By: Tina Bridenstine, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Public Information Department
Lafromboise father and son duo Steve and Koby Lawson made the trek to the top of California’s Mount Whitney (the highest point in the contiguous United States) in 2021. Two years later, they teamed up again to tackle Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, known as Colorado’s deadliest 14’er (a mountain with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet).
“After summitting Mt. Whitney, I realized that the sky is the limit when it comes to achieving what I previously thought were impossible tasks,” Koby said.
Because of that, he completed four marathons, improving his time for each one. From there, he decided to train for his first 30K trail race and an ultra-marathon of 50 kilometers (31.07 miles).
“In the midst of all this training, my dad reached out to me telling me about a failed attempt that he had experienced last year to summit the notorious Longs Peak,” Koby said. “I am always up for a challenge, so I began researching it, and we scheduled the trip.”
Steve said he first went to Longs Peak when Koby was still in grade school and they were visiting friends in Denver.
“At the time I was not in the best of shape and couldn’t imagine ever being able to reach the top at 14,259 feet, but I always dreamed of doing so,” he said.
Because of that dream, seven years ago he started hiking, making multiple trips into Rocky Mountain National Park. One of his favorite locations there was Chasm Lake, located at the base of Longs Peak’s Diamond, which is a diamond-shaped sheer cliff face that reaches more than 1,000 feet up to the summit.
“As you hike up the trail, the trees thin out, and you’re suddenly met with the truly amazing sight of the Diamond. That view rekindled my hope of someday reaching the top,” Steve said.
In July of 2022, Steve set out on a hike with his girlfriend Beth, her brother Dan, and Dan’s significant other, Ellen, the latter two being experienced hikers who had reached the summit before. Steve said the group camped at 12,800 feet, then set off at sunrise to make the rest of the trek. However, it was at the top of an area known as the Trough that Beth decided to turn around, and Steve ultimately joined her.
“The top of the Trough ends with a difficult climb up a slippery 15- to 20-foot sheer granite face with minimal hand holds. I made it up so I could see around the corner to the next section, the Narrows, but then turned around and headed down with Beth,” he said. “The good part of failing to summit meant only one thing — I would get to come back and try again, this time with Koby.”
With Koby living in McKinney, Texas, and Steve in Oklahoma City, they were not actually able to train together as they prepared for the trip.
“However, we are both dedicated to fitness and like to challenge each other,” Steve said. “Koby keeps telling me that he will someday be able to do more pull ups than me, but that day has not yet arrived.”
Steve has hiked locations in Colorado, California, Washington, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona, though he doesn’t have any real climbing experience. Living in Oklahoma, he must travel to get to any high elevations, so he did most of his conditioning by biking.
Koby, who started running in 2019 to train for the hike up Mt. Whitney, said he mentioned in an article written about that trip that he hated running.
“Now it is a part of my everyday life, and my perspective has changed,” he said. “I have since run thousands of miles, over a hundred each month so far this year.”
For Koby, he said he trained by working out five days per week and running every day, even when his wife, Samantha, was giving birth to the youngest of his three children in September.
“I found a way to get outside and run a couple laps around the hospital,” he said.
He added that he set up his training schedule so he doesn’t miss out on family time — waking up at 4:30 a.m. to complete morning runs before his wife and children wake up for the day.
Conquering Longs Peak
Steve and Koby’s trip started with a delay, with large amounts of snowfall pushing back the day they planned to start their hike.
“Once we were up there, we had to constantly be aware of the weather,” Koby said. “The day before, we had to huddle in our tent for several hours to avoid hail and rain that appeared out of nowhere.”
Steven said they started at the trailhead and hiked about 6.5 miles to a campsite in the Boulder Field — a climb in elevation of almost 3,400 feet from where they started.
“When we arrived at our campsite, dark clouds threatened, and by the time our tent was set up, a cold rain began,” Steve said. “Fortunately, the weather cleared for a while, and Koby convinced me to hike an extra quarter mile up to Chasm View … We made it back into our tent as more rain and hail set in. A strong wind and occasional rain made sleeping difficult, but we were up and headed to the top by sunrise.”
Koby said one of his favorite parts was reaching the summit and knowing he could have gone even farther.
“It was incredibly rewarding,” he said. “It just made me want to find the next adventure.”
Though the hike didn’t come without challenges.
At one point, Koby described 50 mile per hour winds as “deafening” as they climbed down rocks near the Keyhole. And coming down the Trough, Steven had a close call.
“He slipped and slid 15 to 20 feet before catching himself before going over the ledge,” Koby said. “He was fine, and was a little shaken up, but not as much as the lady who witnessed him sliding. She let out a shrill scream, leading me to think that he was a goner. We slowed down a bit after that.”
The next challenge
With that peak conquered, Koby and Steve have gone back to their day jobs: Steve as chief legal officer for Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company in Oklahoma City and Koby as senior preconstruction manager for CORE Construction in Frisco, Texas.
However, Koby is also planning his next adventures. While goals can seem daunting during the training phase, each new accomplishment leads him on to the next.
“Once I complete a race or big hike, it is extremely rewarding. It’s hard to explain the fulfillment of crossing the finish line or summitting a mountain, knowing that all of my disciplined planning and training has paid off,” he said.
For his next hike, he thinks he might try to summit Capitol Peak, which he described as having a lot more exposure and a knife edge that looks challenging.
“Endurance and bravery are indicative of a Potawatomi,” he said. “Reflecting on the immense hardships endured by my ancestors on the Trail of Death, I can draw inspiration to challenge myself mentally and physically, whether it be completing a race or climbing a mountain.”