full of hikers avoiding potential rain, but there was only one hiker there. She said some storms had threatened but so far they had all moved to the north. Sure enough a glance over to the bear lake area revealed thunderstorms dropping lots of rain with lightning… all the while it was still sunny at the keyhole and good news – to the west were even some slight patches of blue sky. Still I knew we had a long way to go before treeline, so we refreshed quickly and started down the boulderfield…which was much easier going down. Soon we were at the privies. The sun was still shining on us and there was even more blue sky to the west – in between patches of more dangerous looking clouds. It was looking better but we still weren't out of the woods yet.

So we headed off…soon we passed the north longs peak trail junction and then the skies really clouded up. We felt a couple of rain drops, so we grabbed our rain jackets and continued on. There were storms in every direction now – we actually saw two lightning strikes on twin sisters and lots of heavier stuff down towards the wild basin area. There were still storms to the north as well. The only direction we didn't see heavy storms was to the west (which was good!). Crazy enough – about 10 minutes after we put on our rain jackets, the skies above us cleared and we were hot as can be, so we had to take them off again.

By now my big toes were completely numb and my feet were sore. I am not fast downhill and Sara was frequently waiting for me. But - in due time we passed chasm junction and were nearing treeline. At this point, it looked like the peak was getting rained out pretty good, but we were still in decent conditions.

Once we reached this bridge:







I let go a heavy sigh of relieve as it really signifies the point that all the trees around you are pretty tall. Even if a heavy storm hit us now, I wouldn't be nearly as concerned about lightning. About 15 minutes beyond this point, it began to rain on us. However, it was fairly light rain – not a full on thunderstorm. With good rain jackets, we weren't even annoyed by this rain. It stopped after about 30 minutes – leaving the trail very nice and lush looking, and a little bit cooler. That's the extent of weather we had to deal with – which given the storms that seemed to be all around us, is almost amazing.

We made it down at 5:40 pm. 8:22 up, about 25 minutes on top and 6 hours down. Slow – oh yes, but successful!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hoooooooyah!

One of my biggest regrets of this whole experience (other than not taking enough pictures), is that I never found out for sure about the group from Fort Collins. All the way home, all I thought about was how horrible it must be to be up there with a sick kid & rain moving in. I am hoping they made it back to at least the shelter before it got too bad. I almost drove back the next morning to see what time they logged back out, but we were running late getting packed up and we had a full day planned in Fort Collins.

One other quick comment – one of the cool things about climbing longs is getting to meet the other folks trying it on the same day. There's a certain comraderie amongst the climbers on any given day. People look out for each other, encourage each other, pass along interesting stories… like the couple in the Agnes V. shelter who had taken their picture in there 20 years ago and were now taking their teenage daughters up for the first
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#3 Qbert

 
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Posted 07 September 2007 - 01:49 PM

What an absolutely GREAT trip report!!!! I'm glad you made it to your goal, and even better with your daughter.
That's something she'll never forget, and have even fonder memories of as she gets older.

WAY TO GO!!!!
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#4 Allie

 
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Posted 07 September 2007 - 05:39 PM

What a great report. Sara, I am so happy for you. What an accomplishment. And Chris, you did a great job taking us step by step, all the way to the top. Congratulations to you too. Thanks for sharing your special day with us.

Allie
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#5 Igloo Ed

 
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Posted 07 September 2007 - 06:31 PM

With Sara doing a report on Longs, she probably knows more about it than I do. Sara, you rock.
It looks like you both really enjoyed the climbing after the Keyhole. It's something neither one of you will ever forget.
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#6 Aaron

 
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Posted 07 September 2007 - 06:49 PM

Great report! People seem to be at their finest up there. The encouragement is incredible, and the camaraderie is quite an experience! Congrats to you and Sara five.gif

Don't fool yourself about the experience of hiking to see the lakes above Black Lake in person. It's incredible....and seeing them from above just isn't the same. Check it out yup.gif

--Aaron jockey.gif
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#7 Mtnlvr53

 
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Posted 07 September 2007 - 08:27 PM

Congrats to you and your daughter--what a great experience for both of you! This has got to be memory that you will both carry with you for a long, long time.
Janet
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#8 mwilson

 
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Posted 07 September 2007 - 08:41 PM

Good for you Sara and Chris! I'm so glad you had such an awesome day for your trek up Longs. I'm sure it's a memory that will last forever.

Marsha
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#9 John

 
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Posted 07 September 2007 - 09:00 PM

Sara, you are amazing! You did it 5 hours faster than me! Woo hoo for you!
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#10 JDgreen

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 07:26 AM

Great Job on summitting!! Its fun seeing at least part of the route through others eyes.
And Sara what a climber, I suspect keeping up with her will become increasingly difficult.
I wish you two many more great climbs.
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#11 Larry

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 07:33 AM

Thanks for taking me along on that trek---it was a great report. and congrats to Sara for the accomplishment.

Neither of you will ever forget it.

Larry
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#12 Melanie

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 08:21 AM

That was one of the best trip reports I have ever read, felt like I was right there with ya, but without the huffing and puffing. five.gif Way to go, Sara! And you, too, Chris.

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#13 SandyP

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 08:48 AM

Oh Junkie, that was AWESOME!!!!!! And you and Sara are the absolute BOMBS!!!!! Thank you for reliving your experience and taking us along with you. It just goes to show how important your mental "want to" is in achieving something like that. Earlier, Sara's drive to do Odessa, Specimen, Shelf and Solitude just weren't there, so even the little uphill stretches got to her. But with all the research she had done on Long's it seems nothing was going to stop her.

I feel sorry for the little boy too, but I am so happy he forged on and made it too because probably in no time, he was feeling better, and no one will ever be able to take away from him that he summitted Long's Peak. I can't help but believe he would have regretted it so much had his sickness kept him from reaching his goal.

Thanks for a fantastic vicarious experience!
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#14 Jenny

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 08:51 AM

Great job on the report. I loved how you took us all the way to the top and back with good detail. I am so impressed with Sara! How exciting for you guys to have done this amazing hike together! Thanks for sharing it with us!!
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#15 Rhonda

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 09:16 AM

Fantastic report and pictures! Way to go!

Rhonda
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#16 DeeCeeM

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 09:35 AM

Some of the most valuable treasures I own are memories of climbing stuff with my dad on our vacations. No thief or loss can ever take something like that away from you.

Mega-congratulations to both of you on your accomplishment!
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#17 hector

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 11:48 AM

Fantastic report! Congratulations to you and Sara for making it up and back safely.
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#18 iceberg

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 12:01 PM

Yay! Big fat congratulations to you both - what an accomplishment!! five.gif
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#19 John

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 12:57 PM

I need to remember to take off my bite valve next time, so Aaron will have to carry my water.
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#20 druwdowns

 
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Posted 08 September 2007 - 03:18 PM

Wow Chris! You have an amazing girl there!!! What a gift you two will share for the rest of your lives!

~Druw~
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