" The first step on the journey toward a calloused mind is stepping outside your comfort zone on a regular basis" - David Goggins
Over the last 2 years, I have been attempting to complete the 48 four thousand foot summits of New Hampshire's White Mountains. What has been interesting about this journey is that each mountain climbed has been it's own completely unique experience. Whether is has been due to an unexpected storm or trail condition, distinct features of the trail, difficulty of the terrain, people that I have met on the way, or even getting completely lost without enough supplies... after 34 peaks collected, the lessons that I have learned have been plentiful. Yesterday's "spring" hike of Mount Zealand was so impactful on me that it gave me great inspiration to write this post. It was by far the most dangerous hike I have participated in my life.
"Our biggest successes are born out of discomfort, uncertainty, and risk." - Gary John Bishop
Discomfort was felt in an unexpectedly cold May climate with snowy terrain that featured very unstable footing. This was a big surprise as it was a day of 70+ degrees of calm, sunny weather just 120 miles south in Boston. This made for very extreme trail conditions. For a majority of the hike, we had a very narrow path of "stable", icy ground that at times was more narrow than the width of your foot. On either side of this strip of safety, was fragile snow that could only be differentiated by the numerous postholes marked by previous hikers. This made it feel like we were tightroping up and down the mountain. Underneath the top layer of snow and ice, there was no guessing how far below the ground sat. The only way to find out was when a misstep was made and your body slammed into the pile of snow, which sometimes left half of your body suspended from a height above ground that still could not be determined. What made this even more challenging were the rivers that intersected the trail. The rivers bustled from the snow run off, and the very wet spring that we have had to date. In the river bed there were very few rocks that could be seen. The ones that were visible had surfaces that were questionable whether they would provide enough traction to keep us from falling into the frigid strong current. In certain cases, leaping across was the only option. This led to a nerve racking experience.
This hike was dangerous. The severe risk for injury was more than apparent. Some of the challenges to safety included: post holing into a depth of snow that could not be determined, falling on slick rocks and downed trees, weaving in/out/around/over/under newly overgrown trails while maintaining balance in tandem on previously mentioned tight rope, leaping across rivers and waterfalls, and impaling yourself on trees that had branches snapped off into spikes on their trunk. All of the things on this list, I experienced along the way. With each post hole (at least 92 times): a new abrasion bloodied my shin/ankle, my heart skipped a beat as my leg awkwardly free falled into the unknown depth, and my muscles worked to lift my body up in a pistol squat back to upright on the ice that supported my opposite foot. I face planted on slick rock as I leapt across the river, only saving myself from a brain injury with my swollen, battered hands. I sent a thorn of a broken brach into my palm as I tried to steady myself from slipping off of the path and down the cliffside. And I was whipped by tree limbs as I avoided falling and losing an eye at the same time.
There were multiple times when uncertainty was experienced. Frustration of falling turned into doubt. Early on, we discussed the possibility of turning around. The trail conditions did all it could do to discourage us to continue on our adventure. However, we were able to overcome this doubt by strength of mind. Realizing our strength and our capabilities, problem solving, strategically planning each path, and a relentless force of encouragement got us up and down that mountain, successfully and safely.
The mountain brought us many challenges that most likely would not have been present on a calm Summer version of the same hike. However, I would not have had it any other way. The sense of accomplishment as we approached the waterfalls, hit the cliffside with spectacular views, reached the sign indicating the highest point, and successfully returning to the trailhead can not be described in words. It truly was a big success. The hike, which was was 11.5 miles and featured 3,445 feet took us just under 10 hours to complete. We had originally thought that it would take us 6 hours. Regardless, I am proud to say that we won that battle, not only the challenges presented by the mountain, but those presented by our minds. The unexpected factors that made this journey so difficult, also made this experience more rich. This is why I do what I do. This was the lesson of the day.
"To achieve a new goal, it helps to have practice in achieving other unpleasant goals. This provides confidence that you can achieve whatever you put your mind to - to convince you that you have grit." Joe De Sena