I’ve been on this journey of weightloss for over a decade. I’m finally down to my lowest weight since college. At the beginning of the summer I made a “skinny bucket list” which sounds silly but it was full of adventurous things that I’ve always wanted to accomplish. #1 on the list was climb the South Sister.
I grew up in the area and many people I know have climbed the South Sister. I read up on it and everything I found said that it was difficult only because it is steep and long (and at a high elevation) but not technically difficult.
I took the day off work, a Tuesday, so I could avoid the summer/weekend crowds. I left my house at 5:00am and got to the trailhead around 6:00am. I have never been much of a hiker. Car camping, sure. Occasional day trip hikes. But never embarked on something like this and ALONE. I was excited and nervous.
The first couple of miles were through a dense forest. Uphill. Tons of mosquitoes. They made me miserable. I walked with my bug spray in hand, spraying as I went along. At one point I stopped to get my water bottle and was swarmed. Luckily about three miles in the scenery changed to an open alpine meadow and the mosquitoes subsided.
There were plenty of people on the trail. While I was alone, I never felt in danger of getting lost of being completely by myself. Plenty of friends and family members got upset with me for doing such a thing alone. I assured you, I was never truly alone.
The next three miles were extremely pleasant. The views were incredible. The trail was easy. There were no bugs. I found myself so pleased to be on this journey. I loved seeing the wild flowers that peppered the landscape.
The trail started to climb and I could see the top of the mountain. As the trail got trickier I started to worry. At one point I was climbing up a rock, hand over foot. I stopped, shaking and trying to gain the confidence to proceed when I gentleman who was probably 75 years old sped past me. He yelled back to me, “You’re doing great!” I snorted and replied, “Thanks! I’m terrified. How the hell do you get down this?” He told me I took the hard route up but told me, “You just need to trust your feet.”
I thought that was a pretty powerful thing. TRUST YOUR FEET. I reflected on those words. With my hearing, I have horrible balance. I don’t trust much of anything or anybody. But my feet? They betray me a lot and I stumble and fall. Trusting them seemed the most absurd thought. But then I really thought about it. I might stumble and fall but I’ve always landed well. Those three words became my mantra.
TRUST YOUR FEET.
I continued up the mountain laughing at myself and wondering if hysteria from the thin air had set in. The trail evened out a bit and after one more scramble up some rocks I made it to a small glacier-fed lake. There was still about 1/4 of a mile to the summit but I decided to take a break at the lake and reflect.
By “reflect” what I really mean is, “Consider calling it a day and going down from here.” I was sweaty. I was tired. I was running out of water. And I was SCARED. I watched people climb up to the summit from my spot by the lake. The trail to the summit didn’t look to bad. Narrow and steep but not like the rocks I had to scramble up. On the other hand, what could be so great about the top? It was smoky out and the views were compromised. I briefly wondered if maybe there was a secret route down at the summit that only people who go ALL THE WAY UP know about. Maybe it was the thin air, but that last thought coupled with the fear of going back down are what got me to my feet and made me decide to contiue UP.
And up I went. On all of the websites I looked at and all of the books this part of the trail is NEVER documented and I quickly found out why. It is loose and slippery lava rock the whole way up. There is no time or space for pictures. THIS is the part that only the people who get to the top don’t talk about. That AND it felt like if you took one wrong step you’d land 10,000 feet down in a lake. My legs were shaking. I just kept uttering to myself to TRUST YOUR FEET.
And it was SLOW going. Step, slip, step, slip, stop, catch your breath…but finally I made it to the top. There was another glorious glacier lake and spectacular views. I sat down and enjoyed a granola bar and drank greedily from my water bottles that I filled up in the glacier lake.
A dear friend reminded me to take time to enjoy the top and reflect on the journey. He said, “You will never look at the mountain from your town again without thinking, ‘I walked to the top of that!'” And he was so right.
As amazing as the summit was, I’d say the trip back down was definitely the most transformative part of the journey. I can’t even explain how scared I was for that trip down the mountain. I sat at the beginning of the trail down shaking. People asked me if I was okay. Physically I was fine. Mentally? I was petrified.
Some kind people stopped to help. They offered words of encouragement and tips. They let me follow them. It was exactly what I needed. Before I knew it, I was past the scariest part of the climb and sending the kind people who helped me on their way.
I arrived home that evening at 5:00pm. The roundtrip adventure took twelve hours. I destroyed by toenails and my muscles were sore for a few days but I’ve never felt stronger and more capable. Cheers to many more adventures!