About a year ago, while on a trip to Asheville, NC, my wife and I had intended to do the Mt. Mitchell Summit hike. Mt. Mitchell is the highest peak in the US East of the Mississippi River at an elevation of 6,684 ft. While Mt. Mitchell is not the highest elevation that I’ve climbed, (It was The Lake Blanche Trail in Utah at just under 9,000 ft.) It was most definitely the most challenging summit hike that I’ve ever done. When my wife and I planned to do this hike, the mountain had other plans that day. With fierce winds, socked in views, and a drop in temperature that was more like a winter day than the summer day that it was, made this 12-mile round trip hike just too dangerous. Bummed about canceling our hike, we drove to the summit via the Blue Ridge Parkway and confirmed that it was the right decision.
A year later… Beep, beep, beep, it’s 5am already? It’s summit day and there was a 12-hour window to get the hike in before the chance of afternoon storms, ahead of the remnants of Hurricane Sally swept in. The forecast called for cool fall-like temperatures with an increasing chance that the sun will come out ahead of the storm. But one never knows, as the mountain will dictate the weather, not the meteorologists. I had stayed the night before about an hour away from the trailhead that’s located in the Black Mountain Campground. My original plan was to stay at the campground but I had not been feeling well, with slight fever, chills, and feeling tired for a few days prior. I decided it was best to try and rest in the comforts of an air conditioned space where I could hydrate, calorie up, and go to bed at 8 pm, in hopes that I would be feeling better to climb through the window of opportunity that would be open the next day.
As I awoke, I wasn’t 100% on par, but good enough to safely hike I decided, as I peeled back the curtains in the room to the damp, dark, and cold that was lurking outside. Weather conditions that weren’t an emotional booster at all. I don’t know why, recently, before I go on big hikes I get a nervous feeling in my gut, which then starts to play its doubting mind tricks. During my marathoning days, I never got nervous before a race. Maybe because running is different. If I got hurt or if I bonked, help was always nearby, and getting lost during a race was pretty downright impossible. On the trail, sometimes it’s just you, bears, and if you get hurt, your survival skills will get tested. PSA, this is an endorsement for hiking and navigation training, backcountry first aid, preparation & planning, nutrition, and gear selection. If you don’t have this knowledge, please do not step on a trail. Technology and cell service is not reliable, they are just one of the many hiking tools available to use.
With a day-pack loaded with essential equipment, food, and water, I arrived at the trailhead in the midst of a cold, damp, and gloomy start. Do I even go, would it be a repeat of last year, would I make the climb to not have any views, or would I have to turn back only for the mountain to once again claim victory again? The point when you just say F_it, you’re prepared, so just start and put one foot in front of the other, the Universe decides the day’s fate. It didn’t take long for the trail to start climbing upward and as the sign at the official trail head warns, you’re about to embark on a very difficult trail that will climb upwards of 4000 ft. in gain in less than 5 miles. Oh and yeah, you better be prepared for unexpected incumbent weather. What the sign didn’t say was to also be prepared to hike with soaking wet feet as the treadway was not easy, and in most cases resembled a running stream, more than a pathway.
I’m not going to describe the full details of how difficult this hike is. Hard, “Yes”, you better be in good shape. Impossible, “No”, but the higher that I climbed in elevation, the thinner the air became and I could really feel it. The last final mile to the summit was one of the hardest miles that I’ve done in a long time. I pressed on and as the trail rose sharply on the final ascent, when I freakishly popped onto the paved park path that led to the circular concrete sidewalk and the final 360-degree viewing platform. It was a wild exit, as I totally expected there to be more trail when I suddenly emerged from the woods and stood among the tourists, where my wife and I stood a year ago. Stunned, then laughing out loud, I could only have imagined how weird I looked to them, weary, wet, and out of breath.
However, I really didn’t care, the sun was shining, and there were 360 degree views in all directions that were just simply amazing. With a huge smile and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment deep in my heart, it just wanted to scream; “I did it, I DID IT, I climbed this mountain, I bagged this peak.” After taking in the views and enjoying a little lunch, I remember…oh, crap. I’ve got to go back down from this mountain but at least I knew that there was another prize at the bottom. At the bottom, there was a freezer chest full of ice cream just waiting for me at the camp store…Mint chocolate chip Klondike bar, “Yes”, please…
Mt. Whitney is now calling…don’t ever stop dreaming, don’t ever stop trying. Not everything works out as you plan, but if you keep on believing in yourself, if you keep on trying, you can and you will Be_again.