On a typical Saturday, my alarm goes off at 4am because I want it to… A hikers rise and shine. Today, I was taking on Garfield (4500ft with spectacular 360 degree views). I was not taking this one on alone though as my usual Saturday hikes go. I was to have company and company beyond my usual Hiking partners. This company was the unknown and the unpredictable as a date I had once again accepted. I was nervous and that set the day into motion. I was also staying up there and would not see home again until Sunday. Packing up the car with my gear and an extra bag to stay overnight at my aunt’s house, I had a feeling… A feeling that something was amiss in the equation. Something was just slightly off for me and I tried to pinpoint what that feeling was. This was going to be a far different hike. I could feel it.
As I drove off, I was happy. I was doing something that I loved to do more than anything else in the world right now. When I’m hiking, I feel like I’m on top of my game. I feel that I know exactly what I am doing and how to handle a lot of different situations. I’d like to say I have control however, I don’t. Simply, you cannot control the weather. You can only be prepared for whatever the mountain throws at you. On my back, I am carrying: A parka, a change of clothes, 3 pairs of extra socks, a thicker fleece jacket, an extra set of hat and gloves, towel, first aid kit, emergency blanket, extra batteries, flash light, headlamp, extra cell phone, matches, camera, tripod, spikes for my shoes on the ice, extra batteries, a knife, 6 liters of water (2 bottles and 1 bladder), 2 sandwiches (PB&J), 2 packets of tuna, 9 granola bars, and 2 apples. On my person: techwick hiking shirt (to keep the moisture away), pepper skins long underwear, waterproof pants, Fleece pull over, hat and gloves, gaiters, sturdy and waterproof boots, and the spikes for my shoes. I know that I am well prepared for me and for me alone. I get thrown off when the unknown is in the equation. I feel responsible for my party… I am responsible for my party. Especially if I am more experienced.
I arrive at the trailhead around 7:30am. No big deal, I can get my boots and gaiters on and wait for my new hiking partner to show. He had called while I was on the road and we pushed up the start to 8am (the first change). I walk around a bit to warm up and take a look at things. I get another call that he’s “a little lost”. So, after some rather unnecessary debate, I reluctantly drive back out to route 3 to meet him and lead him back. This exchange gave me a bad feeling and it was this first bad feeling that I ignored. For what sake, I haven’t a clue. I pop out of the car and grab my pack and trekking pole. Come around to meet my hiking partner for the day and suddenly realize that I am way more prepared than he… Jeans, sneakers, and some food stuffed in a pack with a small bottle of water. He did have a hat, gloves, and a warm top layer on. But I worried for him and briefly wondered if it would be rude of me to turn him away for not being prepared. I bit it back and we walked. Found ourselves at the Gale River trailhead. The one that leads to Galehead (I was going to do that one Sunday). After another debate, we decide to do two summits. Galehead (4024ft) and Garfield (4500ft). I am hoping that we have enough daylight and planning for my headlamp on the hike out. I’m forgetting to post a change of route for my family and this would be the first mistake for me.
Gale river trail starts out with an easy grade. A few water crossing that I watch his sneakers on. The rocks come into play and we begin the ascent. Then the ice becomes thicker and more prominent on the trail. I stop to add my spikes aware that he has none of his own. I think we should turn back but he wants to keep going. He’s in good shape and can probably handle it, is what he tells me. I tell myself to give him a shot regardless of the bad feelings. We’ll evaluate at the summit. So, we climb. I’m able to just dig in and glide up the ice. He has a tougher time finding footing. Warmth is OK because the sun is still rising. We reach the Galehead hut with no issues and we seem to be enjoying each other’s company. We sit on the porch for a snack and I’ve been using the water in the bladder pack all the way up the trail since it has a mouth piece to access it. We suite up again for the half mile to the summit. At the summit, it’s pretty much a treed in no view summit with a snowy cairn marker. However, there is a nice overlook that we take another break at and snap some pictures. If we are going to make Garfield, I know we need to get moving. My companion is too busy drinking his energy drink and boasting about how strong and agile he is. I of course am already over it.
Back down to the Gale river trail, we head for the Garfield ridge trail. At first, it seems to be easy enough however we need to do some climbing in elevation. Then I look ahead and see that it’s all ice and thick ice at that. Again, I think we need to turn back. But we keep going because he wants to. I am starting to think of my headlamp again. We keep going and run into a few hikers along the way. They were mostly people coming from the summit. A few that were heading to the camp site. We begin climbing… We need to get up what we called “the waterfall”… A section of rock that has running water and ice. Rather than mess with it, we bushwhack up the side. I’m carrying 30 lbs. on my back and trying to hoist myself up. I know I am digging into my first reserve of energy unaware at this point of what I will need to get back to the car. We make it and we keep going. Slowly making our way to the summit… The sunset was breathtaking and I forgot all my worries and responsibilities. “This is why I do this”. I almost had tears in my eyes it was so beautiful and I had wanted to do a sunset summit. I picked a good one on accident. I was just wishing I had some better company. The wind was picking up and the snow was whipping around. I had become a little disoriented and took a trail off the summit that I thought was the one we came up. We were back on the Garfield Ridge trail and looking for the Mt. Garfield trail. We would never find it.
