Weekly Peakly Volume 10
Or: The Cold Shoulder
Peakers! Welcome to another week! Today we will be recapping the many interesting ups and downs that I encountered on my April 28th adventure.
My intent on this rainy, bleary day in April had been to hike the trail known as Little Si. It’s a lower, easier version of the Mount Si trail, and would have been right about perfectly set up for my abilities at the time. Not too steep, not too long. Goldilocks would have been proud at its appropriateness.
I grabbed my day pass for the parking, scarfed down a breakfast that had primarily consisted of turkey bacon and coffee, and stumbled my way out to the car. The clouds were heavy overhead as I pulled out of the driveway, and they remained that way along the highway to my destination, a steely drizzle flecking the sides of my windshield where the wipers couldn’t reach.
I arrived at the trailhead only to discover that parking at this time of morning (around 9 am) was impossible. Both lots dedicated to this hike were full, and driving in circles for about 15 minutes proved fruitless. It wasn’t happening.
I had been intending to start planning backup trails, because previous attempts to find parking had resulted in some near misses. I’d been lucky before, but I knew eventually I would encounter an area where I would be too late to get a spot, and if I had no signal and no backup plan I wouldn’t have much choice but to turn around and start heading back. I wanted to avoid that situation. I hadn’t done that kind of preparation this time around, however, and I was a bit salty at myself for the oversight.
Luckily, this area wasn’t too far off the beaten path that I couldn’t hop over to a dusty parking lot and search for some alternative hiking choices. I ended up selecting a trail called Teneriffe Falls, primarily because it was close and promised to have a decent amount of parking at the trailhead. Plus, I wouldn’t be wasting my day pass, as that was required for that area as well as the no-go Little Si.
It was a short drive over, and when I arrived the lot was nearly empty. Score!
Now, I used to have this hike on my to-hike schedule, but I had removed it for some reason that I couldn’t recall (I’d recall it later, but we’ll get to that). Most of the hikes I’ve declined to tackle were because the parking situation didn’t look good, or the beginning of the trail was difficult to access. This, however, seemed quite nice. The lot was paved, the trailhead clearly marked. It seemed very well maintained and inviting!
I strapped my boots on tight and started the trek.
It’s fair to say that I started this day with low energy. I’ve come to notice that’s common when I first set out – I do tend to juggle a lot of different responsibilities during the week, so I don’t always have a lot of energy left by the weekend. Dragging my ass out of bed early in the morning, cooking a decent breakfast, and then traveling to a place where I’m only going to expend more energy isn’t always the easiest task. This week was particularly difficult, however. A very loud and exhausted part of my brain just wanted to turn around and go back. This wasn’t the hike I’d had planned; the whole day must therefore be a bust.
I ignored that instinct and pushed onward. It led to an interesting mood on the early stretch of this hike. I was irritated and unmotivated, but rather than wallowing in it I decided to try and find a way to distract myself. I walked past a particularly smooth looking tree, and I realized that I didn’t know what such a thing would feel like. Or the leaves. Or the grass. Or the dew on the tips of the flowers. I mean, certainly I had felt these things before. I had memories of what should happen when I touched them, but how did I truly know they were accurate?
It was as if it had suddenly occurred to my brain that the tactile experiences of childhood were years and years in my past. Did grass still feel the same as it had when I was ten? Had trees changed at some point in the past two decades?
So, with this marvelous new curiosity sparking my interest, I started touching things as I walked by them. Now, this is probably not the most advisable pastime in the woods. I mean, I have absolutely no knowledge of any kinds of plants you should avoid touching. This could have led to very terrible afflictions, but as luck would have it, it turned out okay. (I am officially NOT advocating repeating this risk, however. Don’t copy my mistakes just because I didn’t die.)
A funny thing happened when I touched that first tree. During the normal day-to-day chaos of my life, I spend a lot of time in my own head. I am often thinking about possible scenarios that I might live through, the ins and outs of the characters I create for my various projects, existential descriptions of scenery that convey both a mood as well as a more rudimentary understanding of an area. In doing all that, it’s easy to forget the full weight of the real world. It blurs with what I build in my head.
However, as soon as my skin contacted the cold, damp world in front of me, I was overcome with the realness that it offered. This, in front of me, beneath my fingertips – this was truth. It was an inexorable existence that my anxiety and my PTSD and my fanciful imagination could not deny. I could see the tree, of course, I could see the grass and the leaves and all of it stretched out before my gaze, but there is something far more visceral about touching what you see.
