There’s no crying in hiking, except when there is.
My friend (Right Turn) and I set out for a 3-day Wildcat Carter traverse. The plan:
Thursday night: stay in hotel near start of traverse and set up cars for car spot. (A traverse like this is a point-to-point hike, so we wanted to set up a car at the end that would be waiting for us at the finish, while driving another car and ourselves back to the start).
Friday: Leave Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, hike the Wildcats (several peaks, two of which count as 4000-footers). Overnight at Carter Notch Hut.
Saturday: Leave Carter Notch Hut, hike the Carters (another 3 4000-footers), camp at Imp Tentsite.
Sunday: Leave Imp, hike out (hitting the final 4000-footer of the traverse).
It was a reasonable plan. I did the research. Not too many miles planned for each day (6-7 miles each day). Not an insane amount of elevation gain (the first day was the largest with 3000 feet).
Thursday night and the car spot went well. The inn was lovely and I wish I had booked it for after the trip. We dropped the car off no problem. We hit a brewery and then went to bed early.
What I didn’t account for was miles 2 and 3 of the first day of hiking. That 3000 feet of elevation gain happens in miles 2 and 3. And it isn’t just a steep trail, it’s mostly rocks and boulders that you have to climb over, step up and over, or scramble up and over.
Imagine you’re at the gym. A trainer asks you to pick up your foot to as high as you can lift it, about mid-thigh. The trainer then places a box in front of you that reaches as high as your foot. Now you have to hoist yourself on top of the box. Now repeat that 4000 times. THAT is LOT of those two miles.
Now add to that a few rock climbing elements. One was a “chimney” that required you to somehow hoist yourself straight up. I got about halfway and felt like I didn’t have the strength to push up from my feet and/or grab what little was there to grab with my hands and pull myself up. Mind you, I’m wearing a 32 pound pack with all of my gear in it. At the halfway point, I’m straining my legs to hold myself up. I’m straining my arms to hold myself up. And I realized, I HAD to move. Every second I sat there wondering how I was going to do it, was a second that any remaining strength I had was draining out of me. I had to move and I had to move NOW or I’d never get up it.
I did get up it. And when I was safely at the top, I promptly broke into heaving sobs of relief. So see there IS crying in hiking.
Another rock climbing moment was a granite slab with a few steps embedded, except the steps didn’t go to the top, you still had to get yourself the rest of the way. The chimney was difficult, but at least if I fell, I’d just be back at the bottom of the chimney. This was a granite slab to a drop off. If I fell off, well…let’s just not think about it. I tried not to think about it. I got up the steps fine. Just focused on the steps and the wall of granite I was on. Don’t look over and don’t look down. Okay, so next you just have to follow this teeny tiny fissure in the slab and work your way to the top where the trail continues. Still wearing your 32 pound backpack. In order to mentally make it easier, I leaned into the wall. I figured I’d feel more secure. Which was true, I did, but it also ended up pinning my right arm and right leg against the wall, giving me less ability to push myself up to the top. I was also terrified that my shoes would slip. I was trying to push myself and my pack up with my shoe in a 2-inch wide crack in the granite. Note, my shoes are more than two inches wide. I kept slipping, and wasn’t strong enough to push myself with only one arm and one leg. And I was stuck. Luckily, some other hikers had come up the trail and one of them got up to where I was and put his hand on my foot, pressing it into the wall, giving me the ability to push up knowing it wouldn’t slip.
Again, I finally got to the top and again, broke into uncontrollable sobs of relief.
Then there was more bouldering. And some disheartening descents (you don’t want to lose elevation when you know you’re meant to be going up to a summit) and a few more ascents. We finally came out just below the summit of Wildcat D. It had taken 6 hours and 45 minutes to get three miles. Nearly 7 hours for three. stinking. miles. Guess what folks? We still had three more miles to go and several more peaks.
There is a gondola at the top of Wildcat D (Wildcat is a ski resort as well as home to several 4000-footers), and also at that moment, a wedding. It was very surreal to have worked so hard to get there. I was sweaty, hot, and broken. Not ten feet in front of me were clean, happy people in dresses and suits.
It was then that Right Turn very smartly suggested we change our plans. It was late in the day. It had taken us a lot longer than we thought to get to this point. We still had three miles to go. One of them is known to be a VERY steep ascent (which is double trouble when you’re exhausted, you’re just asking to get injured). Could we have pushed on and gotten to the hut? Yes. Would we have enjoyed it? Felt good about it? Been ready to hike for two more days? Probably not.
Cue me sobbing again.
So we took the gondola down to the base of the Wildcat ski area. One positive of the day was that Right Turn has never been on a gondola or chair lift. I’m guessing she never will again as she did not seem to be a fan.
And for another first, we attempted to hitch back to the Pinkham Notch visitor center so we could re-group. I have never in my life stuck out my thumb for a ride. Well, HAD never. Now I have. We did not GET a ride, but that’s besides the point. I attempted to hitchhike!
We got back to the visitor center, which is also Joe Dodge Lodge (run by the AMC as is the hut we were not staying in that night). I explained our situation and hoped they could get us to the lodge. They did! First, the hut had not been full, which was great so I could skip feeling guilty that we had wasted bunks there. Second, they just switched us to the lodge, so we didn’t have to waste the money we had spent to reserve the hut, nor did we have to buy another night somewhere new.
Bonus, we got to meet Karma, who ended up as our roommate for the night. Karma is on her second through hike of the Appalachian Trail. Both Right Turn and I loved talking with her and getting to know her.
Double bonus, while we didn’t get any 4000-footers, this trail is an “elective” on the Terrifying 25 list. AKA list of trails for me to avoid.
Once off the mountain, showered, and fed, we made new plans for the next two days. Whatever will we do? Find out in the next post…