University of Northern Colorado assistant professor of cello Gal Faganel and University of Colorado graduate violin student Jenny Shea summited Longs Peak with their instruments July 22 and staged what could be a record-breaking concert at 14,259 feet in elevation. Watch a two-minute video produced by Faganel (above); and read his account of the adventure below.
We left in the light of a nearly full moon at 2:30 in the morning from Longs Peak Ranger Station at 9,400 feet. The six-hour ascent covered 5,100 feet of elevation and about 7.5 miles.
Challenges along the way included the size and weight of the instrument cases, especially the cello. At times the cello case behaved like a sail, making it especially challenging climbing through the windy Keyhole and Narrows sections of the trail.
While the weather was unusually warm and calm at the summit, these were extreme conditions for a live performance with string instruments. A group of 14 hikers was eagerly awaiting the concert. The audience included hikers from many parts of the country and it grew during the course of the performance.
We opened the concert with the Ashokan Farewell for solo violin. A number of movements from the Suites for Solo Cello by J.S. Bach followed. After an excerpt of the violin concerto by Sibelius, it was time for a short intermission to warm up our hands.
The second half included Dvorak's Humoresque, the Largo theme from his "New World" symphony, as well as excerpts from his cello concerto. Also on the program were Handel-Halvorsen Pasacaglia and the Andante theme from the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello by Brahms. No record-breaking concert should be without the Star-Spangled Banner, this time arranged for violin and cello.
The descent was harder than the ascent, not only because of fatigue, but also because of the bulkiness of the cello case. When asked whether I was worried about the highly valuable cello, I replied: "If something happened to the cello my life would likely also be in danger… " It put things into perspective, no matter how expensive my cello is.
This was my first attempt at Longs Peak as well as my personal altitude record. Preparation for this adventure included three shorter hikes during the two weeks prior. Jenny's past Long's Peak hiking experience contributed to the success of this attempt.
We overheard hikers celebrating: "Perfect weather and a concert at the top, one in a million!" The rangers at Longs Peak trailhead didn't remember any such event ever taking place at the Longs Peak summit. We're still investigating whether this feat constitutes a legitimate record.
- Gal Faganel
In addition to teaching cello at UNC, Gal Faganel is a member of the faculty at Rocky Ridge Music Center in Estes Park and is an acclaimed cello performer and recording artist. After growing up in Slovenia, he continued his studies at the University of Southern California.
Violinist Jenny Shea, a Colorado native, is a student and counselor at Rocky Ridge Music Center and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in music at the University of Colorado Boulder.