Descent into Hell

Submitted by Bill St. Clair on Mon, 25 Aug 2008 10:42:41 GMT  <== Entertainment ==> 

My wife has been planning a hiking trip for quite a while. She started by preparing the kids for their yearly overnights with Flying Deer Nature Center, two nights on the trail, near home, for our daughter, and three nights on the trail, this time in the Green Mountains of Vermont, for our son. They got new sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and rain coats this year, and our daughter got a new backpack. My wife also bought two 3-man tents, a backpack for herself, and two summer-weight sleeping bags. Plus a camping stove, water purifier pump, and other sundries. She studied maps and hiking directions, and practiced setting up the tents and purifying water. She and I slept outside in the tent on the other side of the road from a nearby pond one night shortly after she got the first tent. It was fun.

Well, we went on that hike over the weekend. We started on Saturday at point A on this Google map, walked east about a mile to the Apalachian Trail, which we followed down the river gorge until we were south of Plantain Pond, at the top of the map. Then we went north to about 1/4 mile southeast of that pond tip, pitched our tents in a camping area, and spent the night. Yesterday, we retraced our steps to get out. Roundabout 3 miles each way, with lots of downhill on Saturday and lots of uphill on Sunday.

But it wasn't that simple. Never is, eh?

Our starting point was an Apalachian Mountain Club (AMC) parking lot, with a path to a very nice cabin, that you can rent. We headed out the wrong direction from the cabin, on a path that would have taken us south of, and then over Bear Mountain. Fortunately, we ran into Nate, an AMC ridge runner, who told us we could certainly go that way, but given that we wanted to go north, he could show us the way around the north side of Bear Mountain, and save us some time and a lot of effort. We told him we were planning to cross Mount Race, and sleep at the falls campground on the other side. That was about seven miles, over rough terrain. And my son had already told us of his hikes over Mount Race in earlier Flying Deer overnights. It's a hard climb, on bare rock. I think Nate realized that there was no way we were going to make that, and decided to go along to make sure we didn't get into trouble.

Shortly before we met Nate, I twisted my right ankle, and fell down. Was still able to walk, as there's very little left to rip in either of my ankles. But it hurt a bit, and the twist and fall drained a lot of my will. Wish I'd decided to call it a day right then. A little later, I twisted the left ankle, not as badly as the right.

By the time we got to the bottom of the gorge, we realized that there was no way we were going to get over Mount Race. We decided to stop at the next camp site, 1.3 miles away, uphill. I was exhausted, and sore, by the time we got there. We set up the tents, had a nice dinner, made water, and the family, a friend of my daughter's who came along, and Nate had s'mores while I lay in the tent, unable to move.

I awoke a couple of times in a near panic. The third time, around 11pm, was a full-blown panic attack. Fear. Terror. My wife was in the other tent, with the two girls, and my son was with me. She heard my whimpers, and came over, switched places with our son, opened up the tent, gave me her pad, which worked better than mine, and calmed me down until I could sleep for a few more hours. I awoke a couple hours before the rest of the group, and sat in various painful positions, trying to keep my feet from going to sleep.

Nice oatmeal for breakfast, lots of waiting for girls to get packed, and we were on our way back. I was still exhausted, so I had decided to walk straight home, at my own pace, and let my son make sure the wife made it (she travels a lot slower than I do, even when exhausted). It took me about three hours to get back. I reclined in the car seat until they showed up an hour later.

Fortunately, the weather was beautiful. No rain. Low eighties. Had I been soaked as well as exhausted, I may have just laid down to die, forcing those AMC ridge runners to call for help to carry me out.

Lots of lessons learned, but I was not into this trip in the first place, only went because my wife was so excited. Won't happen again.

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