Frozen in fear, my body clung to the rocks not knowing what to do next. The mountain had already made me cry once, and now, for a second time I felt my eyes burn with tears. Below me, one of my friends asked me what I wanted to do; I was torn. Did I want to push myself to go further, or was I over facing my fears that day? Without another word, I pushed forward until I got to the top of the exposed rock. From there, I could see the summit, the highest point in Vermont was close, but there were many more rocks to climb over to get there, and I just didn’t have it in me.
Defeated, I turned to climb down the rock I had clung to just minutes before, and realized that I was just as terrified to climb down it; suddenly my decision to turn around made sense. The words of mountaineer Ed Viesturs came to mind, “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” Maybe, I wasn’t on Mount Everest or Annapurna, but to me, at this moment, with my limited experience, it was more important that I made my way down instead of pushing myself to climb up. It wasn’t worth it if I wasn’t comfortable.
As I slowly made my way down the mountain, my disappointment in not summiting turned to relief. I had faced many fears and pushed myself like never before, it was a day that I could be proud of, even if my goal wasn’t reached.
The day didn’t start in fear, in fact, it was one of my best hikes to date. I had been training after my experience in Massachusetts and ran almost every day and worked on strengthening my legs to ensure a good hike. Physically, I felt the best I had since two years ago when I was hiking long distances each week.
My friends and I opted to take the Long Trail South, part of the oldest long-distance trail in the country, built between 1910 and 1930. The trail itself was beautiful and the sounds of bubbling water followed with us for a while. In many places we had to walk over rocks and through water to continue on the trail. Because it had rained the day before and leaves were already beginning to fall, the trail was slippery, especially as we got further up where it was more rocky.
This was unlike any trail I had hiked before and although it was comprised mainly of rocks, I enjoyed the change of scenery, even if I was worried about slipping for most of the journey. With my brand new hiking poles in hand, I felt much more stable than I had on previous hikes.
The further I climbed, the harder it became, but the strong smell of pine seemed to keep me awake. As I pushed myself to keep on going, I couldn’t help but take in and appreciate the beauty that surrounded me.
Maybe it was the weather or the flora on the mountain, but I couldn’t help but feel as though I was in an enchanted world. Whatever it was, it kept me going.
Eventually, we arrived at a point where the trail met up with the Taft Lodge and a bathroom. We took a quick break for water and a snack, then kept pushing forward.
Eventually, we reached the alpine ridge and this was where all of my troubles began. The clouds covered the view, while the winds blew and covered the trees with snow. It was a lot colder on the top, but my blood was pumping in anticipation for the completion of my sixth summit. However, it wouldn’t be without a lot of work and many challenges to face.
Immediately, after entering the alpine ridge, we were faced with our first serious scrambles. What I had done previously on the hike, or ever, were nothing compared to what lay ahead.
I kept pushing myself to keep going, despite the fears I was already having. Occasionally the cloud cover would move just a bit, and I was able to see just how far up we were; I resolved not to look down. But that still didn’t quench the fear I had of falling off the mountain. I knew it wasn’t possible, but I had never been on the face of a mountain in this circumstance before.
My positivity stayed strong until we got to the chimney. As someone who has little experience hiking and on trails, I felt completely intimidated by the task that was at hand. With a boast of confidence from my friend, and a helpful push up, I eventually made my way up, but not before tears began streaming down my face. I had prepared myself for the physical aspect of the hike, but I hadn’t readied myself to face my fear of heights. Being on the exposed rock was intimidating, and aside from Marcy, which was an entirely different experience due to the weather, I felt like an amateur and knew at that moment that I wasn’t quite as ready as I thought I was.
As we neared the top, we reached a couple who had decided to give up their quest to the summit, as the girl was too afraid to push forward. They had taken the Hellbrook Trail, which is straight up and involves a lot of climbing and the top proved too much for her. Hearing that, I worried about my own abilities to make it up, especially after my break down moments before.
Still, I kept heading up, putting my fears to the side, until we reached a rock, and I realized I was going to have to climb it. There were barely any spots for me to place my hands and feet to boast myself up. Just looking up ahead, I doubted my abilities, as I have no experience with climbing, and that’s exactly what this was, with nothing but a drop behind me; my anxiety kicked in.
Up I went, and it was here that I clung to the rock, tears ready to flow down my cheeks. It was here that I broke down, unable to move, frozen in fear. It was here, that I climbed higher only to immediately question my decision and to end my hike a few minutes later. At the time, it was the right decision, and I don’t regret it, though I am itching to get back and attempt the climb again.
I ended my day feeling proud of what I had accomplished, even if I hadn’t reached my sixth summit, I was awfully close. After watching people take on the mountain, I realized what made me so different than them. I had never grown up hiking or climbing mountains; I spent my time in cities and suburbs, and it wasn’t until 2012 when I took my first real hike. What I was doing was huge for me, and it didn’t matter how long it took me to reach my goal, at least I was making attempts.
The words of another hiker on the trail helped ease my worries about not making it. “The mountain is always going to be there,” and it’s the absolute truth. There will always be mountains to climb, and second or third attempts. But what mattered was the fact that I was even out there giving it my best and pushing myself to my greatest limits.
On that day, if you had asked me when I was planning to reattempt my summit, I would have told you that I didn’t want to see Mt. Mansfield ever again. It had broken me down. But, the very next morning, as I drove to work, I found myself fixated on that last part of the trail, imagining when I would attempt it again. Instead of quitting my training, I got right back to running on Tuesday, even though my knees were still sore and my calves were tight. It didn’t matter, I wanted to prepare for my next hike and think about the possibility of once again attempting to hike to Vermont’s highest point.