Today some talented hikers came through. Listen to them jam.
Where are the other talented hikers?
Today some talented hikers came through. Listen to them jam.
Where are the other talented hikers?
Hungry hikers eat
Honey’s lovely lasagna
The sun is scorching
Walking over rock
Traveling over mountains
I am getting strong
Giant table rock
Wild wind whispers sounds
Noise from the blacktop
Bowl of cool water
Carved in a granite table
Over the asphalt
I graduated from 3 programs at The Colorado Outdoor Adventure Guide School (https://guideschool.com/) and worked for a short time for the school’s owner. It was October and the snow had begun to fall on the Grand Mesa and Battlement Mesa where my adventures were located. That particular adventure may have been ending, but as Robert Earl Keen says, “The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends”. Before my introduction to the world of Rocky Mountain outfitters and guiding, I was living on a ranch with a family on a mesa in south west Colorado. The woman who I was dating at the time said that she was putting the teepee up that we were living in and moving back into the house with her son, but that I could keep camping if I wanted to.
On my way home to the ranch, I stopped at the Cabela’s store in Grand Junction, CO. I was very excited to be purchasing the (Cabela’s Big Horn III Tent – Swan Hikes) tent that I had dreamed about for a few years. The old man who grabbed a cart for me shared in my glee at my new home. It was nice to be standing there with a fellow outdoorsman who was happy for me. Although a store employee, he was not making a commission, he works at Cabela’s because the outdoors is his passion. We talked for a bit as I also picked out my new Colorado Mesa Stove. The store employee told me about a Cabela’s tent that he had recently purchased. It was a great day for an outdoorsman with a paycheck in hand.
When I got back to the ranch, everyone was excited. The ranch hand and the foreman’s brother-in-law and nephew came down to help me set it up. Once it was set, I added a mattress, portable wire armoire, some black and yellow totes from Home Depot, rugs, and then off to work. It was October and I had no firewood. There was a couple down the road who had a lot of wood that was starting to rot. There was also a lot of pine that they would not burn in their house. I spent days going back and forth in my light, short-bed truck picking up 3 or 4 cords of wood to get me through the winter. Soon, the snow would have everything covered up.
I stacked the wood on the north west side of the tent to protect it from the cold winds that blow across the Mesa. On the other side was a stand of scrub oak that made a nice wind block. The family that I lived with, regularly had people come to camp and had made tent pads. It was the perfect spot. The rugs on the floor and my Cabela’s 0-degree flannel and canvas sleeping bag helped to take the edge off of the freezing cold.
It was lonely when I was camping by myself. I still took pride in the fact that I was trying to live outside through a Colorado winter at 9,000 feet elevation. I had been working at 10,000 feet. There is a big difference that 1000 feet can make. The foreman of the ranch had become my EX-girlfriend, but I continued living there because I got along with the family. I was part of the circle. That was nice, because I greatly respected her father who I learned a lot from. I am very grateful to her and her family. Never-the-less, an ex-girlfriend is an ex-girlfriend and I felt the need to get away.
In January, I moved across the state to a small mountain town on the front range. I was couch surfing at high elevation, but spent some nights sleeping in a mine shaft, because my new room-mate, a stranger, was doing some things that did not groove with my conscience. Around the same time that I met him, I began dating another woman who wanted to move, but needed a room-mate. We got an apartment in the city together and broke up a month later, which was right on time, because I did not like living in the city.
I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was that I wanted to be outside and that I did not want to settle down anywhere. Before I bought the fancy tent, I was going to do a winter hike of the Appalachian Trail, but my ex-girlfriends father convinced me to stay with them and wait until Spring for such a journey. Most of my stuff was still on the ranch. I took the tent down, but was unable to pull it up due to the frozen ground. My friends at the ranch used the tractor to pull the stakes out of the ground and I met with them down in Montrose to get it. It would have been difficult for me to get a 2-wheel drive box truck up that Mesa. It was a scary drive taking a box truck across the frozen continental divide twice. I drove straight through a winter storm front that had my booty puckered like all-get-out! Hah!
