Sometimes when you don’t get everything you wanted, you still get exactly what you needed.
Most of the time our guests learn a lot from our guides, and not just during the classes we offer, but even on our hikes. Every once in a while, however, it comes right back at us. One guest didn’t complete her hike because she wasn’t feeling it — and we know what that’s like; been there, done that. After about three-and-a-half miles in and almost 2000-feet of elevation gain, she threw in the towel, relieved to finally voice her decision. We reached out to her later on that evening, offered our condolences, and told her we hoped she was feeling better. We also mentioned that we would forgo the blog post being that the hike was incomplete — unless, that is, there was a valuable takeaway. Come to find out, there was. She reminded us of some basic facts: She didn’t come up short on her hike. Sure, she had some summits in mind, but the real purpose for her hike was everything else that hiking is and that hiking gives. It feels good, it clears the mind, it refreshes the spirit, it restores to soul… all of these things happened. Since she isn’t totally about summits and bagging peaks anyway, her hike was a complete success. On lead for this journey was Redline Guide Mike Maciel, who graciously offered the following summary:
Our returning guest had set herself an ambitious goal for the day: The Wildcats. She’d been working on her 4000 footers and was looking to step it up this time with a couple of summits. Some call it efficiency. Some call it peakbagging. We call it a day’s work.
I knew she wasn’t a huge fan of steep descents. I also knew she’s wasn’t a huge fan of ski trails (neither am I, for the record), but in the case of the Wildcats going down a ski trail is the lesser of some very steep evils. So we planned a route going in 19 Mile Brook Trail, up Wildcat Ridge Trail, and down Polecat ski trail. This was a hard one, though, and the crux of the day was always going to be about that .7 mile climb out of Carter Notch.
Hiking is physically and mentally demanding, it requires you to give quite a bit of yourself. Our guest was coming off of a long week and she had some things weighing on her. The more we got into the hike, the more it became clear that she just wasn’t feeling right on a day that was going to demand she be at her best. So we tried all of our tricks: we adjusted the pace, we took breaks, drank water, took electrolytes, and made sure to feed our bodies. The results, however, did not change: when she tried to hit the gas pedal, there just wasn’t enough in the tank. We’ve all been there. Whether it’s poor sleep, sore body, bad mood, one too many drinks the night before, weather, long week, so many things can knock you off your game. On some days it just isn’t meant to be. After an honest discussion of what was still waiting ahead, we made the decision to turn around at the intersection with Wildcat Ridge Trail.
Our guest told me almost immediately after turning back that she felt so much better, as if a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. She knew it was the right decision and she was completely at peace with it. We enjoyed the various cascades and soothing sounds of the brook on the way out as they discussed books, history, teaching, and the concept of “Nature Bathing.” We stopped to enjoy the scent of spruce and fir trees. The conditions seemed to follow the course of the day. As they turned back from Wildcat, an ominous mist was left behind while there was plenty of sunshine waiting to be soaked up closer to the trailhead.
Our guest suggested that we title the blog post, “A Walk in the Woods.” But was it just a walk? The AMC White Mountain Guide tells us the trip was worth 7.2 miles and 1900 feet of elevation gain. A solid effort that would have still earned her a summit in so many other places.
When booking an adventure, you might think the ultimate goal for the day is a summit. But that’s not true. The first, and by far most important goal, is always to get back safely. The standard second and third goals, to have fun and to make the summit, can swap back and forth in ranking depending on the specific guest and their unique motivations.
So on this day the summits took a back seat and enjoying time in nature moved up a notch. That’s the beauty of the mountains though: Sometimes when you don’t get everything you wanted, you still get exactly what you needed. —Mike M.
Well done, Mike, and to our guest the same. Thank you for the reminder.