Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Climbing of Mount Timpanogos

Yeah. So I kind of abandoned my blog. But I have a weekend that I need to document somehow. Someday I need to re-read this, when I've been able to process everything that actually happened. I'll start by saying I realized tonight that I forgot to put the SIM card in my camera. I'm feeling devastated by not having the photos I thought I was taking. So it turns out the memory will be all I have. So here it goes.

Last Wednesday my good friend Jenny mentioned to me at lunch that she and her husband and son were going to be hiking Mount Timpanogos this weekend. I've never been on that hike and she invited me along. Three days notice to go backpacking (something I have never done), on a 14 mile hike (the longest hike I've been on as an adult was 3 miles). Sure! Why not? I'm up for an adventure!

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was nervous the days leading up, feeling stressed, mostly about carrying the pack since I had never done that. I thought I was a pretty good hiker, so I wasn't as stressed about that part. If I knew what laid ahead, I honestly don't think I would have gone. It's a fresh experience and I'm still trying to figure out if that ended up being a good thing or not.

The trail has 2 trail heads, Aspen Grove and Timpanooke. Jenny and her husband Travis decided that we would leave my car at Timpanooke and drive down and start at Aspen Grove. Hike up and camp at Emerald Lake, and then hike down the Timpanooke side, completing both sides of the trail. Sounded good to me, so we started off on Saturday at about 3 p.m.

I wanted to quit the first 20 minutes of the hike. Maybe the first 10. The extra 30 lbs of the pack were making my calves burn. I felt in trouble so early on. Jenny assured me that the beginning is one of the steepest parts and that it would get easier. I'm not sure if easier is a good term, but it did get a little more bearable. I've taken lots of photos of the back side of Timp, but never really knew where the trail went. Three weeks ago I took this photo and commented that I had never noticed all the little waterfalls and wished there was some way up to them. I may be regretting that comment. Little did I know that I was looking at the area of the mountain you hike up, and that I would go by those waterfalls.

My love for photography revolves almost exclusively around nature and landscapes. The one thing I was really looking forward to on this trip was taking photos. But after taking only two photos, I put the camera away. The hike was getting harder and harder. I really didn't think I could do it. I didn't care about taking any photos. I just wanted the hike to be over, even though I was probably only an hour in at this point. The waterfalls along the way are beautiful, but I didn't feel like I could even start to enjoy them because of the emotional and physical struggle I was having with the hike. I can't thank my friend Jenny enough, because without her support I would not have made it. Of course I also wouldn't have gone on the hike if it wasn't for her, so might be a conundrum there. But she was amazingly supportive. I was swearing a lot, and telling her I didn't think I could do it. I didn't want to do it. And instead of telling me to suck it up and hike, which is what I probably would have wanted to tell myself, she was just very supportive telling me I could do it. That I was doing awesome. That she really struggled the first time she did the hike but that she knew I could do it. Half way up she even switched packs with me, and carried my pack the whole way down, I carried her son's, the smallest of the packs.

I realized pretty early on in the hike that this was going to be a battle with my inner self. In my head I was telling myself I couldn't do it, that this was the stupidest thing I had ever done, why I was I trying this? I knew that if I was going to finish this hike, I needed to change that dialogue. I've heard enough motivational stories to know that your mind can beat you. Or that it can help you push through physical limitations. So I tried the best I could to become a cheerleader in my head. I would tell myself, you just have to make it to the end of this switchback, just make it that tree, one step at a time. On the steep inclines I would chant go, go, go, go in my head, or you can do it! Just a little further, you're doing it! There were still lots of swear words coming out of my mouth, but it helped.

The further up we went, the harder it was. Not just because of exhaustion and physical pain, but also because there is about 5,000 ft in elevation change. And my lungs were not happy about it. Even if I felt like I could force one foot in front of the other, I couldn't catch my breath. I would stop for a minute and then after just a few steps feel like I needed to stop again. By the time we started getting towards the top my inner dialogue started changing to things like, Will needs a mom you can't give up. How will they get you down the mountain, you have to keep going. The top is closer than the bottom, don't give up.

A few miles from the top Jenny's husband Travis and son Dominic came back down the trail to take our packs from us. They beat us to the top by several hours. Even though they had taken a wrong trail and gone out of their way about an hour. I'm really not sure if we would have made it to the top without that help. I know they were both exhausted and the fact that they came back and did that was really special. With the packs removed I thought the hike would get a lot easier. The physical pain caused by it definitely lightened up, but by that time we were so high up that the altitude was causing me to go so slow I wasn't sure if we would finish.