I made the 2000-mile journey home to a storage unit in Georgia, packed my backpack and got dropped off at Amicalola Falls State Park on April 1st 2019 and began hiking north. I didn’t know how far I would go. All I knew was that I could not sit still. Before heading out, I sent my resume’ out to several Rocky Mountain outfitters hoping for employment as a camp cook. I thought that I would hike to Pennsylvania and then turn around and walk back to Georgia, unless I got hired, in which case I would go west again. I got dropped off at the top of the falls and set out on the busy approach trail. To read about my hike, please start here: The Walk-A-Bout Continues – Swan Hikes. Thanks for reading!
(Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/24/drunk-man-walking/)
I made my way down the Jewell Trail in heavy fog thinking about the times I had hiked above treeline in the Rocky Mountains. It was going to be a very bad day for Rusty. No matter how vigilant I was above treeline, I consistently found myself off course, but I knew the general direction was down. My concern for Rusty was calmed by the awakening of nature around me. The fog slowly cleared as I made my way down the mountain.
It felt like a very long time to get below treeline, but I finally made it into the spruce and pines. I can smell them as I sit here and type. The smell of the forest in New England purifies the soul. The image of the jovial Jewell Trail is burned in my brain like a pyrograph. It was beautiful, but seemed to never end. I walked along the duff covered trail, alongside a stream, and close enough to hear the Cog Railway, whose base station I was walking to.
The all night rain soaked the trees and shrubs. The fog permeated every pore in my poor rain jacket and skin. Spruce and Pine boughs blessed my shoulders and pack with drops of dazzling dew. Weather-worn, I weaved my way along the winding trail and across the Ammonoosuc River to the base station. I left my pack outside and went in to use the WiFi and contact a shuttle to take me to Gorham, NH.
A local shuttle driver picked me up from the Cog Railway and took me to a hotel in Gorham, NH. I was really looking forward to seeing Rusty that evening. My foot hurt pretty bad, but I wanted everything to be perfect when I saw Rusty that night, so I hobbled down to the laundromat where I ran into Dave Mac, a hiking acquaintance and a traveling nurse. I had been asking different people on trail what they thought about my foot. No one thought it was broken. Dave Mac was the closest. He said it was a sprain. I found out later that there was a sprain and a break.
The weather started to get pretty bad and I was wondering where Rusty was. We started texting back and forth from her Garmin to my phone. Most of her hike that day was above tree line. It didn’t look like she was going to make it, so I took myself to dinner. While I was at dinner, the sky went from gray and rainy to black and stormy. Thunder shook the Chinese restaurant as I ate my Umami soup. I began to feel uneasy as it shook again and the waitress came by to congratulate me for not being on the mountain in that mess. I told her that my partner was up there and she was supposed to be at dinner with me and I was starting to get pretty worried. The waitress shared my concern.
I walked back to the hotel and started looking at the comments on the Guthooks app, to see what the trail was like and if there were any side trails she could use to safely exit. The comments on Guthooks did not inspire hope as I read things like, “Jagged rock outcroppings that cut your hands”. I texted Rusty to see if I could get dropped off at the trailhead she was hiking to and I could hike to her and spend the night. I was concerned with her being wet and cold. People die of hypothermia in the Whites in the summer time, and this was fall. She told me not to.
Thunder shook the hotel over and over again. Rain beat hard on the walls as it blew in side-ways. The mountains could not be seen due to the black wall of worrisome weather. I messaged my cousin, and called my brother and friends. They reassured me that if she made it that far, that she knew what she was doing. Plus, I was always telling everyone what an impressive hiker she is.
I was going crazy, but she finally texted me that she made it below tree-line and set up camp.
I was a different animal when I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail – confident, determined, and stubborn to the point of folly. When I woke up on the swag between Mt. Washington and Mt. Madison, not quite below tree-line and damp from the rain the night before, it did not occur to me to be concerned about the cloud coverage. I had been warned numerous times about the weather in the White Mountains, but with over 1000 miles under my belt, I was fearless.
Swan’s foot had been hurting him for some time, and with more alpine experience than me, he looked at the fog appraisingly and said, “I’m not doing it today!”
