Sunday, March 19, 2006

Into the mountains to find myself

    Over the past few days I've had something very serious to deal with and I've had a hard time so I decided it was time for me to head to the mountains to clear my head.  When I hike it allows me time by myself to contemplate my position in life and to think about the events that happen in my life.  I feel like when I'm in the mountains I can reason better and see things more clearly.  Although my body is overworked and pushed to it's physical limits I'm always left with a mind at ease. 
    I decided to try to climb Mt. Abraham just above Sugarbush ski resort and then climb the Lincoln ridge over to Mt. Ellen.  I wasn't sure what the conditions would be on my hike so I decided to pack all the necessary essentials for a hard core winter trip.  I packed extra shells, extra fleece, crampons, snowshoes, my ski boots, and my Salomon Pocket Rocket Skis strapped to the outside of my bag.  All packed my trusty Mountainsmith Bugaboo bag weighed about 40lbs give or take 5.  I ate pizza for some carbs and went to bed around 1:30am. 
    I woke up at 8am this morning and was out of the house by 8:45.  Driving through Rutland and onto Route 100 towards Sugarbush I ran into flurries which soon turned into snow.  I got to Sugarbush at 11am, parked and began my hike up the ski slopes.  On the way up I had a mixture of "Hey, you know there are chairlifts buddy" and "Awesome, way to earn your turns bro".   After climbing for just 30 minutes with the pack I felt like I would never make it.  My legs were burning, I was out of breath and the pack was so heavy it was cutting off a nerve on my left shoulder making my arm and part of my left leg go numb.  I took off my hat and gloves and continued on through the blowing snow up the slope.  My legs gradually adjusted and my shoulder strap finally found a comfortable position on my left shoulder.  I stopped briefly for about 10 minutes at Allyn's Lodge Waffle House 3/4 of the way up the mountain to catch my breath.  Since I was climbing the whole time in long underwear and shorts when I returned outside for my bag I promptly started to freeze.
    Gradually I regained my warm and found myself climbing a switchback ski trail called Allyn'sCimg2837 Traverse to the top of Lincoln Peak.  I stashed my ski boots and skis in the brush to lighten my pack for my traverse over the ridge to Mt. Abrahams exposed summit.  Just before I left Lincoln Peak
the sun broke through and provided theCimg2842 only clear shot of the Lincoln Ridge towards Mt. Ellen that I would see the entire day.  It was an easy traverse with my snowshoes with minimal elevation gain or
loss over Little Abe to Mt. Abraham.  I stopped briefly for a few quick photos of myself on the summit for documentation then booked it back to Lincoln Peak.   Just before I got to Lincoln again I ate a turkey sandwich I had picked up on my drive in the morning and pounded a bottle of powerade.  It was the first food I'd had since a small bowl of cherios at 8am.  It was now 2pm.
    I followed the trail down Lincoln Peak into the woods which became a disaster... because my skis were strapped to the side of my bag they stood about 2.5 feet higher than my head... This was a big problem because in winter the tree branches that are usually 4 feet above your head on a trail are now head level due to the 5 ft of snowpack under your feet.  This meant that negotiating the trail was impossible with my skis on my bag because they kept getting caught on branches and knocking large quantities of snow down my neck and back.  So I decided to take them off and carry them by hand.  The trail was very icy at first and I fell and crawled about 30 yards before I was able to maintain footing on my snowshoes again.  Then the trail popped onto the ski slope unexpectadly.  This confused me as I thought I had lost my way somehow but after 10 minutes of nearly considering just heading down I found the Long Trail heading into the woods again.  The trail from here over to Castlerock Peak was packed down by skiers so it was easier but I was also carring heavy downhill skis in one hand so it was extremely streneous.  I could see where skiers had veered off the trail to hit cliff zones and duck into the trees... I'm definitely going to sugarbush someday skiing to hit that area myself! 
    Finally I got to Castlerock Peak where I hid my skis once again.  I decided to not bother taking my ski boots out of my bag... kind of as an extra challenge for myself while heading to Mt. Ellen.  Mt. Ellen was a challenge.  As soon as the Long trail entered the woods from the ski trail I could see Cimg2838
that no one had been there before me for a very long time (see pic on left - that is the trail).  As a mountaineer it is not wise to go off into the woods in winter breaking trail by yourself.  The only reason I knew it was safe was because I was on a very accessible ridge line between two popular ski resorts where rescue wasCimg2847
very possible and fast, also my cellphone had reception up there.  So I decided to push on breaking trail the entire way through 7"-14" snow and drifts on the ridge.  After passing over Cutts Peak I was teased by about 6 false summits, a semi-broken snowshoe (thankfully I was able to tie up or I would have been screwed) and my ipod running out of batteries before finally reaching Mt. Ellen.  I could see the ski trails of the other half of Sugarbush but was too exhausted to check them out.  It was 4:15 and I was running out of daylight so I quickly took some picks then turned around.
    I made it back to Castlerock peak at about 4:50pm and had the worst, most painful time getting my now frozen solid ski boots onto my feet.   Thankfully I was able to find a bench near a closed and locked warming hut to get some leverage.  The plastic on them was so frozen stiff that I thought I would break my ankles before getting my feet into them.  Finally after a lot of grunting and yelling ICimg2850 had them on.  I packed my plastic mountaineering boots into my bag, strapped my snowshoes onto the bag and forced my frozen hands into my now ice solid gloves.  They must have closed down Castlerock peak for atleast a week or so because the trails off it had about a foot and half of fresh
powder... Literally the best powder run I'd had all season - and I had definitely earned every turn.  I wish that my legs weren't so dead tired because the snow was fluffy and amazing.  I had nearly two feet of fresh, untracked powder for most of the way down the entire mountain. 
    When I got to the base it was 5:20pm, nearly an hour after everyone had left the mountain.  I briskly walked towards my truck dreaming of the warm ride home only to find my doors locked and the battery dead because I had left the headlights on all day... bummer.  After changing into my sneakers I easily flagged down an SUV (with a really cute young girl in - unfortunate because I was smelly and unshaven). 
    They gave me a quick jump in under 5 minutes and I was off.  My knees throbbed for an entire hour in the truck.  Not a good sign especially since I had ski'd downhill instead of walked down... Maybe the end of my hiking days is approaching quicker than I thought.  Maybe I'm meant to go to R.I. and learn to surf and do water sports more kind on my knees... something to ponder.  I stopped for gas and picked up a bag of sweedish fish to please my gut for the ride home. 
    For a little bit I had though I bit off more than I could chew on the hike, but as always I was able to focus my mind and commit my body to more pain and physical exersion than I could think it would take.  My endurance once again proved itself and I was able to accomplish a trek with a 40lb pack that most others would think impossible.  7 mountains, each over 3900 feet, in 6 hours, while breaking trail on snowshoes through a foot of snow by myself for 9 miles over two ski areas.  If I can push my body to accomplish something as grand as this I know I can also push my mind to accomplish any challenge thrown at me.  This day left me refreshed and feeling better about everything that is happening my life right now.  The mountains are my therapy, my religion, and my love.  Even when I can't climb them anymore I will always respect them and appreciate them for the important role they have played in my life. 


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