Wanna know what really happens on trail when you're hiking alone?
I’d been counting days and hours all weekend. I finished up with work on a Monday evening and my week off had begun. We did a Happy Birthday Dad dinner (68, Happy BDay PoP!) on Tuesday and I hit the hay real early after that. Alarm at 4:20am and the day was finally here. My first Winter High Peak. My first solo High Peak. My first High Peak of 2019. The last few times I’d attempted to be up that early, I just wasn’t feeling it. That morning felt different, likely because of my own anticipation. I was ready. I think I had some previous un-voiced concerns about my winter hike attempts. But on this day I felt prepared. I’d packed the night before. I felt confident in my trail selection, my gear, my skills and the day was forecast to be a cold but beauty day.
Right off the hop I made two solid mistakes. And a third later.
So, two mistakes. Not including the fact that I drove halfway to Tim Horton’s without my wallet and had to turn back. Most people know I suck at mornings. If you don’t know, now you know. Back on the road, I’ve got a gross ass Tim’s breakfast wrap and some mediocre coffee to rock my world awake. But they’re all that’s open at 5am, so alas, Tim’s it is. Mistake #1 reared it’s ugly head while I was in the drivethru. I load up Spotify and -BAM!- I forgot to download any music for my two and a half hour drive. Oh, how I hate forgetting music. I sometimes use the term Life Rule around Lauren to explain certain rules I live by. Not life-saving rules that requires Moses-level powers or anything, but big important stuff nonetheless. In this instance “Always have the entire Jay-Z discography backed up on your phone.” Mistake #1 averted. Because I have Life Rules.
There’s a Mobil Gas Station on the 86 in or around Saranac Lake. I’m thinking about sending them flowers. Or something nice. Because I poop there every single time I drive down to the mountains, but I’ve yet to even buy anything at the store, gas included. I’ve usually either gassed the car up the night before, or shortly across the border. And my food and snacks are usually packed already. I have nothing to buy by this point. But when ya gotta go, ya gotta go. On this particular morning, the XL Black Dark Roast went through me like it was anxious to get to the mountains. I passed an open gas station, thinking I could —- wait. Just wait a minute.
If you think this story ends with me shitting my pants, no, it does not.
So, I thought I could comfortably hold my bathroom break until my very familiar Mobil gas station. Mistake #2, mhmm. I really thought I was closer to Saranac Lake than I was. So the next, like, half hour to forty minutes was spend in deep stomach discomfort. Another Life Rule. “Poop when you can. Just because you can go anywhere, doesn’t mean you should.” Mistake #2 not really averted. But I didn’t shit myself. Enough of that story, for sure. But it tied in to my mistakes and lessons of the day, I had to (over)share.
I’d finally made it to the trail head. Finally got geared up and set to hike. There was a group of six a few hundred feet ahead of me. The first long ass section of the hike begins on a regular old road. For about 4KMs. This was part of the reason I’d chosen that day’s particular mountain. Easy walk in, easy walk out. The ideal scenario for my first mountain in months, plus my first winter and solo hike in the Adirondacks. Aside from the group of six who’d disappeared ahead of me quickly and the four deer I was able to photograph, the only other person I saw all day was a fella named Jim from around Utica, NY. Like the six ahead of us, Jim was doing Gothics Mountain that day. It would seem that I was going to be all alone on my chosen peak of the day, Sawteeth Mountain. Jim was full of knowledge, gave great advice and was pretty awesome in general to chat with for 20mins or so. Jim, if we never meet on the trails again, thank you!
There’s a joke somewhere in Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 where some new characters are introducing themselves. One ugly dude goes by the name Tazer Face. Just like the audience, Rocket Raccoon quips “the name is a little much”. That’s how I felt about Sawteeth. Which is exactly what lead to me saying out loud numerous times on the trail “Saaaaawteeeeth”. When you’re alone on a mountain…..
There were some bigtime highlights on the way up. A huge dam with a sweet wooden bridge to cross, a little red fox who was too fast to be paparazzi’d, great views of neighboring mountains. I’d heard lots about Rainbow Falls. I was glad to get to see it in a mostly frozen state. Despite that, you could still hear it’s running water for at least half a kilometer. That’s how alone I was. And it was amazing. I won’t bore you with trail conditions, except to say that I now understand why hikers hate when other hikers don’t wear snowshoes. There were some bootprints (post holes) that were four feet deep in places. Someone had worked really, really hard to try and get up that mountain without proper equipment. Their holes stopped by the time I hit the trail junction to my peak, so they obviously did not make it. Saaaawteeeeth!
I’m not going to say this hike was easy. It might be a bit easier to say in hindsight. I wasn’t overly sore a day or two later, my knees really held up well. I’d lost the trail a time or two but found it pretty easily again. But in a few instances, especially in the last half mile, I had some big time doubts about summiting. Some very steep sections pushed my upper body strength to near it’s limit. My calves and quads were on fire. The jerks who’d ruined the trail by not wearing snowshoes had me swearing out loud in legitimate anger. There were a few spots where I’d fallen in some pretty deep snow and others where I literally had to take two inch baby steps, breathe, then step again. Getting above the treeline, making it to the summit and achieving my first Winter High Peak was a rush. I earned the ice cold Coca Cola I brought with me to celebrate. I stuck it in the snow-surrounded footprint some critter had left behind while I sat on a lookout just below the summit. This is where I snapped the photos of my neighbor mountains you see in the slideshow above. It was about that time that i thought of my best friend in life, Matt. We love Coke. We used to drink so much Coke, it would have been appropriate for twelve packs to be included in our budget. I dunno if there is a better drink on the planet and I knew he’d love the fact that I was having our favorite beverage at such a beautiful place. I sat for a few minutes just thinking about him and the times we’ve shared. And the times yet to come. It was an emotional few minutes just looking off in the distance enjoying my well-earned views. This was followed by a huge sense of accomplishment. The trip back down the mountain and back to the car was uneventful. And yet, I was loving every minute of it. My first High Peak of the 2019 season went off mostly without a hitch. I’d signed out back at the trail head by about 330pm. Seven and a half hours round trip up the mountain and back down. I was pumped. I’ve mentioned a pretty ambitious schedule for the year and this was the big first step – #8 of 46! Saaaaawteeeeth!!!
I've got something that's really special to me planned for my April climb. But I'm going to keep that to myself for now. On to the next one...
Oh. The third mistake? I often forget McDonald’s in the States has Sweet Tea. And my love for Coke led to me pouring my drink too quickly at my post-hike McD’s sesh. Life Rule: “If Sweet Tea is an option, the answer is yes.”