He would take a side trail down to the cog railway that ran to the summit of Mt. Washington, and wait in town for me as I hiked an easy 12 miles to him. I didn’t even want to take the tent, because I would be in Gorham, NH that evening, but out of an abundance of caution I tied the tent to the top of my pack, put on all of my rain gear, and kissed Swan. It would be good to collapse in his arms at the end of the day, I thought.
The terrain in the Presidential range is unique and unlike the hundreds of miles that stretch in either direction, north or south, on the Appalachian trail. There is almost no tree coverage or even much soil. The rocks are jagged and range from a pale beige that is almost white in the high sun, to a deep gray that turns black in the rain. The vegetation is hardy and windswept, deep magenta and desaturated greens and yellows. All of it is low to the ground, and reminds me somehow of coral. Perhaps it is that walking along the trail in these mountains feels like being alone out at sea.
There was no one out on the trail that day, which is an oddity for the AT, but the White Mountains are remote enough that it isn’t unheard of. It wasn’t until the fog turned into a light, persistent rain that soaked all the way through my rain jacket, that I realized that no one was out hiking because of the weather. It didn’t matter, as long as I kept moving I wouldn’t be cold.
Sometime in the mid-morning I looked down at my phone to check my progress. I had a GPS map installed on it called Guthook, which could accurately pinpoint my location anywhere on the trail. I had made distressingly little progress, and was actually a bit off trail. I looked up and spotted a cairn off in the distance and walked to it, then I walked haphazardly to the next, losing the trail every time between cairns. It was extremely difficult to navigate in the fog above tree-line because everything looked the same in every direction, and the trail was not well worn. Side trails had been created in the places were 100 other people had gone the wrong way so often that it made the trail look like a spidery web with no real direction. Had I really only gone two miles?
I came across a hut at noon. The employees were outside, servicing the composting toilets. I won’t go into much detail about what they were doing, but suffice it to say that I did not think they wanted to have a conversation with me. I passed them, and they barely noticed my presence. They had other shit on their minds.
I rested there within sight of the hut but upwind of the smell. The rain had stopped for a minute and I told myself I really needed to pick up the pace. I got up and told myself “Ms. Rastelli, you better hustle. You got a hot date and you don’t want to be late.”
I pressed on, and climbed right back up into the clouds. The rain was more earnest now, the rocks sharper and more slippery, and the wind was picking up. I slipped on a rock and fell to my knees. When I fell, I had a little ritual that made me feel better. I always ate a snack while on the ground, preferably chocolate, before getting back up. I ate the chocolate and rose to my feet as much as I could, but the force of the wind kept me half crouched. I struggled forward,
but between the wind, the rain, and the difficulty of the climb, which was hand over foot in some places and still very difficult to navigate, I was starting to have to literally crawl. My stomach rolled over as I looked out at the endless black sea of unforgiving rock.
There is a little delusion that most hikers have, a delusion propped up by the quality of our gear, the food in our packs, the filters on our water bottles, and our outdoor experience. It’s the delusion that we have some sort of control over nature, that we can set a goal and with adequate respect and preparation, nature will invite us in. Under many conditions, this delusion is helpful, it allows a mere human to go off into the wilderness alone and emerge unscathed, and tap into the companionship with the natural world that is inherent to all other living creatures. The truth however, is that nature owes us nothing, and it is entirely free of limitations. So while I valiantly tried to keep my body warm, and the rubber side of my shoes down, the heart of the storm rolled in. I cried. I could feel the electricity building in the air around me, and I had nowhere to go but up. I was going to be the tallest thing around for at least another 5 miles and the wind consistently tried to blow me off the side of the ridge. The water was coming down as heavily as a cold shower, and with only 2 or 3 feet of visibility I was only sure I was going in the right direction on the rare occasions that I saw a cairn, or came across a sign.
I pulled my satellite phone out and began texting Swan.
“I hate this,” I told him.
“You can do it, just move slow,” he answered.
I kept on texting him as I made my painfully slow progress. It became clear that there was no way I was going to make it to town. At this point my only goal was to make it below tree-line. I sang to myself about how much I loved trees, and that, “all I want for Christmas is to get below tree-line, to get below tree-line, to get below tree-line.”
It took the entire day for me to go 7 miles. Sun was starting to set when finally, finally, I saw the forest a few hundred feet below.
