Is is somewhere in the Himalayas? The Canadian wilds, perhaps? Maybe even the dark land of — Mordor?! Wherever you think this wild wonder is, take ten minutes with your journal and pen and imagine you’ve been dropped off in this vast landscape. You have nothing but a knife and a short length of rope and a small container of water. You have five days to get to civilization or summon rescue. What would you do? What’s most important first — food? water? shelter? fire? Let your imagination roam with the exercise. Enjoy the challenge of trying to sort things out on paper, as opposed to actually being right there in the middle of it. What did you learn about yourself? What did you think and feel? What skills did you have? How did your exercise turn out?
Category Archives: Fear
There is something which stands in the way of an Appalachian Trail backpacker and success. Something that makes even the day-hiker hesitant to head out the door into the wild.
Vast and dominant, it looms over the beauty which beckons the heart and soul, daring the brave who wish to enter the sanctuary of wood and stream, glen and crag.
There is something which intimidates and defeats, which cripples and discourages. Even the seasoned backpacker who is armed with profound skill might in a moment collapse into discouraged retreat. Rather than forge into the green, they will pack up and head for home, tail between their legs. Rather than return to the world with wondrous stories and rich memories, they bear the shame of having given up to a simple and pervasive enemy which will haunt them for their lack of fortitude.
Countless expeditions and numerous souls who might otherwise push hesitancy aside lose all sense and intention when faced with this one, single, seemingly-mighty barrier.
Should you be among those with the will and ability to endure this demon, you will find it accompanies you the entire length of your woodland sojourn. It will gawk at you across the fireside and pester you as you walk the miles.
Nevertheless, this creature which plagues the wilderness is deserving of existence. For it is the guardian and force which prevents lesser prepared travelers from crossing the boundary into the mystic mist of remote lands.
Should you be among the few who can tolerate its company, you will find that it does not disempower or distract you from the joy to be found in walking wild places. In fact, this jinn obstructs lesser souls, but nourishes those wise to the gift it can bring.
What is this force; this barrier? Simply this…
Y’all come sit by the fire now…it’s story time! (Tales, Poems, and Songs for the Appalachian Trail Hiker)
What’s a hike along the Appalachian Trail without a good fireside tale? Let Robert W. Service (1874-1958), known as “the Bard of the Yukon,” warm your bones with this classic chiller poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee.
Since nothing betters the disposition like hot soup, I put some on the stove in quick order. I mulled my state of affairs over as the brew simmered. I was grounded on the summit in a snowstorm, the extent of which I could only speculate. I had checked the weather forecast before setting out and no storms were imminent. Yet, I harbored no illusions. I realized New England mountain conditions could wax volatile and cruel abruptly. I was in for a doubtful spell of waiting. As this was my first day on a week-long trip, I was provisioned with ample food. I reckoned if the situation turned dire I would break into the summit house, set off the alarm, and precipitate a rescue. Hopefully that would summon help.
The tram cables screeched long into the night and into a foggy Monday morning. The winds wailed and raged but did not diminish. I did a full inventory of my gear, read a book, and ate an early lunch while being entertained by the violin from hell that the White Devil played outside the windows. By late afternoon I became bored and anxious. The storm had not lessened. How long would it last? Having never been stranded on a mountain in a blizzard I realized my options were limited. Was this a brief accumulation of snow or the beginning of a more furious, longer storm? At what point should I send for help?
Monday night the cantata of rattling and sing-song cable screeches moaned on, backed by pounding winds which begged to get in at me. I tossed in my sleeping bag, wishing I had earplugs, and finally resorted to wads of tissue to block out the merciless racket.
Morning came. Silence. Visibility out the windows was mere feet. But sunrise had come. The snow had lessened, but I could not judge its depth by looking out the windows. At least the battering wind was over.
I set to making hot oatmeal and put coffee on. After breakfast, around midmorning, I observed a stirring in the clouds outside. Moments later I was thrilled to see them dissipate enough to show patches of blue sky above. I reined in my elation. This might be the end of the storm — or only a reprieve.
Within the hour the cloud cover dissolved completely, revealing the most lavish sky blue I had ever seen. Elation changed to euphoria. I ventured to the door, elbowing against the door hesitantly. It opened with little effort, revealing a half-foot of snow on the ground. I was relieved the exit was unblocked. Tromping out the door, I basked in the rays of sun that blessed Jay Peak. I waded through a knee-deep drift to reach the upper level, which allowed me a more distant view. The area around Jay Peak was mantled in snow for about a mile, but the lowlands seemed snow free.
My journey down the other side of Jay Peak consisted of slippery and slow going through pockets of blown snow, and the repeated need to scout for blazes on tree trunks to confirm I was still on the trail. After a long and anxious hour I emerged from the snowbound region and walked onto bare ground. Hazen’s Notch camp was my glorious reward, a fully enclosed cabin with wood stove. A local caretaker had kindly laid in nearly a half cord of firewood. I was giddy. That night, I enjoyed the company of a young married couple hiking to Canada on the Long Trail from Johnson, Vermont. Over hot coffee and tea we traded stories about the trail, the mercurial weather, and our adventures during our journeys.
Past hiking expeditions have had me doing a dance with lightning on Mount Moosilauke on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, grappling in a heart-stopping rock climb eighty feet above the ground on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield in cold, saturating rain, and dealing with the incapacitating pain of a torn Achilles heel while trekking in remote Maine wilderness. My unplanned delay on Jay Peak may be another chapter to add to my adventure journal, but it’s also an important reminder to habitually manage outdoor challenges with practiced knowledge, flexibility, and a good dose of humility.