Monday, May 14, 2007

6288 feet

When a group of friends approached me to go on a road trip with them, I was all for it. I was looking forward to getting out of town for awhile and also jumped at the opportunity to spend some time with the guy I was interested in (despite the fact that he made it abundantly clear he wasn't interested in me).

They let me know that we would be driving to New Hampshire to camp for a couple of nights, hike up Mt. Washington (the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River) and then reward ourselves with a one or two night stay at a luxury hotel at the foot of the mountain. We would continue on to spend one or two nights on the coast of Maine before heading home. They warned me that the hike would be a strenuous one, but one of my friends had made the trip before so he was comfortable leading us up the mountain. I told them I was in and we started to make preparations for the trip.

Because the hike was strenuous and I had a history of knee problems, I decided (and they insisted) that I do some training. I added the Stair Stepper to my workout, increased the incline on my treadmill routines and did some trail hiking with a loaded backpack to prepare for the trip.

The day had finally come to leave and we were all excited as we piled into the car. I was a little bit nervous, but I knew that I had done everything I could to prepare myself. We arrived in New Hampshire and set up camp. I only have pictures to remind me of what our stay was like at the campsite, no real memories remain. All my thoughts were focused on the mountain.

We woke up early on Hike Day to get in a good breakfast and get all of our gear and food into our backpacks. Our plan was to hike up the west side of the mountain via the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail which connects to the Crawford Path and then head back down the mountain via the Gulfside Trail which connected to the Jewell Trail. The starting and ending points were both within walking distance from where we parked our car.

We got to the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail head (which was at an elevation of 2500 feet) and started our ascent. It started off with a gentle slope and I started to gain some confidence in my ability to climb and was convinced that I had prepared myself enough. We reached a natural pond named Gem Pool and stopped for a break. I joked with my friends that they had all worried about me and my knee for nothing. That's when my friend who was acting as guide told me that so far the hike had been easy and that the worst was yet to come.

100 yards later, I realized that I was in over my head and nothing could have ever prepared me for what I was going through.

The terrain changed drastically and we were now following the water that fed into the Gem Pool which meant slippery rocks. I was suddenly unsure of my footing as we crossed the rocks and I started to panic. But I had nowhere to go, only up. I dug deep and continued the ascent to 5012 feet where the next trail began. There were 2 beautiful lakes there (aptly named Lakes of the Clouds) with a lodging station for those hiking the Appalachian Trail. We rested for a little bit but we knew that time was working against us and that we had to keep moving. Three miles of our hike was behind us with another 1.2 miles (and 1276 feet) to go. I felt like I was going to collapse and I knew I was slowing everyone down, but I couldn't stop. I had to keep going.

The trail from this point was above the tree line and was a clear shot to the summit. My friends did not feel the need to stay within sights since there was only one direction to go, and I quickly lost sight of them as they continued ahead of me. It was then that I realized the whole extent of my situation. I was hiking alone (although I was surrounded by strangers) up a mountain and I didn't know where the end was. I had nothing with me but my own thoughts and my body which was screaming at me with every step that I took. I reached the top in tears, at once proud of myself and in total agony and pain. My friend who had been waiting reached out his hand and walked with me the last few feet, but I felt no joy.

At the summit, my friends barely spoke to me and I realized what had happened. They were disappointed. Because of my inexperience and physical condition, I had slowed them down so much that they were now forced to change plans; there would be no hiking descent that day, we had run out of daylight. The hike that was supposed to have taken 7 hours round trip had taken me 6 hours to go one way. There was a small cog railway that ran down the mountain. This became our only option to get back to where we had started. We boarded the train in silence and didn't speak a word for the rest of the day. Their disappointment was obvious, as was my guilt.

I may have reached the top of a mountain, but I fell to a new low that day. When I think back to that trip, the memories are bittersweet. I am so proud of the accomplishment I made that day. But I will never forget the physical and mental pain that got me there.

This post is an entry into Scribbit's monthly Write-Away Contest. This month's theme was travel.

5 reviews:

Scribbit said...

That's a tough lesson to have learned but I'm very glad you shared it and entered in the contest. Wishing you lots of good luck!

Dave said...

I have heard this story many times before... but this was well written and very emotional... I think you have a good shot in the contest - love you

G's Cottage said...

My heart breaks at the shallowness of your companions and at the same time I am outraged that anyone with hiking/climbing experience would have left a novice alone in unfamiliar territory. I don't know how you made it through the rest of the road trip with your new-found education about your companions' friendship agenda. While it can't take away the pain of that situation the lessons you learned about yourself will serve you well in the future.

Sue said...

I can not believe they invited you and then showed such disappointment. And to leave you to hike it alone is horrible. I am sorry for the pain you went through both physcially and emotionally. But I am glad you were able to feel pride for you accomplishment.

It was a very well written post. Good luck in the contest.

Patois said...

A story told quite well. I do want to learn the rest: how did you stomach the remainder of the trip? Are you still friends with any of them? What do they recall about the hike? Fascinating story.