15 June 2011

There's No Turning Back?

YOU KNOW THAT OLD CLICHÉ, "There's no turning back"? You know how in almost every circumstance when it's employed that it's not exactly true? More often than not, it's a cop-out, used when we've stepped in a steaming pile and subsequently refuse—out of pride and stubbornness—to clean off our shoe and turn around.

It has its origins in the "die is cast" metaphor/cliché, which was apparently coined by Julius Caesar in 49 BC to describe a military move into Italy across the river Rubicon, which he knew would give rise to a conflict that he must then win.

I faced such a conflict once—in the middle of the High Peaks Region of the Adirondack Mountains. Turning back was as equally dangerous as going forward, but with the added displeasure of defeat. In October 2007 I was playing the best man in a cousin's wedding in the Cascades, after which a small group of moderate hikers (myself included) made our way west to Phelp's trailhead from the small town of Keene Valley. What follows are a few journal entries from that trip.

18 October 2007
Camp. Shoulder of Mts. Basin and Saddleback,
Adirondack, New York.

I've seen the most spectacular vistas this day; I've also accomplished the most challenging hike of my life. From Slant Rock, we hiked up Mt. Marcy. It was a moderate hike, and it took most of the morning. After lunch, we then caught a spur up Little Haystack (overlooking Panther Gorge) and then on to Mt. Haystack, ascending some 400 feet with a few near vertical pitches (the so-called "Devil's Half Mile"). We climbed with our packs on (average weight about 40 lbs.). I don't recommend this (turns out, neither does the guidebook).

After reaching the summit, we immediately began our descent to the foot of Mt. Basin via the State Range Trail, with hopes of finding some water, since we were running out of both it and light. This descent (part of which we had just ascended) was the hardest and dangerous hike of my life, not least because of the burden on my back. The most nerve-racking part was the single-foot width path along a ledge that simply . . . vanished. Mt. Basin's peak was our third for the day, which I also don't recommend attempting, what with the shape we were in. By the final descent to the pocket below my legs were shaking from the strain. Finally, we entered the shoulder—battered, bruised and exhausted, and with no water!

For now: Sleep. Tomorrow: Saddleback, and then on to child's play.
It wasn't until we set up camp and I consulted the trail book, however, that I realized what was "comin' round the mountain." The next entry, which I wrote on the flight home, chronicles our final day.
As expected, we awoke around 6:45 on the 19th. All night the wind had been howling, spitting constantly with a rattle above our heads on the tent roof. I wondered how it was that our tent wasn't lifted up, the wind as furious as it was. That, coupled with my fear of climbing in such weather and the guidebook's warning: "Turning L at the end of the ledge, the trail descends [we ascended, coming from the west] precipitously over ledges where extreme caution is needed"—made for a restless night. To be honest, it bordered on anxiety with intermittent fits of panic. I worried about someone in the group getting hurt; I worried about myself; I worried about slick, iced-over rock; I worried about the paralyzing fear that can overtake someone on a precipitous ledge; I just worried.

But in the end, it was for naught. It's hard to describe—climbing ledges where a single slip meant death; climbing such ledges as an inexperienced climber with a backpack on—but it was every bit as precipitous as you'd imagine. The wind continued to push and the rain pelted our faces and made the rock slippery. It was stupid or brave. Perhaps both?
Of course, all this blather is relative to my experience. Were I a seasoned climber, I'd probably laugh at the drama. But it's drama we all experienced—together. We learned very little at the top of each summit; the mountainsides taught us the most. The hike ended thus:
Reaching Saddleback's summit in about an hour and a half, we saw nothing but fog and mist and decided to move on quickly before the weather worsened. Our descent took about the same time, but it was mostly hiking with less climbing involved. We had been out of water since the previous night. I spared a gulp for everyone when we reached the summit, as B.P_____ had done for us that morning. Every muddy puddle looked delicious. At around 10:45 a.m., we hiked down to the headwaters of the Orebed (now on the Orebed Brook Trail), and gorged ourselves with water and Ramen Noodles. From there, we made our way to Johns Brook and stuck close to it on the Southside Trail, one that offered magnificent views of the rapids and popping yellow and auburn leaves that lined its banks. After hopping a few rocks (thankfully, the water wasn't too high), we walked out of the woods earlier than expected—Friday evening instead of Saturday midday—on account of foregoing the climb up Gothics and putting our LORD God to the test.

So, that night we hobbled into the Ausable Pub & Inn, and, enjoying the food and ale, we decided to stay at this trustworthy establishment for the night. Therewith we proceeded with much mirth and merriment.
I'm sure there's a few devotional points embedded in this story somewhere, but I'll let the reader figure those out. All of these photos were taken with a junky point-and-shoot Sony Cypershot. Click on an image to get up close and personal.

Atop Mt. Marcy

Marcy Men: B.P., K.S., C.D., C.O.

A fairly typical climb—but not one of the steepest by a long shot

Random barn

Our walk out, flanked by the rushing brook on our left
and wrapped in golden yellow


Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha