So I got pretty sick on the tail end of last week. Thursday and Friday were murder, and yet on Friday when school got out and the weekend began, I allowed myself to be dragged along on a camping and hiking trip. Don’t get me wrong, I love camping and hiking, and that is probably why I was able to be talked into going.
Anyway I didn’t know where we were going until we were in the car on the road, and I was told that we were going to hike the highest summit in the eastern United States. Now, aside from being sick, I’m in horrible shape. I haven’t consistently gone to the gym since May, even though I got a new membership a couple of weeks ago. I haven’t don’t outdoorsy things in a while either. No matter which way you look at it, I just wan’t cut out for it.
Perhaps fortunately, perhaps unfortunately, I am a very stubborn and strong willed individual. Once I’ve decided to do something, I do it, regardless of how difficult or dangerous it may be. I’d come along on the trip, I was going to hike that damn mountain!
Several times along the way, with my lungs aching and burning, I thought about turning around and going back down. My muscles weren’t sore but my heart felt like it would burst out of my chest at any moment, and my lungs couldn’t fill more than a third. Climbing a 5 mile hike up a mountain wasn’t a smart idea.
But every time that I thought of this, every time I paused and thought about going back, I could see the backs of my climbing companions disappearing into the trees on the trail ahead of me, and I thought “no way.” There’s no way they can do this and I just can’t. I’ll be damned if being sick stops me from going farther.
Quarter of the way up I decided once and for all that I wasn’t going to turn back. Half way up, I was sure I’d be fine, despite my frequent stops. Three quarters of the way I regretted this decision so very much. All I wanted to do was go back. I was going to die on this mountain.
A little farther and a little higher, and I struggled even more for each breath. Strenuous activity and thinning air aren’t the cure for an upper respiratory infection. My friends pushed me on, knowing I wanted to take on the mountain, and not knowing how hard I was trying. The encouragement was good – the exasperation at my many stops was not. I just couldn’t go any farther.
There came a point where we had less than a mile left to climb, and my friends pointed to a far off rock and told me that was our last stop before we reached the top. Not much further then, I guessed. It took me 40 minutes to get to that mid point, and at least another 45 to make it the rest of the way past it. Maybe even an hour. We were no longer hiking through paths between trees, we were scaling icy rocks and following from one pile of marker rocks to the next. Two in our group went on ahead at a normal pace, and one stayed needlessly behind with me. At this point, no matter how much I truly wanted to turn back, there was absolutely no way that this mountain was going to beat me. I was going to climb to the summit or die trying.
We had started our hike at 8am, and projected that we’d make it to the top by 1pm. We got there around 1.30pm, which isn’t that bad for beginners and sick people. My sister who was climbing with us has a torn ligament in her knee which necessitates a knee brace, and she still beat me up the mountain. Of course.
Finally, after eating snow to stay hydrated, and stopping extra long to ‘take in the view’, we made it to the top. Looking down, the cars on the roads below were smaller than any ant you’ve ever seen. We were really, really high up. The view was breathtaking. We were in the clouds, standing in patches of snow, looking down on glorious fall colors illumined by veins of afternoon sun. And it was stinkin cold! Fortunately there’s an observatory and museum and such on top of the mountain, so we were able to go indoors to eat and warm ourselves.
While we sat, a huge cold front moved in, bringing low fog and a flurry of snow. Looking out the windows we watched as the rocks we’d barely been able to climb a short time ago in full visibility disappeared beneath a coat of snow and a shadow of fog. We’d planned on starting our long hike back down the mountain, but it just wasn’t going to happen. We were fortunate in being able to take a shuttle down the mountain to our car, avoiding innumerable possible injuries and accidents on the way down, and sparing my lungs just a little.
Even stepping outside into the cold to find the bus that would take us to the bottom, we froze our butts off. We were dressed for cold and for climbing, but the sweat that had cooled inside our clothes on our bodies started to freeze to our skin. ‘Unpleasant’ is too nice a word.
We would all have liked to hike back down the mountain, just as we would have liked to camp a second night after the hike. But it just wasn’t realistic. It was too cold, we were too tired.
We plan to hike Mount Washington again in the spring, when the weather is once again conducive to hikes, and when we won’t freeze our butts off. When we do it again, we’ll definitely hike down it as well as up. Maybe we’ll even camp on the mountain. Maybe we’ll even go when we aren’t sick.
Mt. Washington – a 5 mile hike up to a 6,288 foot summit, the highest in the North East.