Not the best Halftime show ever.
But better than Elvis Presto. And Maroon 5.
I’m reading a book right now that a dude at work let me borrow. It’s by Adam Shoalts, a Canadian explorer looking to explore rivers waaaay up North that have never been explored before. In it he says “If there’s one lesson to be gleaned from the history of exploration, it’s that nothing ever goes according to plan.” I feel like I’ve been learning this lesson throughout this whole hiking thing over the past year and a half. But, likely, no more than this past Saturday. Larry, Curly, Moe (and Shemp) couldn’t have more Stooge moments.
From the opening minutes of the morning, the plan in my head was going all wrong. It started off relatively simple. One hiker in our group missed the group message with the meeting place & time. So right away, we were one man down. In my head, I’d been calling this our Greatest Hits Hike. Because each of the people we’d hiked with this year were joining this day to form a real super team. That is minus Sylvie, who refused to use a sick day. Sylvie, you’re a better person than me. *Cough*Cough*
But instead of being a man down, Zack had invited a gym buddy. See that photo at the top of this chapter? You’ll see five smiling hikers. And one non-smiling gent who had no idea what a 17km hike was going to put his body through. Not his fault, but I promise you, it’ll be a long time before this guy, Chris, sees a mountain again. Chris, man, you tried. It’s not for everybody and it’s all good.
The plan before we started the day was for the whole group to hit Lower Wolfjaw, then Upper Wolfjaw. Then Joel and I would wait for the rest of the group while they hiked an extra couple KMs to get Armstrong Mountain. Joel and I had gotten Armstrong last month. Hitting just one of the Wolfjaws would bring me to halfway completing the 46 High Peaks. Halfway was my goal for the year anyway, so I wouldn’t be too upset if Upper Wolfjaw had to wait for another day. And there was so many beautiful waterfalls along this trail, coming back wouldn’t hurt my feelings. But this day was not exactly how I expected the final High Peak of the year to go down. It wasn’t the worst Halftime show of all time, but it was close. Nothing could possibly be worse than Elvis Presto though. What was the NFL thinking?
Proper Planning Prevents
Something Something Something
I didn’t pack for this trip until about 10pm the night before. Maybe the day going sideways started right from that point. I dunno. But because of it, I forgot a couple key items. Gloves being the most important, knowing it was going to be chilly. And second, I had wanted to bring a Sharpie and some paper to write a note at the summit to post a photo. Both of these forgotten items would’ve come in handy. More on that later.
Pretty quickly, Chris was falling behind the group. Not wanting to hold anyone back, I stayed back with Zack to make sure Chris was safe. We came across this log in the photo above. As we approached, I wondered to myself if Joel would’ve written his name on it. Of course he did. I know him so well after this summer. Coming back down the mountain later, all the snow had melted, taking his signature with it.
With Joel, Dave and Al up ahead moving quickly, I couldn’t help but feel that our day was not going to go as planned. We were slow moving at the back of the group. Already, in my head, I was beginning to think two mountains was out of the question for the day. I’d still finish at half, so I didn’t really mind.
I’ve never included my own video before. But you should be able to click on that video right above and see the water rushing. Should be able to. Because hopefully I websited properly. If not, the water was very fast. Thankfully two things didn’t happen – nobody fell in and I did not give in to any urges to push anyone in.
So, despite the slow moving, I met Joel, Dave & Al at the trail split about 1km away from our first summit. While we were waiting for Zack & Chris, we made a team decision for Al and Dave to go ahead of the group to be sure they got their three mountains completed. Unfortunately, we had to make the call to come back another time for Zack to get Armstrong. For the time being, we were aiming for Lower Wolfjaw for sure, and maybe still Upper Wolfjaw. Once our other two arrived at the trail split, however, Chris’ body finally gave out on him. He was cold, wet, without enough water and just literally beat the fuck up. He came to terms with his limitations pretty quickly and volunteered to stay at the trail split while we completed our summits. It definitely didn’t help him, or any of us, that it was near-summer conditions down below at the car and already winter up top. Check out these comparison shots:
I Get It From My Wife And My Mama.
