What Doesn’t Kill You …? seven to one, his vote seems to count the most as the rest of us are disinclined to walk home.
September 7 & 8, 2018
ou can save your breath because I know exactly what you’re going to say, “that I had gone there twice before so I should have known what I was getting into and you, personally, don’t want to hear any more about it.” I understand that. But, you see, every trip is different in some way and, since we never climb the same mountain, there is always hope that this time it will all be a whole lot easier. Besides, after a year has gone by my memories have faded and I start to think that it really couldn’t have been as bad as all that and maybe I really did enjoy it. Also, I have invested a small fortune in proper hiking gear and need to get my money’s worth out of it — there isn’t much need for a Platypus water reservoir in my day to day life. AND I’m getting the hang of what to take so that my backpack doesn’t weigh enough to stagger a pack mule. And, last but not least, not only were my 14 – and 15-year-old granddaughters going this year, but my ten-year-old granddaughter as well and her 9-year-old friend and his parents. Come on, —how hard a trail would a loving father —our stalwart Trip Coordinator — pick for such a novice group?! See, I’m always hopeful. That’s why I went again this year. I’m a slow learner. First, there is always the fear that I will end up as a traffic statistic on the trip down. Call me chicken, but it unnerves me to see someone drive with their knee while they manually deal with some apparently more important matter than steering a fast-moving automobile jammed with eight fragile bodies. It’s a tough decision — do I try to sleep so I don’t have to see death approaching, or do I stay awake in hopes that I can somehow avert the crash? So far, staying awake and screaming at appropriate times seems to have worked. As an added benefit, it is quite effective in keeping the rest of the passengers on their toes. It’s a very long four-hour drive. Having someone else take the wheel doesn’t seem to be an option that the Trip Coordinator is willing to consider. On the other hand, it’s his vehicle and, although the vote may be
What I haven’t factored in before this or (what is much more likely) was afraid to acknowledge, is that my son may be genetically geared through his Grandfather Ackerman to always choose the hardest way to do anything. Whereas my father always picked the most difficult method because he believed that if it were easy it would lead to some sort of trap, my son takes the demanding route because he likes the challenge. Different motivation, same frustration for those nearest and/or dearest. The plan, he said, was for us to scale Mt. Wright on the day we arrived. At a measly elevation of 1398 meters, it can only claim to be the 16th highest mountain in the High Peaks of the Adirondack Park. Since we had climbed Mt. Marcy — Numero Uno of the High Peaks — two years ago, this will be a cakewalk for us seasoned climbers. We will then camp for the night. The following day, after a refreshing night’s rest and a delicious, hot breakfast, we will climb Algonquin Peak, the second highest mountain in New York State at 1559 meters. And, oh, by the way, we will climb it with full packs, underscoring the need for a good sleep before starting such a trek. And, if we haven’t died or given up by then, we will also climb Iroquois Peak (eighth highest peak) after that. A second night of camping and then we will head for the parking lot and home. It was a warm, sunny day; we had survived the ride down; we had eaten a good last meal in Lake Placid; we had indulged in huge ice cream cones at Ben and Jerry’s; everyone was enjoying themselves; it all sounded okay to us. Our two youngest trekkers, with twelvepound packs bouncing jauntily off their bony shoulders and skinny bare legs propelling them up the slope at a rapid pace, took off like gazelles. The two men hoisted their 55-pound packs containing tents, sleeping bags, bear cans, food, water, etc. and strode off without a glance behind. The rest of us followed in their wake with packs of various weights determined to keep up the pretence that we were totally keen on every aspect of this venture. We were certainly not going to have our trekking skills eclipsed by those of a knock-kneed, blond wisp of a
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10-year-old, or of a tousle-headed 9-year-old no matter how charming. Everything went according to plan. We reached Mt. Wright at 4:30 in the afternoon and the campsites were still available. There were plenty of clean, flat spaces for us to pitch the tents; lots of time to prepare and eat a leisurely meal; hours of sunlight to just sit and enjoy the great outdoors and each other’s pleasant company; and an excellent opportunity to rest and prepare for tomorrow’s conquest of Algonquin Peak. Or, we could keep on hiking and try to scale that mountain TODAY. There would be no campsites until we reached the other side of Algonquin, so once we started the climb, we would have no choice but to continue until we were down and had located a lean-to or tenting site. It was hard to know exactly how many kilometres we would have to go before being able to settle for the night. We might have to travel in the dark. Other trekkers shook their heads and strongly advised against us continuing up Algonquin Peak, saying it was too long and too difficult a trek to attempt at this hour of the day. Ah, thank you, that tipped the scales and made the decision easy. And that’s how we came to be stumbling down the back side of the second highest peak in the Adirondacks at night; headlamps bobbing in the darkness; slip-sliding down sheer, slippery, slopes; tumbling over boulders; losing our way in streambeds and having to retrace our steps; hungry bellies rebelling at the thought of yet another protein bar; and a distinct, mutinous aura rising from the group toward a certain trek leader. It was 10:30 before we finally dragged our way to a lean-to — dejectedly finding it already inhabited. But we could go no further. We pitched one tent on the sloping, uneven, rocky ground, threw the other tent up inside the lean-to beside our neighbours’ tent and tossed in sleeping bags. Some prepared a hot meal of freeze-dried whatever over a Bunsen burner; some actually ate whatever it was; some simply scurried into pyjamas and crawled into sleeping bags hoping they would wake up in their own beds in the morning laughing at the nightmare they had just had.
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They didn’t. The next morning dawned clear and cold. We apologized repeatedly to our neighbours for our late night, noisy intrusion as they quickly pulled up stakes and hit the trail, forgetting some of their gear in their haste. A hot oatmeal breakfast may have helped our attitudes a bit but did nothing to salve our strained muscles and insubordinate legs. It was still six miles to the parking lot — through the mountains and Avalanche Pass. No, we did not feel like adding Iroquois Peak to today’s agenda. Yes, we wanted to go home. The Trip Coordinator wisely kept his mouth shut. So, what’s it like to climb two mountains in one day (well, one day and one night) with full packs? It was a solid eight hours of climbing — two and a half of it in the dark. You can compare it to four hours on a Stairmaster (without resting) immediately followed by four hours on a sharply downward-sloped treadmill. The knees are the first body parts to surrender to the strain with the quadriceps of the upper thigh throwing in the towel right alongside them. You have to find a way to keep moving that does not involve bending your legs. Not easy to do but there aren’t a lot of options available in that situation which makes you pretty inventive. Especially when the Rangers have made a point of warning all hikers of increased bear activity in the area and the huge piles of berry-filled bear poop found along the trail provide evidence of that. So, we made it home safely. Most of us can now speak civilly to the Trip Coordinator. Oh, and by the way, now that my knees are working again, and I’ve had time for the memories to dim, that gruelling two-mountain climb? Well, it was risky and certainly not fun to have to keep moving when our bodies were so weary and aching, not knowing how much farther before we could stop, not sure under the cover of darkness how safe our next step would be. But, to have completed the challenge with only a few minor scrapes as a three-generation family with an extremely good companion family beside us all the way was awesome!
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