This story begins in the spring of 2002 when my best friend from high school, Pat, called me up and asked if I wanted to join him on a hike. You might remember Pat from some other escapades that have been aptly described in this fine publication. The 5-day hike, Pat said, would take place in Washington and we would climb Mount Olympus. He had completed the hike before and all I had to do was follow him. The adventure seeker in me immediately agreed and we started making plans. What could possibly go wrong?
It would be about a 36-mile hike all together and Pat’s sage advice to get myself in better cardio shape did not fall on deaf ears. However, motivating myself to go on practice hikes with a 35-pound pack in the sweaty summer of the south presented me with many opportunities for struggle. First of all, a 35-pound pack is not nearly as heavy as the ones we would be using on the trail. Not to mention that there are very few mountains around Navasota to use for conditioning in this regard. Long story short – I thought I was pretty well prepared, but I found out that I wasn’t even close.
On day one of the hike, we made our way to Port Angeles which took us to Olympic National Park. From there we got our wilderness passes, checked in with the park rangers and hit the trail. I have done a lot of road marches during my time in the Army, but none of that prepared me for what lay ahead. After covering 9.6 miles of relatively level terrain through the rain forest carrying a 60-pound pack, I was beyond whooped. This leg of the journey was simply to get us to the base of the mountain where the “real” hiking would begin. I began thinking, “What have I got myself into?”
The next day I was introduced to something known as “switchbacks,” which would become my nemesis. Switchbacks, or “The Devil’s Turns” as I came to know them are trails that cut sharply from one direction to the other while going up a steep hill or mountainside. The grade is too steep to go straight up, so these torture devices are used to make the climb “easier”. After 2.8 miles, we were already above 2000 feet in elevation, and I could not go any further. We stopped short of our goal for the day, but I didn’t care. It was getting very very cold, and my legs were about to fall off.
On the third day, we made it to Elk Lake. 15.1 miles from the trailhead and just short of 4000 feet in elevation. I could look down at the tops of mighty fir trees 200 feet tall and every turn was another fantastic vista of nature’s beauty. We were truly in God’s Country when tragedy struck. Pat was in the lead on the trail when he stepped on an unstable rock, twisted his ankle, and nearly fell off the trail. Thank God he was able to stop his fall, or this story would have ended very differently. He soldiered on as best he could, but I knew that with every step he was in pure agony. We got to a point where the glacier moraine was in view and Pat decided to take a break and I went ahead. I made it a couple of miles onto the glacier and words cannot describe the scene that I witnessed. Looking down on the clouds in all directions was literally breathtaking. I was certain that I was in the presence of the Lord.
The old saying about mountain climbing is that going up is optional but coming back down is mandatory. On day four and five we made our way back to civilization changed men – and all for the better. Thanks, Pat, for pushing me toward and through that great adventure when we were literally on top of the world.
The column represents the thoughts and opinions of Alan Shoalmire. Opinion columns are NOT the opinion of the Navasota Examiner.
Alan Shoalmire is a resident in Grimes County and the owner of Grill Sergeant Hotdogs and submits a column to the Navasota Examiner every other week.