When I called out to Rich in front of me, “I got scared there for a second,” what I had meant to say was, “I thought I was going to die,” but some sense of self-preserving mountain-woman decorum wouldn’t allow me to.
At the time I was sprawled out in the snow on the steep slope of a mountain. I was elated that I had only slid a few inches when I fell because logically the section of this icy snow crossing that had the fewest options for decent foot holds laid directly up hill of a snowy chute of doom that funneled off into an abyss of grey clouds and undisclosed amounts of plummeting.
I took a moment to compose myself before beginning the delicate process of getting back to my feet. Mind you this involved untangling two hiking poles, and balancing a 30-pound pack on my back, while locating a pocket of friction in the slick hard snow for my feet to grab onto without loosing my balance despite the constant wind and steep slope that I was on.
We were just beginning to rack up our adventure points for the day.
By mid day my shorts were damp beneath my rainpants, my feet were soaked inside their Gortex boots that were covered in “water proof” gators and my thumbs were going cold.
Rich replaced my pack cover that the wind had blown off as we made our last climb of the day, hiking into the clouds. Soon after we reached the ridge, as wind whipped around us tossing rain in every direction, we came to a four-way trail intersection that we didn’t remember from our maps. The trail sign, of course, had blown over. I couldn’t face trying to wrestle a map open while completely exposed in this storm so I turned to Rich. “Get out the GPS.”
He had an app set up that would tell us whether or not we were on the trail so we took our best guess and sent him 30 yards down the trail to the left.
Good thing we didn’t have to rely on our best guess.
Next we tried the trail straight in front of us. That was it. We continued on, hiking across barren rock with not a tree, bush, or blade of grass within our limited range of visibility. The wind blew so hard and so consistently that occasionally there’d be a dry patch of trail where a rock no bigger than a cantaloupe had created a rain shadow from the constant upslope wind. The only way to proceed was with your head down and eyes squinted, looking up only occasionally between gusts of wind to be sure you were still on the trail. This is the kind of a place where if you sat down to take a break you could die.
It is the kind of place where Reader’s Digest stories begin.
Never in my life do I believe I have been so happy to see a tree. One glance up and through the grey haze that existed beyond the few feet of rocky trail ahead of me I saw the dark silhouette of the top few feet of a tree. Hemlock, Jeffery, White Bark or Christmas I did not care what kind it was, only that it promised shelter. The moment I stepped into the trees the wind died down, the rain softened and I could feel the warmth coming off of the ground. I don’t know what the Hobbits, Red Ridding Hood and the Brothers Grimm could ever find against a forest, for I found it quite magnificent.
We made camp at Lost Lakes. I literally poured water out of my boots before climbing in my tent to begin the work of sorting gear and finding dry clothes to put on.
The tents did well and we hunkered down, serving dual sentences of solitary confinement. We stayed there for 36 hours, emerging occasionally to cook a meal, fetch some water, adjust our tents or just stretch our legs. Once when we were both out fiddling with our tents Rich commented, “This is good hypothermia weather.”
When you’re up above 9,000 feet, your gear is wet and there are over 20 miles between you and the nearest road – you stay put. You hope the weather report was right that this should clear up tomorrow, make yourself some hot cocoa and enjoy the first half of Huckelberry Finn that you brought with you.