Late September came fast. 2018 as a whole feels like it disappeared real quick. Still, with no winter hiking experience – or winter gear, for that matter – the early fall hike for two more High Peaks felt like it was destined to be my last for the year. Winter may not arrive until later, but at higher altitudes, conditions can become less than ideal real quick at this time of year. And I have no interest in becoming a statistic. Unless it’s for something really cool. Like being the second person on Mars……after Matt Damon, for those of you keeping score. It was a nice sunny day, sure to produce some great views. After the hard work of course. This time around, my buddy Jared joined me. It’s all we could talk about at work that week. I think we were both pretty amped up for this one. I’d be going for my 6th and 7th High Peaks, Esther Mountain and Whiteface Mountain. This was another of the more popular trails, but being later in the year, we had a good amount of time with just the two of us and Mother Nature.
I felt really good this time around. Ok, wait. I always feel good ahead of time. It’s been established that my confidence and ego don’t need any help. But more than confidence, this time around, I felt prepared. I’d corrected my over-packing issues, I’d paid attention to the calorie intake, I’d come more prepared to not run out of water. The best thing about the whole hiking journey I started this summer was the learning opportunities. I came in to the year knowing next to nothing about hiking, the gear associated, the unwritten community rules, etc., etc. (Etcetera, Etcetera) But I was slowly becoming a person who does outdoors stuff. Not a guy I ever thought I’d be.
Life without knowledge is death in disguise.-Talib Kweli
Jared proved to be a great hiking partner. Although we work together, we didn’t discuss it for more than a few minutes. We had good heart to heart time, learned more about each others lives & wives, shared some simple trail food, chatted with some passersby. (Culs de sac? HA, A Gilmore Girls joke for you!) The views this day were so much better than the month before when I dealt with winds, rain and clouds for most of the hike. We had a slow start. This trail starts off pretty steep, pretty quick. It took Jared a good hour or so to let the realities sink in. It had been a while since he had hit the trail. Once we got going, it was smooth sailing. We stopped to help a kid bandage up his knee, took lots of photos. The summit of Esther Mountain came quick. And did not take our breath away. It’s a wooded summit with trees all around and not really a view to be had anywhere. Still, we maneuvered through the deep puddles of mud (probably the deepest Puddle Of Mudd I’d ever encountered! HA, I’m showing my age.), helped a father/son team get a photo together and headed back to the trail split to undertake the real summit of the day – Whiteface. It’s one of the Adirondacks you hear most people talk about. And the beauty is that there is actually a road you can drive to the almost-summit and then walk up just a lil bit to get to the top. So the beauty of Whiteface’s peak can be shared by folks of all ages and skill levels.
Making it to the summit, collecting my 7th of 46 – mama, I made it! – the folks who had driven to the top were quick to welcome us. It was the most populated peak I had seen, even more so than Cascade on that first day trip. The view finders located all around the bald rock peak pointed us in the direction to be able to see Montreal in the distance. I wolfed down three sammiches, some fruit and trail mix and it was time to head back down. For the second hike in a row, this is where my day went to shit.
As usual, I’d grown over confident with my abilities. The descent back to the car took the biggest toll on my knees than any other day in my life. In the coming days and weeks, I would visit a physiotherapist for the first time ever, try out some new knee strengthening exercises and do a ton of research only to discover my downhill technique was as terrible as it could get. Earlier in the day, I remember Jared and I questioning whether hiking poles could really make any difference. In hindsight, I’m an idiot. Obviously they do, which is why I now own some and take them with me every time I go out. The knee pain continued literally the whole way down. While Jared had issues going up, we made it to the top. I didn’t think I could actually make it back to the car. All I could think about was getting home. My breaks were becoming more frequent and just when it couldn’t get any worse, we somehow missed our trail split and were off course by about 2km. Oh. And the woods were so quiet, I could hear something following us. I think this may have been the first time a bear was close to the trail I was on, but I never saw it or smelled it like they say you would, so who knows. Either way, something was eerie about those woods at that time. Just as we had to make the tough decision to double back to get back on our trail, a foursome who were also just finishing their hike came along. One of the four had actually just finished his 46th High Peak that day, so it was pretty special to share the trail with such accomplished hikers. They were empathetic to my knees and our being off course and offered us to finish the hike with them so that they could drive us back to our car and save us the extra kilometers. I felt like Gandalf the friggin White had come over the hill to lead me to victory.
The ride home was uneventful. Jared loves hip hop like I do, so there were no issues just zoning out and listening to tunes while I powered through some McDoubles. Even though I had come in to the day expecting my season to be over because October was rearing it’s ugly face, I wanted to end it on my terms. We succeeded in our summits for the day, but I feel like my knees failed me and I was in so much pain, I didn’t feel like I got to end the year with a victory. I didn’t feel like the champion my ego tells myself every day that I am. I wasn’t home more than ten seconds before I dropped my backpack and collapsed in Lauren’s arms in tears. It’s a feeling I won’t soon forget. If I was going to be Joe Wilderness, the upcoming off season was going to require some hard-ass work. Have I mentioned being lazy? Shit…