Finally reaching the crest of the hill you go through a few mountain meadows which were bursting with wildflowers. We also got our first glimpse of the herds of mountain goats that live around the lake. There was a really cute little baby goat that was peaking out from behind a tree at us. The goats are definitely used to hikers and let you get pretty close before they wander off the trail. It was such a beautiful, peaceful setting and yet all I could think of was being able to lay down. I just wanted to stop moving. Jenny had a nice walking stick that she let me borrow for the last mile or so. I wasn't needing if for hiking stability, but actually used it so I wouldn't fall over. Altitude sickness and extreme fatigue was setting in. When I stopped to rest I felt like I was going to fall over and starting to move again was more painful than just moving. So I tried to stop as little as possible. Tried to will myself to move one foot in front of the other. By this point the upper section of my thighs did not want to move more than a couple inches away from my body. Moving my leg up enough to step over a rock felt like such a monumental task.

When the boys took our packs they warned us that the last little hill up to the lake was pretty brutal. If it was at the beginning of a hike it wouldn't be so bad. But at the end of the hike, it felt almost impossible to climb. The only thing pushing me up it was knowing it meant that we were close and that I could collapse. That I could stop moving. We finally made it to the lake. After seven hours of hiking. I think most websites I have seen about the hike say it takes about 3.5 hours. So that felt awesome. We made our way to where the boys had started to set up camp and I looked for a patch of ground and just laid down face first. I didn't want to move. I didn't understand why there were so many people that we passed on the hike that looked like were just going on an easy hike. I had just hiked one of the hardest hikes in Utah (my own determination) and I wanted to die.

We eventually got some dinner cooked and our gear set up. Jenny and I squished into the two man tent they had just gotten, along with our gear at our feet. When they say two men, I wonder what two men that base that measurement on. I'm not positive if this is when the change happened, but I blame it on having a kid. I cannot sleep well outside of my bed. Part of my issue is that having a kid I became a very light sleeper waking at every sound to make sure he was ok. Because of this I have to sleep with a fan on, for the white noise. I have a little one I take with me when I travel because I've learned through many sleepless nights, I need my fan. It also had to do with some sort of comfort level though being in a different place. Camping is not conducive to either of these issues. The crazy wind up by the lake at night and through the morning didn't help either.

After getting some food in us, and being able to crash in bed, Jenny and I did stay up talking for a little bit. Although I was throbbing in pain, I did feel like the near delusion I had been experiencing an hour before was lifting. Except for the many swear words, I hadn't talked at all on the trail. I just didn't have the energy. So we caught up a bit. There was what felt like an hour of sleep and then I  laid awake for several hours needing to pee very badly and not being able to lay in a position where I wasn't in pain. I would have gotten up sooner, but the new tent was having zipper issues. We'd really struggled to get it partial zipped up and I knew getting out and getting it zipped back up would be an ordeal. Eventually I figured it was stupid to just lay there in pain and went for it. Sadly everyone else ended up being woken up by my struggle to get out, so there we were all awake at 4:30.

Travis and Dominic got up at that time to make their way to the summit. When talking about the trip I definitely was on board for trying to hike up there. After getting as far as I did, there was not going to be any voluntary hiking. It was pure survival at this point. I had some pictures to show where the summit was from our camp, but I guess you'll just have to imagine. Or drag yourself up there sometime. After the boys left Jenny and I talked a little bit more and then fell asleep for a little bit until the boys got back.  Eventually we got something to eat, filled our water bottles (thanks to the awesome water purifier my dad let us borrow. I'm not sure how we would have made it without that. Hiking up that much water would not have added to the fun.) Another note on the water, on the way up and down I went though three bottles of water and didn't have to pee once. That's what sweat does for you!

After packing up we headed off to go down the mountain. Starting the other leg of the hike from the lake you hike along a rock slide. It was a little scary in parts in the daylight on a fresh hike. I was very glad we had not come up that route (our first plan) to camp at the lake. By the time we got up there the night before it was dark. And with the pain and altitude sickness, hiking along a steep rock slide probably would not have ended well. Coming down off of the mountain side you descend into a large mountain meadow. The meadow was overflowing with even more wildflowers than we had seen the day before. Jenny has hiked up here several times and never been there for the wildflowers. If you are going to hike up there, go the end of July, it was amazing. Although you have been warned you're crazy for doing that hike.

