Sub-freezing temperatures, 40 mile winds, rain, and bears. Sounds like a fun family vacation? Well, I had to deal with all of that and more on my first ever overnight hike and I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Two summers ago, me, my father, and my uncle embarked on our first journey into the pristine Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. We decided to cover the two tallest mountains in the state, Mount Marcy and Algonquin Peak, in one overnight hike. Cockily, we figured that we could climb the highest mountain and make it to camp — a trip of 11 miles, carrying 30 pounds each on our backs in one afternoon. Excitedly we commenced, but immediately I realized what I was in for. The 5-lb sleeping bag, two gallons of water, food for 3 days, and plenty of other things I didn't need were digging into my shoulders. The hot and humid weather wasn't helping either. Only one mile into the hike we needed a break. We admired the majestic mountains towering above dreading the moment we would have to get up.
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Several hours later, we ascended into the alpine zone. The pine trees gradually got smaller and smaller until they barely reached my waist. Vistas of craggy peaks surrounded us, and finally we glimpsed the lofty summit of mile-high Mt. Marcy, still far ahead. Suddenly, a chilling wind hit our backs. Shivering, we continued to make our way up the treacherously steep rocks. Exhausted and freezing, we reached the summit just in time for the sunset, proudly bathing in the glory of accomplishing such a challenging feat. It was the first mountain I had ever climbed, I felt on top of the world! Little did I know, this was only the easy part.
Soon after we started the descent, it grew pitch-black and with the batteries dying in my headlamp, I barely saw where I was going. Climbing down a steep, slippery ladder while carrying a heavy pack in near-total darkness was no easy task. Out of nowhere, a massive growling black bear jumped out on the trail. I nearly fainted, but momentarily we realized that we had to make ourselves look bigger to intimidate and scare it off. My uncle scrambled for his whistle and we all raised up our arms and made a commotion. Much to our luck, the menacing beast scurried away into the forest.
Two hours later, getting nowhere, we realized that we wouldn't make it to camp before midnight. Worn out, we started looking around for a spot to sleep. The only opportunity that presented itself was a rocky stream bed, but we were happy to take it. Not surprisingly, however, I woke up a few hours into the night with the lower end of my sleeping bag drenched. I shivered the rest of the night through. After maybe one hour of actual sleep, we woke up to everything being covered in a layer of frost. Never has my body been so cold and sore! We completely abandoned the idea of going up the other mountain and decided to take the shortest route to the parking lot. Adding insult to injury, it started pouring only 15 minutes into the hike but we made it back to town nevertheless. Needless to say, we spent the rest of day relaxing in our hotel's jacuzzi.
Despite the hardship, I learned many lessons from my journey: be prepared, plan realistically, and, most importantly, pack light! Since then, I've gone on to climb 15 more high peaks in the Adirondacks, and hopefully many more to come!
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