Failure and Success in the Mountains

“Fear comes from uncertainty. When we are absolutely certain, whether of our worth or worthlessness, we are almost impervious to fear.” —William Congreve

My birthday is on October 10th and this year it fell on a Thursday. The forecast was calling for completely clear skies and relative warm temperatures for a fall that has thus far felt like winter. I took the day off to enjoy my 34th birthday in the mountains. Complete solitude wasn’t on this day’s agenda so I asked a friend if I could take his dog Cookie on a hike. He had given me the green light previously but this time I was dead set on bringing her along.

I had arrived at the parking lot for Mason Lake around 7 AM. The ground had a crisp sounding crunch as I stepped out to survey the scene and stretch my legs. The entire parking lot was empty. A month before and it was fully packed. The road leading up to the trailhead was lined with cars for miles. Snow now lined the banks and the silence was deafening. I grabbed my pack and gave Cookie a glance and received one back that said “I’m ready, let’s do this”. It was 30 degrees.

This was Cookie and I’s first hike together so I had anticipated a casual start to get our flow in sync. Cookie had a different idea. She didn’t know where we were going and it didn’t matter because she wanted to get there as quickly as possible. I strapped her to my pack belt strap so my arm didn’t feel like I pitched for the Yankees all day. It didn’t take long to realize her and I were very similar. Neither of us really cared about breaks, food or much water, we just wanted to keep going regardless of the destination.

After going up for about two and a half miles at a steady clip we reached a significant amount of snow. Cookie wasn’t phased at all but I had slipped a few times and internally berated myself for failing to bring my Microspikes and not be fully prepared. But it wasn’t just the snow that I was contending with. The winds really started to pick up and with it so did my paranoia. I was spooked.

There was something that just didn’t feel right and that feeling had been growing for the last mile. I kept pushing for a while but a voice inside me said to stop and turn back. I stopped to linger in the freezing cold and think for a moment. I’ve had to learn to listen to this voice where in the past I’d quietly ignore it usually to my own detriment. Intuition shouldn’t be ignored and ultimately I sided with caution but I do not like to fail and I was hard on myself on the way down for not completing the goal I had set for myself.

But I knew I couldn’t just throw in the towel. The day was to nice and it called for a peak hike. Mount Si was close and I had only been there once before that provided no view. The way up is a continuous series of easily followed switch backs. This time of year is a mixture of seasons and the warm weather had snow flying off the trees and hitting me several times but it wasn’t anything major. But once I reached the top of Mount Si I had a panic attack. It wasn’t my first and I’ve adjusted to them in a way that allows me to ride out the storm but this was the first time it had happened on a mountain top. In that moment I was so grateful to have Cookie with me. Her enthusiasm and drive helped get me up the mountain but her companionship offered a light in a dark place. All morning something was off and I didn’t realize what it was until I was back in my car.

After sitting up top for a few minutes doing my best to be cool I heard a ruffling of leaves and out through the bush came a young lady who greeted me and was friendly right out the gate. It helped take my mind off my own turmoil to engage with another person and remark of our luck to have such a beautiful day. She was kind enough to take the photo of Cookie and I on the rock overlooking the valley. She mentioned buying a one way ticket to Asia and I hope that adventure turns out amazing! Best of luck to her!

On the way back down I felt much better and encountered quite a few friendly faces. A couple of them stopped and we chatted for a few minutes and ended up taking selfies. It’s a great way to bring people together and that’s what this blog is all about. To inspire personal growth, to meet people, to expand friendships and create new ones. It’s incredible the people you can meet and become friends with out in the woods. The shared passion for the outdoors is already there so it’s exciting to expand from there and plan adventures in the future.

The entire day something was nagging at me. After 13 miles and the majority of the day spent out in the woods I was happy to sit in the comforts of my seat and feel the warmth of the heater defrost my fingers. But I wasn’t ready or prepared for the emotional toll this hike had taken. I didn’t register it during the hike but this was a trail I had only ever done with Eric before. We had done 22 or 23 miles that included Little Si, Mount Si and Mount Teneriffe that took us over 13 hours to complete. It had rained the entire time.

I gashed my leg open and had to use my first aid kit. Eric vomited standing up. I urinated on myself after looking up and seeing what appeared to be a wolf charging directly at me. It turned out to be a wolf look a like dog that was unleashed. I blew out my knee. Eric had to repeat a mantra for three hours to himself to maintain his drive to keep going. He commented on my insane ability to keep going and never stop. I complimented him for the same.

This was the hardest thing we had ever done and it brought us closer than ever before. For those that are unaware, Eric was my hiking partner and Mt. Rainier training partner. He was severely injured in a rock climbing accident. He’s still recovering. Eric’s spirit is with me on every hike. But this hike without him caught me off guard. A flood of emotions hit me. I couldn’t speak. I could barely breathe. It was very emotional and had reminded me that being mentally prepared is as important as the 10 essentials and being physically capable. It may be the most important aspect of all.

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