[If you have not read Part 1 of this post, I encourage you to do so as it provides the background story as to why I would be seeking closure on a mountain.]
For the second time in fifteen years, I was stuck on this mountain as the sun was going down. And then it set. The forest was completely dark, the trail was no longer visible, and there was another mile to go before getting back to the parking lot.
It’s amazing how long trauma can affect us, and in what ways. The memory of the event dictates our behavior, even if we’re not thinking about the event at that moment, and even in different circumstances.
At the age of 28, I had climbed a local 9-and-a-half-thousand-foot mountain alone. I stayed too long at the summit, and got lost and mildly injured on the way back down. Relieved to finally find my way back to the trail, I then came across two men who chased me as I ran the remaining two miles back to the trailhead where my car was parked. I had narrowly escaped what would have been an assault or worse.
That was fifteen years ago. Not only have I not hiked or climbed alone, I find myself locking my doors immediately upon getting into my car. I get nervous when people walk closely behind me. If I am alone outdoors when the sun sets, the experience still crops up in the back of my mind.
But it’s a beautiful mountain, and after ten years I decided that I wanted to climb it again, with someone else of course. Nigel had wanted to climb it too, and for two years my boyfriend and I had talked about climbing it. A couple of months ago, we finally did.
It was a warm early fall day, and I wore shorts anticipating that I would get hot while hiking. The three of us hit the trailhead a little bit later than we intended to, but we kept up a good pace. Nigel enjoyed listening for Bigfoot noises and potential signs of its presence. As we climbed a little higher, I was dismayed to discover that I was not getting hotter. I was getting colder, my legs were exposed, and I had only worn a light long sleeved shirt over a tank top. I came to the place where, all those years ago, I had rejoined the trail after being lost, where the men began chasing me. I felt no closure, only a sense of unease.
Still about an hour from the summit, we got off the trail (which is not clearly marked). My boyfriend was not feeling well and decided to wait for us as I continued on with Nigel, who insisted that he had to finish (“I must conquer this nemesis”). Soon the summit was shrouded in clouds, and it was getting late. We needed to turn back. Nigel vehemently resisted, and I explained to him that sometimes you have to “give up your summit” for weather and safety reasons. It took me at least twenty minutes to convince him.
We couldn’t find my boyfriend, of course, after going back and forth and spending about 45 minutes looking and calling for him. Finally I decided that we needed to head back down, and if he wasn’t at the car when we got there, I would call Search and Rescue.
He thought to leave our cloth bag at some point on the trail, and I found it, relieved that he was on the trail ahead of us. By the time we caught up to him, the sun was going down, and I was numb with cold.
We began jogging along the trail, trying to get as far as we could before we were in complete darkness, which came soon enough. Fortunately, my boyfriend and Nigel both had their cell phones, and we used one for light until its battery ran out, and then used the other. But the phone lights were dim, and it was very difficult not to trip over rocks, which we did several times, causing injuries.
We could tell we were nearing the parking lot, but then we came to an intersection with another trail and because it was dark we accidentally got on that trail, which led us south of the parking lot, out to the highway. We began walking along the highway to get back to the turn-off for the mountain’s trailhead, which we finally found in the darkness.
For the second time in my life, I got into my car, shaking, and drove off. I vowed that it would be the last.
I had wanted to climb the mountain again in an effort to find some closure for the terrifying, traumatic experience that had happened fifteen years ago. There is some emotional need for closure, especially when we feel we have been wronged in some way. We try to revisit the place or the person responsible, hoping to resolve the violation or distress that we still feel. But sometimes, there is no closure to be had. Sometimes the whys go unanswered and the fears aren’t conquered. And we must continue on, the passage of time our only easement.
(image credit: Harvest Ministry Teams)