“I love you!” I called out to the trees. When I hiked up to the first tree I put my hand on it and thanked it. The tree cover immediately made me feel about 10 degrees warmer, and protected me from the ferocious wind. I looked at the clouds and realized that this was why I had so misjudged the storm. After months of walking through the “green tunnel” that is the majority of the AT, I had no idea how different the same conditions felt when exposed. The trail was easy to follow, and although steep and slippery, I hopped down another few miles. I wanted to get as low as possible, I even considered night-hiking to town. As soon as I had that thought, the sky rumbled. I found a little patch of flat-ish dirt on the side of the mountain, and the first crack of lightning hit the mountains just as I pitched the tent. I mopped up the inside as best I could, because the inside had gotten soaked by rain in the 5 minutes it took for me to pitch the tent.
I texted Swan that I was safe, and that I would hike out to him early the next morning. Too tired to cook a meal, I changed into my driest clothes and laid down. The hardest day I’d had to date on the Appalachian Trail was behind me. Slugs gathered underneath the cover of my tent, and with a bit of amusement I counted my new slug friends until I fell asleep.
I’ve had harder days in the wilderness now, but that storm on Mt. Madison imparted more wisdom on me in a few hours, than most of my preceding years of life.
(Continued from: https://swanhikes.com/2020/07/22/harvard-hiker-invades-dartmouth/ )
The Wandering Kiltsman and I were separated from each other for over a month, but he finally caught up. It was nice to see him again. Crash and I had been telling Rusty stories about our hike down South. Most, if not all, involved TWK. Rusty was excited to meet him after months of stories and bought him a bottle of rum. This crazy guy did 30 mile days for a week to catch up with us. A couple days later, everyone woke up in camp and decided to pass that bottle around. It had been a crappy night, the hike was rough, alcohol weighs, and my foot hurt. I really am not much of a drinker and was quickly three sheets to the wind. I hiked and came to a parking lot where there was a pair of thru hiker alumni waiting with more alcohol and a ride to the store. I got so drunk. I wanted to camp in the parking lot. Rusty convinced me to hike. We needed to hit miles.
I staggered along the trail until we came to a large boulder at the bottom of Webster Cliffs. I laid on top of the boulder and hoped to sober up. It felt like an hour or more. We compromised and decided to camp at the top of the cliffs. There was no water source there, so we had to fill up before we got to the top. There was supposed to be one water source along the way, but we never saw it. Rusty even went on a wider search for water. The next reliable water source was 5 miles ahead of the cliffs through difficult terrain. It was early afternoon and we had a liter of water per person. We camped in the trees on top of Webster Cliffs.
The next morning, we woke up dehydrated and began our trek. I had promised Rusty that we would hike at least nine miles to the Lake of the Clouds hut. A mile or two into our hike, I felt like I couldn’t go past the hut a few miles away. I was so dehydrated. Rusty lost her temper and told me what an asshole I was for suggesting that I may have to break my word. She was furious. We were hungry. Our bodies were starving and dehydrated. We sat in the middle of the trail to eat. Rusty started to eat dry food and I suggested that she eat something with moisture in it to mitigate the dehydration. She ate tuna.
At a certain point she even told me that she wasn’t leaving the relationship, but that she wouldn’t allow me to hold her back and was going to leave me on the trail. I knew that while she could out hike me based on how many hours in a day that she was willing to hike, I could hike faster. I hiked ahead of her so that she couldn’t see me, but I kept my ear out so I could be there in case she ran into trouble. The thoughts of holding her back or being left did not sit well with me. I had decided that, “I would show her,” by hiking the rest of the way to Maine alone even if it was detrimental to my health, and still be there at the finish line.
As I was lost in my thoughts, I came across a tent and I thought I could score some water, but no one was there. After a few minutes, I came upon two weekend hikers who were on the way to their car (it was their tent). I told them how angry Rusty was with me and how it was 100% my fault and that I screwed up. If they could give me a little water, it could really turn the day around. They gave me half of their water, because they had more in the car. When I caught up with Rusty, she had filtered bog water through her bandanna and was drinking it through her Sawyer Squeeze water filter. She was still very angry, so I continued to give her space.
