I told you back in Chapter 8 that I had been planning something special for my April hike. Welcome to Big Slide Mountain.
Aiming for High Peak #9 in my journey to 46, I’d chosen Big Slide Mountain for a few different reasons. First, its said to be a fairly easy hike and with mixed winter/spring conditions this was essential. The total distance to the summit and back is just a bit over 12km, less than my previous 20ish on Sawteeth. But most importantly, the parking lot where this trail head is located is closing for the summer for some bridge construction. To do this hike once the parking lot is closed will require parking in town and riding a shuttle to the trail head. No one knows yet how efficient this is going to be, so I figured I better get this peak tagged now before all of those shenanigans begin. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I signed in at the register as usual, and noticed that like Sawteeth last month, I was alone on the trail as of 8am. I was pretty focused on this hike to carry less weight in my pack. I usually have about 25lbs with me, but was able to pack more efficiently and got it down to about 17lbs this time around. From the beginning, this made a huge difference. Every trip has its own lessons to learn and packing smart, yet safe, is a good one to grasp early on. Much of this trail was covered in so, so much ice and having less weight on my back was definitely to my benefit.
The story of today’s hike being special started just about three years ago. My best friend Matt and I were in Dallas, Texas for a week having the absolute best time of our lives. I don’t know how or when that week will ever be topped, for real. We had traveled to Dallas for WrestleMania (take it up with someone else, every TV show you watch is fake too!). Over a seven day span, we ate more BBQ than even we thought we would, we saw a total of 4 wrestling shows (Hall of Fame Ceremony, NXT, Monday Night Raw and WrestleMania 32 @ Cowboy Stadium with 102,000 people), we went to a Tech N9ne concert, a Texas Rangers baseball game and a Dallas Mavericks basketball game. We literally had a plan every day from the minute we landed until the day we left and flew back home. Matt and I have both said it multiple times since this trip, it was probably the greatest week in our lives, certainly the greatest Best Friend Week we could ever ask for. And then I came home.
I don’t think I was home for much more than half an hour or so when Lauren hit me with some very sad news. A couple of days before I came home, a friend of ours, Bryan Black, had passed away. She didn’t have the heart to tell me while I was in Dallas, knowing it would ruin my trip. I’d only known Bryan a couple of years. He and his wife JoAnne were really good friends with my in-laws, Kathy and Steve. They’re all super wonderful folk, but Bryan and I hit it off from the moment we met and had a special connection. He had a highly infectious, super positive personality. I don’t know if he knew how to not smile. Everything that can be said about Bryan is a cliche. He lit up rooms with his smile, he made your day with a hug every time, you can’t find a person who didn’t like having him around.
From the first time I met Bryan, he was such a cool cat that I bestowed upon him the nickname of Bryan Motherfuckin’ Black. He just required a certain emphasis to express how awesome he was. He loved music as much as I did. He had a huge collection of 45s and the jukebox to go with it. And he had stories for so many of those songs – which booth he and Jo were sitting at in whatever city when they’d heard a certain song, a happy memory of this or that tune, an energetic telling of seeing something live. Music was probably our glue, we could talk for hours about the classics. He spoke with such love and passion, you could tell he loved music his whole life, as I had. Music touched his soul, like it does mine still.
From the moment I woke up, something about the day just felt off.
The sky was clouded over all morning and stayed this way most of the day. There was a bit of snow coming down after I’d parked the car and signed in. And from the moment I hit the actual trail, I was walking on nothing but ice. Some of the steep, bare rock scrambles had the ice melted away. But for the most part, Ice, Ice, Baby, all day. (Alright stop, collaborate and listen. Ice is back with my brand new invention. Every word, still.) I can’t actually pinpoint what it was, but all morning my confidence was lacking. In hindsight, I was probably just nervous about failing on a day that I’d been planning for months. I know that in my journey to climb all 46 High Peaks, there are going to be days when I don’t reach my goal. I just didn’t want it to be today. This was Bryan’s hike – yes I was hiking solo, but today I’d brought my friend with me.
A few months back as I started buying up my own gear for all of these future hikes, I had an idea. I knew by April I’d be hiking and I knew that I’d wanted to do something to honor Bryan. I asked JoAnne if I could borrow Bryan’s hiking poles. He had taken up daily walks around a loop near the area we all live. For a couple of weeks, I even joined him. Before I decided that mornings just weren’t my thing. Have I mentioned that I start things and don’t follow through? I already had hiking poles of my own, but for Big Slide mountain, I used Bryan’s. At one point, I had just successfully made it to the top of this ridiculously steep rock scramble that was covered in ice. (Photo #3 in that slideshow above.) With my feet planted safely, I was taking a minute to catch my breath. And then I dropped one of these hiking poles all the way down that rock slide and about 25ft in to the forest below. In the complete silence of the mountains, I’m surprised I didn’t hear my own heart break. Such an amateur move. And I couldn’t just leave it there. First, it wasn’t mine to lose. Second, the principal of “Leave No Trace” on every trail you hike. And third, there was no way I was getting to the summit without two poles. Fuck. All the way back down, with one pole for balance. Thankfully the spikes on my hiking boots did their job. Moving slowly, I found the pole and got back to where I was. There were no real issues after this. Good fortune was on my side and the rest of the steep, steep hike to the summit went off without a hitch.
At the top, I finally snapped the photo I’d been thinking about for months. Ma-in-law Kathy had helped me get this photo of Bryan without anyone knowing and without knowing what it was for. Bryan’s trekking poles had helped carry me to the summit and I rested them against a rock, positioned in front of the photo I had stashed in my gear to share my view with him. Our friendship was nothing compared to the love he had for JoAnne and his two daughters, Jess and Amanda. I can’t wait for them to read this. Bryan was an inspiration to me on how to live a life full of positive energy. I was so happy to have this usually very busy peak to myself to mark the 3 year passing of my friend. I used my little portable stove to boil some water and toast Bryan with a nice hot cup of coffee at the top of Big Slide Mountain. For today only, I borrowed his nickname – today I was Joe Motherfuckin’ Wilderness.
On my way down the mountain, I saw my first and only other hikers of the day. A couple hiking with their huge, furry, growling dog. We chatted for a few minutes, and then it was right back to the solitude that had defined the day. As I reached my car after almost 7 total hours, the sun finally came out from behind the cloudy peaks. Maybe BMFB was checking in?