Don’t we in fact want to lose ourselves and, like when we were kids, melt into the forest and discover its plants, animals, and life close up as a way to probe our inner selves? ~Killian Jornet – Run or Die
My motivation has been in the toilet. All I have wanted to do lately is lay in bed and eat popsicles and stare at photos of people doing cool stuff on Instagram and hate myself.
This was supposed to be my summer of trail running awesomeness and have thus far spent the summer icing and tending to a bum knee. A knee injury is not typically the end of the world, but considering I have finally recovered from three years of FAI hip surgery drama, I am downright depressed to be sidelined again.
The knee’s been keeping me from running and cycling so I thought I would give a little hiking a try. A good friend of mine, I will call Jadeite or Jade for short, suggested a trip up the South Ridge of Mt. Superior. The Superior South Ridge is a classic alpine climbing route that traverses a knife-edge ridge for a couple thousand feet with a some 5th class moves tossed in. Considering my fear of heights and difficult time with exposed terrain, I enthusiastically agreed.
We arrived at the trail head or shall I say an unmarked faint trail heading into dense thicket off the side of the road under ominous skies with a 60% chance of heavy rain. Being the amateur meteorologists that we are, weconsulted the Doppler and assumed we had some time before the storm came in. “Let’s just go hike up to the first notch so you can get a feel for the trail,” says Jade. “Okay,” says me with the look of sheer terror on my face.
The ascent began mildly and I remembered how fun scrambling can be. So far not much exposure, so good. No clouds or rain, so also good. We got to the first notch and kept on climbing.
After the first notch we got to the ridge – the razor knife edge with a good deal of exposure on both sides. Knowing how mentally difficult this will be for me I tried to concentrate on one move at at time. The route looked much more difficult than it was so I fought the urge to look ahead and tried to only focus on the moves directly ahead of me (fantastic life lesson, I know!).
Dangling high above the base of Snowbird, you could actually hear the screams from the Zipline and the roar of the Alpine Coaster traveling on its tracks a thousand feet below. I wondered why am I up here and they are down on the ground having safe and controlled fun. Does anyone see us up here? Will they hear my screams?
And so my fear began to escalate and I thought about how trapped and claustrophobic I felt and how I can’t quit or just step off this ride, how I am committed to climbing either up or down, and how I don’t really care to do either. And as I spiraled and panic crept into my limbs, I noticed a tiny little wildflower making a home in the most precarious of places and then thought, damn the world is so amazing and I am having so much fun!
As soon as I grabbed my fear by the throat and got her under control… the clouds started rolling in.
As the clouds began circling us, my fear came back with a vengeance and I thought how we blatantly ignored an omen of death on the way to the trail head. We had sadly taken out a squirrel with the car driving up canyon and now the mountain will take us in return. Overdramatic thoughts I know, but I would like to think other people have such ridiculous thoughts when clinging to a ridge and well learning to deal with these thoughts is the point of putting yourself in this kind of situation in the first place.
It is about now that we see a memorial for a climber that in fact fell off the mountain to his death and then I thought what if the storm took out Jade, what if she fell off the mountain, where would we put her memorial, what would I do? She’s the strong and level-headed one and she’s done this climb before and knows the way down, so oh please take me instead!
“What was that?” says Jade. “Oh just the rumbles of the Alpine Coaster below.” said I, but we both knew it was thunder. How close we did not know.
Earlier in the hike, I had asked Jade how well she knew the way down and if she would be able to find the way if the peak was covered in clouds. I don’t recall what she said since I too busy clinging to a ridge with dizzying exposure on both sides and all I cared about was keeping my cool until we made it to the top.
Arriving at the summit after dead sprinting the last few hundred feet, we oriented ourselves the best we could with nearly zero visibility and began our way down. Almost immediately I knew we were headed in the wrong direction, but what do I know, I have never been on top of this mountain before. I busied myself taking photos of wildflowers as Jade cussed under her breath and scouted for the trail.
The clouds parted and revealed the city and the peaks between Big Cottonwood Canyon and Mill Creek Canyon so we officially knew we were headed down in the wrong direction. We didn’t care, I think we both secretly wanted a bit more adventure. You really can’t get that lost in the Wasatch we thought and we’re bound to end up somewhere familiar and if we didn’t we would backtrack and begin again.
We crossed snowfields and meadows of flowers and saw a pair of moose bathing in a high alpine lake before recognizing Lake Blanche in the distance. At this point we had been traveling for six hours and I was out of food. I thought we were going for a short hike, just up to the first notch, rather than an 8-hour tour.
I start freaking out about how I am going to pass out from low blood sugar and Jade, who never eats or drinks anything during our all day adventures, launches into a paleo spiel about how I eat too often and my body is addicted to sugar and something about my insulin, but I ignore her and think about pizza instead.
We stop briefly at Lake Blanche to try and send out SOS text messages for someone to pick us up at the trail head since our car is a good 15 miles away in a different canyon, but have no luck getting a message out. On the way down we pass several hikers leisurely walking up trail and it takes all my will power to not tackle a young boy snacking from a bag of gummy bears or perhaps just asking for one. Maybe Jade is right. I do have a sugar problem.
Thankfully Jade’s brother comes in for the rescue and picks us up at the trailhead in Big Cottonwood and delivers us to our car in neighboring Little Cottonwood Canyon where I had thankfully stashed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We then provide several laughs to our friends as we recount our trip over Thai food and wine where conversation ultimately goes to planning our next adventure and well learning how to use a compass.