Up until this point, forgetting my gloves was my only regret. And truthfully, we didn’t plan on staying on summits long. So my hands being a little cold wouldn’t have been a huge deal. Anyway, Dave had some spare gloves that he gave me.
So we were off towards the summit. With Dave & Al about a half hour ahead of us and Chris waiting (and slowly freezing) at the trail split. It was getting to be colder, wetter and slippier by the minute. Is slippier a word? I don’t think so. It’s underlined in red right now in my editor. Slippier. Just give it to me. It’s been a long week.
If there’s something I’ve kept in my brain throughout this entire trek through the mountains, it’s that I never want to be or be part of a headline. I don’t want to have Search and Rescue teams have to come find my team and I. I don’t want to have a teammate get seriously injured on the mountain. Joel and I try to prepare for every situation. But leaving Chris at that trail split was weighing heavy on my brain for our entire hike to the summit. It was blue skies, but the snow in the trees was being melted by the sun, giving the illusion that it was raining. Chris already had a soaker, wet jogging pants and jacket and it wasn’t exactly warm. I worried about him the entire 45 minute trip to the summit. Hypothermia is a very real danger and I had convinced myself that we could have a very bad situation on our hands if he stayed idle for too long. I regretted instantly leaving him there. It was a really big mistake. Now that our season of adventure is coming to an end, I plan on doing up a blog post about our greatest successes and biggest mistakes of the year. This mistake is up there. Whether he was a hiker or not, I would’ve felt responsible if anything bad had happened. I mean, I am still smiling on the summit. I was worried, but I still took time to enjoy myself.
Poles & Spikes, Just Like Your Favorite Stripper
A few days before the hike, my penchant for over-planning and over-analyzing struck. I’d read that the High Peaks were expecting snow at the summits. In our group chat, I mentioned to everyone that maybe now was the time to go out and get some new gear. Namely, hiking poles for those who didn’t have them. And micro-spikes to attach to our boots to combat the ice. Going in to Saturday, it felt like overkill. But after hitting the summit of Lower Wolfjaw, I knew it was the right call. The ice was slick, the rock scrambles were steep and without spikes and poles, I don’t think we would’ve gotten all the way up. (All the way up!) Not all of us anyhow. Joel actually lost both of his boot spikes somewhere on the way down – no idea where they fell off. I told him he should bring his receipt back to Marks Work Warehouse and try to return a lost product. Mostly because I’d like to be there when he explains that he is returning a product he no longer has. Regardless, poles and spikes helped us a whole bunch. The way down was slooooow moving. The sun was melting all of the snow and it was making us wet all over, heavy and not doing us any favors in terms of slipping down the steep sections. The gloves Dave had given me were now soaked right through.
To keep score: 1 – we were no longer hiking as a group; 2 – one of our group didn’t summit and we were worried about his health; 3 – Joel had lost both micro-spikes; 4 – my gloves, and therefore my hands, were frozen. We aren’t done yet. More to add to the scoreboard later.
Sensing that the mountain had had enough of us that day, I finally said out loud what we were all thinking: “It’s a one mountain day, isn’t it?” I know Joel was already thinking it. Zack, despite wanting to press on, knew it was the right call, too. So instead of heading to Upper Wolfjaw, we made our way back to the split to meet up with Chris. Thankfully he had changed his socks and was bouncing around trying to stay warm. Immediately we made the call to send Zack and Chris down the mountain to get out of the cold. We’d all decided earlier that this trail split would be the group meeting place in the event someone didn’t finish or something happened. Sending Zack and Chris down was the smart move for Chris’ health. But at the same time, it was also my way of pushing Zack a little out of his comfort zone. He’s become a much better hiker in the trips we’ve all taken and I felt that leading the way down the trail instead of having one of us more experienced guys leading the way was a good test for him. We simply told him that the moment he couldn’t spot the trail, stop and wait for us. But, in true Zack fashion, he ended up leading himself and Chris all the way down the mountain safely.