I spent the first few miles of the hike walking through the forest and just touching things like an addled hippy, savoring the different textures I encountered. I giggled quite a bit at the silliness of such a thing, but for every ounce of silly that I felt, I found equal counts of revelation.
I kept up my giddy act until I had pushed through to what I initially assumed was Teneriffe falls. I felt a rush of victory at having arrived with so much energy, and I was delighted to discover that the trail went right up to the water. I spent some time wandering around the rocks, full of adrenaline and smiles, splashing in the crispness of the stream.
At some point, I noticed that the trail kept going. I glanced at my fitness tracker and saw that I’d traversed about two and a half miles, and I had a good deal of pep in my step after lifting my mood earlier. I looked upward, and I thought, “What could be the harm in going just a bit further?”
As it turns out, quite a bit of harm, if you’re an idiot. Now, I’m writing this, so you know that this is all going to pan out okay in the end, but I certainly made some unwise decisions on this hike.
But we’ll get to those in a just a bit.
First, a discussion of what was onward.
The trail took a steep turn up into some rocky portions that were a bit terrifying to scramble over. There were more than a few places where I legitimately had to hoist myself up the side of a rock to reach the next section of path. Worse still, the rocks were all wet, and not all of them were settled completely into their slots, so they tilted below my feet as I balanced my way across them. It also got very narrow in places, so I was balanced right at the edge of a long drop that would not have been forgiving for someone that fell. The rain was much heavier at this height as I traveled through the clouds and the wind dropped in temperature. I didn’t much notice these things, however, as I was working hard to keep moving upward.
At some point, based on a few signs and the other hikers passing in the other direction who always spared a word of encouragement, it became clear that the real Teneriffe falls were yet ahead. I felt chagrined at the idea that I had mistaken the lower streams as the destination and not the mere appetizer that they were. I also became aware of the fact that the trail that had promised to be 4 miles online had started after that appetizer, which meant that this hike was going to clock in at a much higher distance than any of my previous ones. (And THAT, Peakers, is why I had removed it from my to-hike list.)
Let it be known here and now, whether I’ve mentioned it before or not, that I am nothing if not stubborn. Stubborn to a fault, stubborn to my own detriment. Stubborn in the kind of way that gets you in the papers the next day as the unfortunate splat at the bottom of a cliff.
None of this occurred to me in the moment, however. What I knew in the moment was that I had already come this far, and so it would be a waste of the entirety of the hike if I didn’t make it all the way to the end. (That black and white thinking is going to be the death of me, I swear).
So, onward I climbed.
I did make it to the top. Everything hurt. My breath in my lungs hurt, my thighs hurt, the rain slinking its way through the strands of my already soaked hair hurt. But I made it.
That waterfall was…impossible to describe. Neither words nor pictures feel like they can do it justice. It towered above me, pouring over the edge of the very top of a very tall mountain, filling the air with frigid mist that scattered around me and took my breath away. It felt alive, it felt magical, it felt like something that took a piece of your soul and healed it, wrapping it up and gifting it back better than it had been before. I was, in that moment, deliriously transformed into a version of myself that had met one of the wildest pieces of existence. A small piece, one that I’m sure would pale in comparison to the more commonly accepted wonders, but a piece of it all the same.
I spent about half an hour just soaking it in. Soaking in the view, the air, the ice-cold water splashing down from both the clouds and the falls.
It was the soaking part that I should have been more cautious about, but hindsight paints a much more obvious picture than I noticed at the time.
So, interesting fact. Did you know that hypothermia begins to set in when your body drops to below just 95 degrees for an extended period? That’s only three degrees off from what’s considered normal. But when your body can’t bring itself to rise above 95, after a while it starts to suffer from that.
I was dressed in a water-resistant jacket, a cotton shirt, and standard athletic pants, all of which felt like a sponge at this point. The only part of me that was dry were my feet, which were settled nicely in my waterproof boots. I hadn’t overdressed because it wasn’t particularly cold that day, hovering around 55 degrees even at the upper reaches of the mountain. The wind was colder, but I didn’t think it was cold enough to be concerned with. I was soaking wet but couldn’t feel the cold of the water because I was still moving.
My body, however, was paying more attention than I was.