We came within a mile of Mizpah Hut, part of the Appalachian Mountain Club hut system. Rusty stopped me and said, “Look, we need to work this out before we go around people”. We both apologized and made up and walked into the hut together. It had been getting very cold. It was nice to sit in the hut and warm up. I was able to buy some Polartec gloves and the hut worker even took my trash for me. I felt horrible and wanted to make it up to Rusty. We sat there and tanked up on water and food and looked at maps. I had promised to go to Lake of the Clouds hut, because that was the last hut before Mt. Washington and you have to be very careful due to the extreme weather up there. The embarrassment and shame of drinking to the point that it negatively affected us spurred me to go beyond our goal for the day. Bad weather was rolling in, and it would be good to summit the second highest peak on the 2,000 plus mile trail before things got ugly. We looked at maps and tried to find side trails we could take to safety if things got bad. I pointed out Tuckerman’s Ravine. The hut worker immediately said that was a bad idea, because that is where the most accidents and deaths happen. Finally, we decided if worst came to worst, we would back track.
With my new gloves on, we hiked past the Lake of the Clouds hut to summit Mt. Washington. I felt like a conqueror, because I went from having one of the worst days on the Appalachian Trail to over-delivering on a promise I thought I couldn’t keep. Rusty allowed me to lead the way to the summit. The whole way up, I kept thinking about our trail friend “Grock”. He was on a flip-flop hike and had driven up to Maine and started hiking south after completing the southern half. He crossed our paths again several days prior. We were concerned due to the amount of weight he lost. He looked a bit more beat up than the last time we had seen him. I asked him what Mt. Washington was like and he said, “It was like WWHOOOOOOOOOOOOSSSHHHHHHHHHHH”! He used his voice to imitate a strong and sustained wind. Mt. Washington has the highest land wind speed record on earth at 231 MPH.
We made it to the top of the mountain, a mountain so steep that it has about 4000 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles from it’s base. The wind? What wind? We must have been the luckiest hikers on Washington. The skies were clear and there was no wind. We went inside the visitor’s center and bought a bread bowl of chili and looked at the list of 200 fatalities that have occurred on the mountain and mumbled a few words of respect. Afterwards, we stood in line to take our picture next to the sign, which was a comical experience. I had to chase her around it to get a picture. The stranger taking our photo got one of me chasing her and one of us beside each other. We have them in a double frame that we travel with.
As the sun began to set, we made our way down the mountain. Our friends, Rooster and Tinklebell, told us about a tradition of mooning the Cog Railway train. Our descent was timed perfectly and we did our part in keeping the tradition alive. We continued to walk across rocks above the treeline. It became darker and darker. Hiking above treeline could be compared to walking on the surface of the moon. Soon, it would become very difficult to navigate and there were approaching storms.
We decided to backtrack a few hundred yards to the Jewell Trail. It would not have been smart or very feasible to pitch our tent above treeline. We came down to a sub alpine area of Krummholz (stunted and gnarled trees and shrubs at treeline) and camped in the middle of a day use trail so that we would not destroy any of the fragile plant life. We got dumped on. The next morning when we woke up, everything was wet. The fog was so thick that there may have been 10 feet of visibility. Keep in mind that there wasn’t much to look at besides rocks. This is a navigational nightmare.
My foot was causing me an excruciating amount of pain. I no longer had a fever. Between the weather forecast, hiking above treeline, and the state of my injuries, I told Rusty, “I’m not doing it today”! I told her that I was taking the side trail and finding a ride to Gorham, NH and getting a hotel. Rusty would continue on to Mt. Madison. It was not that many miles from there to the trail head where she would be getting a shuttle to meet me up with me. The issue is that we were in the White Mountains, which are treacherous. We normally could hit 15 to 20 miles or more with no issue, but in the Whites, we were hiking 6 to 12 miles a day. We had been splitting up the components of our tent so that both of us were carrying our own weight. She considered not taking the tent, because it was not very far and she could hike there faster with less weight. I reminded her that the Whites are unforgiving and she took the whole tent. She said her Garmin In-Reach device was charged and on. We kissed and I began my descent as the brave Rusty continued into what would become a pivotal moment in her wild adventures.
Read what happens next: https://swanhikes.com/2020/11/25/rusty-on-mt-madison/