So Much Waiting...
With Zack and Chris safely on their way down, it was now up to Joel and I to wait for Dave and Al to finish those other two mountains. We literally had no idea how long they would be. The stupid math that was done in a span of twenty minutes is astonishing. “If they’re 20 minutes ahead of us and we took forty-five minutes to get back here….” or “but the snow is gonna add time. How much, an hour? Two?” or “Definitely they’ll be here within two hours. Definitely.”
We waited for about forty minutes. I boiled water to make coffee. Then I spilled that. Add that to the scoreboard of things going wrong. Then I boiled more water to make coffee. Not heating us up enough, Joel and I decided to abandon our friends. Fuck you, Dave & Al, we wanna live!!! For real tho, it was getting cold just standing still getting fake rained on. The coffee was nice but didn’t help much. The decision was made that Joel and I would head down to the car with Zack and Chris. As soon as we could leave a note for Dave & Al. So, about that Sharpie and paper that I’d forgotten. Put it on the scoreboard. Surely, we had something. Paper was easy to find in our medical kit. But anything – ANYTHING – to write with was just not in the cards. There’s a pen in my survival kit. Which I chose to leave at home because, with a group of six folks, I felt safe without it. Joel’s best idea – maybe ever – was to boil some of the M&Ms from his trail mix and write the note in chocolate. Mhmm. This is how cold and desperate we were. I tried leaving a note with a twig and some mud. I wish I’d taken a photo of that. For your sake actually, dear reader. So you could see what it looks like when a cold, shaking hand tries to write with a frozen twig, using mud.
As a last resort, this is what we came up with. We’d take my spare phone, which contains only our trail maps, and leave a note set as both the wallpaper and lock screens, put it in a ziplock bag, hang it from the trail sign and just hope Dave & Al checked it. Hoping they’d see the note instead of waiting for us when we were already on our way back to the car.
Once at the car, it was just more waiting and more worrying. It got dark, then it got, like, night time dark. For real dark. And almost four hours had passed. We’d driven up and down the road hoping to see their headlamp emerging from the woods. I’d made a 15 minute drive to a gas station to use a PAYPHONE to make A COLLECT CALL to Lauren. We were already three or so hours past our usual check-in-from-McDonald’s and I had to let her know I was alive. She likes me, I like to keep it that way. Finally, Finally, Finally, Al & Dave came trudging down the road just as I was pulling back in to the parking lot. I gave Al a huge hug. I was so relieved. They tried to play like they didn’t see our phone note. I knew they were lying. I didn’t actually care if that phone had gotten lost, but Al pulled it from his pocket. Nothing had gone wrong for them. It was just slow moving because of the snow, ice and then the dark. Relieved, we all agreed to meet at McDonald’s for our usual post-hike splurge.
Of course, the day couldn’t finish without one more hitch. My GPS sent my car to the wrong McDonald’s. I dunno how long Dave, Al and Joel waiting for us to not show up. I just their “Where are you” texts once we were back in Canada and my phone worked again. What a day. The scoreboard of things gone wrong was full for the day.
But I finished what will likely be our last High Peak of the season. Lower Wolfjaw, #23 of 46. I’ve got a few things planned for my own Halftime show. Keep your eyes on the Facebook page for the first ever Joe Wilderness giveaway. I’ve got about $200 in gear I’m going to be giving away….and very soon! Also, there may or may not be some YouTube videos coming, aimed at helping out beginner hikers get started. I feel the time is right to share the small amount of knowledge I’ve built up over the past 16 months. And, Joel and I just went out and got us some rock climbing shoes – indoor climbing gyms this winter to get us ready for some outdoor fun next summer. Or to injure ourselves beyond repair. Let’s see what happens.
I’m hoping to keep adventure stories coming throughout the winter. With us learning rock climbing and Lauren & I going to Indonesia in January, there should be lots of adventuring in my future. Thanks for reading, as always. This is where I should have a sign off line, like a news man: “I’m Joe Wilderness. Don’t follow me, I’m lost.”