Saturday, August 20, 2016

Assault on Mount Abraham

Mount Moosalamoo

How dare I write a title suggesting a comparison between Mount Everest and Vermont's Mount Abraham?  Read to the end before judging.

21 years ago, I spent three days backpacking on the Long Trail with my dog Pup.   I did it as a way to maintain fitness, at the only time in my life where I was truly physically fit.  Nevertheless, it taxed me to my limit.  The trail was very steep and my pack felt overly heavy. The high point of the trip came as we reached the summit of 4017 foot Mount Abraham (pronounced Abrams by Vermont locals).  The views were fantastic.  Many people say, "Best Views in Vermont."   Ever since then, I wanted to return.

Well, I got my chance to return yesterday.  Libby and I were camped at Mount Moosalamoo, which is not far away.   The morning began with a cloudless blue sky.  It seemed like the perfect opportunity.  Libby couldn't go; she can't handle steep slopes.  She packed me a backpack with some raisins, some cashews, a bottle of water, and our (heavy armored) binoculars from Tarwathie.  Off I went.

My starting point was Lincoln Gap. At 2400 feet, it is a bit more than halfway up.   I got there early.  There were only 3 other cars at the trail head parking lot.   Underneath the tree canopy, the temperature was about 60F; ideal.

So I climbed and climbed.  The trail seemed much steeper than I remembered.   Even though my pack was light, it felt heavy.  I am nowhere close to being as fit as I was 21 years ago.  So I huffed and puffed a lot.  My heart beat so vigorously that I could feel it in my chest and hear it in my heat. I used my exercise techniques of breathing in a way to maximize oxygen intake.

I thought, "Having a heart attack up here would certainly be fatal.   There's no way that medical help could arrive in less than 1-2 hours."   But then I also thought, "Wouldn't that be a nice way to go; swift and while enjoying myself?"  I was pleased to note that when I stopped for a break, my pulse declined rapidly.  That's a good sign.

Finally, the path seemed to be leveling out.  I could also see glimpses of blue sky through the trees indicating that I was not far below the ridge line.  Finally, I met a couple descending, the first people I had seen on the trail.  I asked them, "How far to the summit."  They said, "Well, we have been descending for 30 minutes." Uh oh, I was only 2/3 of the way up.

That news made me reassess.  I realized that I was running out of steam.  My pauses for rest breaks started at once every 500 yards, then diminishing to every 250 yards.  By the time I met the couple, I was taking a break every 75-100 yards, thus greatly slowing my forward progress.  If I continued up, the 30 minute trip the couple cited would have taken 1.5 to 2 hours.  I forced myself to think of my own Box Canyon Rule.  I made up that rule back in 2013 to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable risks.

My personal philosophy, is "Just Do It" If you have a dream, get up off the sofa and if at all possible, give it a try.  However noble that philosophy might be, it is overridden by my my own Box Canyon Rule.  I reluctantly decided that it would be a violation of my rule to continue.  It would also be irresponsible to depend on help from others to get back down.  :-( I turned around and started back down.

Going down, I met very many people coming up.  I estimate more than 100 people.   But the descent wasn't easy.  I was afraid of slipping.   At one point, a careless step led to a stab of pain in my left knee.  "Oh no, a sprain would be very bad."   So I continued, but favoring that knee.   At another point, I grabbed a branch for support.  It broke and I fell.  Fortunately, I didn't fall far, nor did I get hurt, but the warning was ominous.  I stopped for a break.   The muscles in my shins rapidly began to stiffen. "Uh Oh, leg cramps would not be good either."  So I continued without pauses.

Eventually, I made it back to the car without incident.  Total round trip time on the trail 3.5 hours.     Of course, I'm disappointed in stopping just short of the summit.  That seems like a moral failure.  But, I'm glad I did the attempt.  I'm satisfied with my "Just Do It" philosophy, and also with my Box Canyon rule.  Adventuresome, but not foolish.

So this 71 year old body can't do what it did when I was 50.  Duh, what should I expect?   On a personal level Mount Abraham was my Mount Everest.   What do you think of my title for this post now?

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