The Trail Provides Part 3 – Saddlebacks, Sunburns, and Heat Exhaustion
Day Two, Hike Two – The Saddlebacks
Fresh out of the rain and in a rush to get to my next summit, I pulled into the parking lot of Saddleback Ski Area. I don’t particularly enjoy using ski trails to reach the summit of mountains for various reasons (sunburns being top of the list), but I didn’t have enough time to take the AT to the ridge. The skies had cleared after the morning thunderstorms but there were still pop-up storms in the area. The humidity was high and the temperature was in the 80s – setting up conditions that I struggle in. Growing up in New Hampshire, I enjoy the humidity-free, cooler temperatures of fall over the stiflingly hot and humid summers. I don’t do well in heat, overheat quickly, and dehydrate really easily. Needless to say, I would’ve preferred more rain and cooler temperatures to sticky, sunny skies.
My mind was set, though, and I didn’t even hesitate as I starting climbing the very steep ski trail towards the AT. I made my ascent slowly, and over an hour later, I hit the ridge. I was hot, sweaty, and sore, but none of that mattered because I had a goal to reach. Saddleback Mountain and The Horn are along the AT and are situated along a beautiful, rolling ridgeline. The views are breathtaking regardless of which way you’re facing. I snapped a few pictures of the scenery, put on another podcast, and tried not to think about how hot and tired I was.
Pushing Through the Pain
The trail between Saddleback and The Horn is 1.7 miles. When I was calculating how long it would take for me to complete this hike, I looked at the total mileage (under 7), and estimated that I could complete the hike in under 4 hours. I didn’t take into account the impact heat, energy levels, or elevation change would have on that time. After reaching the summit of Saddleback, I fixed my eyes on the nearest possible mountain top. Experience estimating distance lead me to determining that it couldn’t be The Horn – it was too close. I started heading in the direction of my next summit and saw it begin to crest in the distance. It looked like it was a million miles away and I felt myself deflate.
There have been a handful of times when I’ve almost cried due to exhaustion while hiking, and this was one of them. I knew I was pushing myself to go faster than I could, that I needed to stop, rest, cool off, and eat something, but there just wasn’t enough time. Rather than resting, I continued along the ridge toward The Horn, descending hundreds of feet off of the summit of Saddleback Mountain. I knew that every foot I lost in elevation, I would have to climb again to get back to my car, and the thought of going back up hundreds of feet was overwhelming.
It felt like no matter how far I walked, the summit of The Horn wasn’t any closer. The trail began to climb over rocks and through stunted trees, but the top never came. Finally, after about an hour of walking, I stopped and felt sobs of frustration bubbling up inside me. I was listening to a podcast about backpacking, and trying to tell myself that if they could make it through terrible conditions, so could I. But I wanted to quit so badly. I was less that a quarter of a mile from the summit, but I didn’t think I had the strength to keep climbing any further.
The Trail Provides
Sometimes when you’re so exhausted and can’t convince your mind to keep going, your body takes over. I found myself walking, slowly, toward the summit. Although I wasn’t cognitively aware of it, my body was just doing what it knew to do best – hike. I hit the top, crumpled onto the rocks, and rested. Normally I don’t spend more than 15 minutes on a summit, but this time I sat there for over 20. A few minutes after reaching the top, I was joined by a SOBO (Southbound) thruhiker. Her presence was a welcome distraction and boosted my confidence. If she could do it, so could I. I said goodbye and headed down the trail toward Saddleback and although I was still tired, I felt somewhat rejuvenated.
Along the ridge I ran into a fellow NH hiker and we spent a few minutes chatting. These short conversations provided me with the distraction I needed to complete my hike. The climb back to the top of Saddleback – which seemed so daunting on the way to The Horn – flew by and before I knew it, I was headed back down the ski trail.
I set out to spend 4 days in Maine to test my limits. I found myself struggling mentally on day 1 of my adventure, but I pushed through because of the support I found on The Trail. On day 2 I was tested mentally, physically, and had one of the most dangerous experiences in my hiking career. Once again, even in the face of danger, The Trail provided. In only 48 hours I felt like I had grown in leaps and bounds as a hiker. What would the next 2 days provide?
To Be Continued…
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