We kept walking and talking and probably missed the turn in the dark. We suddenly found ourselves in unfamiliar trail and we just kept going. There is a point of no return where it’s too late to turn back and you just need to see it through. I just needed to see a trail sign to get an idea of what I was dealing with and I needed my companion to stop talking so that I could hear what was around me. I was not prepared of course for what I did see… The sign I was presented with was, Alpine Zone. Alpine Zones are above 4000ft. We were ascending another peak. The question was which one? The wind was howling and it was black except for my headlamp. We came to the rock face summit and tried to find the trail. What I found was ice…. I felt my legs give out and I slipped about 20ft. I remember thinking that this can’t happen and I rolled on my side and dug in my spikes to stop myself. I tried again and slipped back. I thought, this really can’t be happening. I rolled and dug in as my companion just stood there and did nothing... I tried a third time and slipped back. I screamed out “NO!” to the mountain as it was not going to win this. Rolled and dug in to stop myself a final time. Then I got on my stomach and crawled. 30lbs of gear and I’m on the side of a very angry north face peak. I reach out my hand and focus on it with vicious intent. I watch my hand grab at some snow and I hoist myself and all my gear to the clear spot I had been trying to get to. I stand and find the trail (after a short and again, unnecessary debate about where it actually was). We go over the right side of the summit (not the actual summit) and down… A TRAIL SIGN!
Come to find out, we were on our way to Mt. Lafayette… In Franconia Notch. Not where I wanted to be. However, my companion somehow got it in his mind that we needed to go to Lafayette and head to route 93… Not the argument that I wanted to have. I took matters into my own hands and forced him to follow me. After further reading revealed that Route 3 was 4 miles down, I was relieved. 4 miles to be off the mountain. 4 miles to be safe. And we were truly and finally descending as we were going down consistently. We began walking and talking for what seemed like forever. My companion was spilling out the facts of his life and I was just politely listening. I was more concentrating on the conditions I could see from my headlamp. Then I saw that the snow began to be less and less on the ground. And soon, it was just leaves and I needed to take my spikes and gloves off. I had no idea of injury as I was now into my last reserves of energy. I was focused on getting out to the road. I was worried about my hiking partner whose feet I was pretty sure were ice blocks, his mind was possibly in a little shock judging by how he was talking, and for the fact that he was completely out of food and water. I was worried about my mother who was waiting at my aunts. I had hoped that she would just think we went out to dinner and I was also hoping that she called the police or the rangers as I had always told her. See, there is a reason I post my route on Facebook (and should amend it when it changes). If I am overdue in my return post, people know to call the proper authorities. And that is what my mother had done.
We had made it out to Route 3 at the Skookumchuck trailhead. About 5 miles from our cars. And we’re still walking. He wants to hitchhike and I’m not too keen on that idea. He also still wants to head to Route 93 and I am about ready to let him go there at this point. We see headlights coming up behind us and it’s the police who promptly pull over. We walk up and the office asks if we are the lost hikers. No, not really lost we say. Just overdue. He tells us that they are looking for two groups and asks my name. I’m confirmed and we are allowed into the SUV. Gear and all we are driven back to our cars with the heat on. I’m sure that I’ve done something incredible today and for that I am proud of the experience. We stand outside talking with the officer and as I am taking my gear from his SUV, he asks if I was prepared for this. I say that I had plenty of safety equipment and spikes for me but I don’t want to do this again. We shook hands and he was off to help with the other group that was still missing. Oddly enough, the officer never really spoke to my companion. I loaded my gear in the car and thanked my hiking partner for sticking it out. We part as it was really getting late and I had an hour to travel to my aunt’s house to a mother whom I am sure wanted to both hug me and kill me.
While driving that night, after that ordeal, I realized that 23 peaks give me a certain level of expertise and responsibility. While my hiking partner was honored and humbled for the experience of hiking with me, I felt foolish and responsible. We should have turned back at so many different points. He didn’t know his own limits and I should have listened to my instinct. As he continued to go on and on about how great the adventure was (as we were heading down the Skookumchuck), I became worried that he did not see the danger for the adrenaline that was generated. We could have been in deeper trouble. It was a reckless and irresponsible hike. Yet I knew that this hike would come. And I know that it will come again. The mountains always have the final word. It’s up to you to keep your head and let the mountain work with you. Know what your limits are and look out for the less experienced. As I sit here, I have bruises on 75% of both my legs, my shoulders are stiff and sore, my left shoulder is a little worse because I hit it pretty hard those thee falls. I have abrasions on my back form my pack rubbing the skin away but, I am proud of myself for getting through it and it’s something I don’t want to do again for a while. I’m an experienced hiker (even the police agree) but it doesn’t mean that every hike has to be this way.
At my aunt’s house, I realize that my back is torn up from my falling and the pack that I was wearing. I’m also stiff and sore and in need of some real food over the granola and the PB&J’s. I have some really delicious turkey soup and fall into a fitful sleep for the night. On my way home the next morning, I receive a call from my companion who was still worked up from the trip. He was excited to report that he was buys crampons and wanted us to take on Lafayette (I have already finished that one). I am rather quiet and more than a little meek on the phone. I explain that I am just very tired still and have some ways to travel (I lied; I was in Antrim which was a half hour away from my home). Truth is I was just done with his macho attitude. The be all and end all came in the form of an email stating that he saved my life. I was beside myself, considering I had the safety equipment and all the food and water in the end. I certainly would not have had to of shared it with him if it came to that. You can’t take care of anyone else if you are not taken care of. I knew that this was not the hiking companion for me and from then on, I let him go. Still, in my heart, I was proud that I got myself through the experience.
My unofficial 3rd peak… North peak of Lafayette… 5040ft…. Not on the list of the NH48.