Although the altitude was still really bothering me, the descending climb gave me hope that I would survive today. I told Jenny I would regret not getting any photos of this breathtaking area and so pulled out my camera and kept it out the rest of the trip. The hike down was beautiful and after coming through the meadow and to the mountain ridge, you could see the parking lot at the bottom. Although it was really far away, being able to see it was very encouraging. I could do this! I was going to make it through this day! On the hike up and the hike down I was really surprised how friendly everyone was. I've commented before being a little surprised how much people will avoid making eye contact with you on a lot of local hikes. You'll get a few hi's, usually from older people. But everyone we passed was friendly. On the hike up we got lots of comments about our packs, oh that's a big pack! Camping out huh, good luck. You guys are doing great, keep going! Everyone was so encouraging. On the way down we got lots of questions about staying overnight, how was it, how were the flowers, how we were troopers for making it up there with packs. It was a nice break up to the hiking.

We passed a lot more people again that looked like they were on a much easier hike than we were. Granted we didn't pass many people at all with packs, but still. That started becoming a little frustrating. There were at least three groups of people today that passed us as we were going down, and then passed us again as they were coming down. Of course they obviously didn't go all the way up, but it still was a little discouraging. About halfway down my enthusiasm for the downward hike completely went away. I stopped taking photos, I went into zombie mode. One foot in front of the other keeping my eyes mostly on the trail. Where was that damn trail head! My legs which had eased up on the pain, were back to full throbbing and not wanting to move. The downward hike was taking its toll on my ankles. One couple we passed said that we were an hour from the bottom and yet we had gone more than an hour and still didn't feel much closer. Absolute exhaustion was setting in. Jenny and I were quite except for the painful moaning. We were done. I just wanted to go home.

When we finally came around the bend and I got a little glimpse of the bathrooms knowing we were almost at the end, I broke down crying. It was over. We did it. It didn't feel possible to make it to the end. The boys again had beaten us by several hours, it took us almost six hours to go down. But we were there. We hiked the mountain. Part of me wanted to turn around and give the mountain the middle finger, but we just drove away instead, hungry and exhausted.

I have a couple friends that do marathons. I've heard from several people when asked why they do it, they say because of the challenge. To say you did it. I don't think I have that in me, at least not to a great degree. Right now I'm not feeling a sense of accomplishment, although I realize that might come in a few days. Part of me feels like a failure. Yeah I made it, but it was so incredibly hard. I passed so many people that weren't struggling the way I was. There were little kids up on that hike. Now most of them were not at the top, but they were up pretty far. I also thought I was a good hiker. I'm not. I said on Facebook that I now will refer to myself as a mountain stroll walker. Instead of feeling like I accomplished something, I feel instead like I discredited something I liked about myself.

There is a part of me that is proud that I did it. That was by far the hardest thing I have ever done, and I did it. But big deal. I hiked a hike thousands of people go on. And I'm sick to my stomach that I don't even have the pictures to prove it. I do have this.

Right now it's painful to stand, it's painful to move. But I'm home and I get to sleep in my own bed. Maybe rest will give me a different perspective on this, but for now I just feel defeated by a very pretty mountain.

(taken by someone that remembered their memory card)


Maiken said...

I'm sorry it was so hard. However, at this point you can't undo anything and perhaps there won't ever be an amazing revelation. I am glad you wrote it down.

Britta said...

I hope you are starting to feel incredibly proud of yourself. You should - that hike is insane and you finished it! You did not die. You did not stop. You finished. You are stronger than you thought and can forever say that you hiked Timp. That is one badass mountain and you took it on! After I ate chicken foot soup, I will tell you - new food seems like a non-issue. Try that saucy thing I can't identify? Is it a foot? No? Sure - why not! Seriously - the next time you think about going on a hike, you'll know better what you need to complete it and you can most likely say, hey - it's not Timp - why the hell not?

Marty Wombacher said...

Sometimes words speak louder and brighter than pictures, wonderful essay about hiking and self-morivation, Kari!

Jenny Starley said...

Do you feel a sense of accomplishment now? Not a lot of people can say they've hiked up to Emerald Lake with a 30 pound pack and in sandals. Reading this again made me were we freakin' exhausted or what? Girl talk in the tent was my highlight! Thanks for sharing the painful experience with me! j'adore Kari!