The way down from that peak was a strange journey for me. I don’t remember much of it clearly, as it’s passed into my recollection as a haze of odd notions that don’t make sense now that I’m back to my senses.
I remember my leg gave out at some point near one of the rocky ledges and I collapsed, just about falling over the side. I remember someone behind me asking if I was okay, and I sheepishly claimed a cramp. In truth I didn’t know what had taken me down, but it seemed to fade as I sat for a second. I remember being so tired and sore that I started to think that my legs were sentient and quite possibly evil. I remember being unable to recognize any of the path at a certain point, and I was convinced I had become lost. I paced up and down for a small distance, trying to find where I had made a wrong turn. For reference: the path didn’t have any branches, it had been a straight shot the whole way. It would have been impossible for me to get lost.
I remember, keenly, that I really wanted to lay down. Just, on the ground, in the mud, perhaps beneath some leaves. I wanted to lay down and take a break. Just for a moment. It looked so soft, after all. So inviting. The rain was a whispered lullaby, the music in my ears an easy friend that could watch over me.
Part of me knew better, and I’m grateful that I had at least enough sense to listen to that part. A voice within me promised that if I laid down, I would not be getting back up again. To rest was to stop, with a permanence and finality to that word that I wanted nothing to do with. Thus, I kept walking. One foot in front of the other.
I once wrote a scene for one of my stories where a character had to trudge through the snow while exhausted beyond all reason, and to keep moving she repeated the mantra “Fuck snow, fuck ice, fuck ladders.” (it makes more sense in context, I promise). I found myself stepping into her shoes quite easily, and I developed my own sort of mantra. Fuck mountains, fuck the rain, fuck walking. I just kept repeating it, ad nauseum. As I look back, I feel a more visceral connection with that previously written scene than I had ever intended, and it’s strange to think I’d lived such a mood after having conceived it. I hope the other scenes for that character do not wind up being prophetic, elsewise we’re in for a wild fucking year.
I reached my car through sheer force of will, yanking off my jacket and cranking up the heat. I wasn’t even shivering, and all my skin had turned an angry red where it wasn’t frighteningly pale.
None of this alarmed me in the way that it should have. After all, I was still quite out of it from the hypothermia itself. It was not until I was home, under three layers of covers and recounting the experience to my nurse friend, that she told me I had probably been hypothermic. I was chastised thoroughly and told to go take a warm shower and drink some hot tea (all of this being well after an initial warming period that would have eliminated any blood rush/heart rate worries).
In the end, this hike was an aggressive 8.14 miles with an elevation gain of 1705ft. Far, far more than I had bargained for.
Still, I would not trade that experience for the world.
Mistakes and R E G R E T S:
1. Hey, how about we stop underestimating the cold and the wet? I really, really wish I had taken more care to watch what was happening to my temperature. I feel pretty badass for having gotten through hypothermia unscathed, but it was incredibly reckless to have gotten in that position in the first place. It is entirely feasible that I could have listened to that urge to lay down on the trail, and who knows if anyone would have been by in time to make sure I was okay. I am not in this hobby for the brushes against death, and I need to remember to avoid them better in the future.
2. I should really remember to read the fine print on the trail information page. I have gotten in the habit of just checking the mileage, elevation, and whether there’s parking. If I had read the directions, I would have known that there was a nearly three-mile hike just to GET to the trail to the falls and I would have known that was a bit too far for me to tackle at this phase. I’m impressed that I made it, but I would have been more impressed if I had known what I was getting into before I’d started.
Hot Takes for Hikers:
Plastic Bags Aren’t a Terrible Hiking Companion
My backpack is pretty water resistant, but not waterproof. I’d like to upgrade at some point, but for now it is what it is. What that means is that on this very soggy hike, it got soaked through. I am very, very lucky that none of the electronic components I had within – my spare battery pack, cables, a flashlight – had been damaged by the water. In the future, I am certainly going to stuff some of these things in plastic bags just in case I find myself caught in an unexpected element. I’d like to have the assurance that they are a little more protected from the mischief I find, especially since many of those items are my backup plan to survive said mischief.
Song of the Hike: Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks. I was on a LOT of edges on this hike, and the tenor of that song feels appropriate.
Animals Seen: One magic waterfall, like a billion squishy worm friends.
Mood: Reluctant, triumphant, daring, and then bent but not broken.
Trail Rank: Absolutely badass journey, would temper myself in this icy fire again (though maybe next time with better gear).