Tag Archives: lost on a mountain

Looking for Closure, Part 2

[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)

Looking for Closure, Part 1

I scramble over boulders, some the size of small cars. My legs slip in between them; I twist my ankles. Trying to hurry, I trip multiple times and scrape my shins, knees, and hands. My backpack, now empty of food and water, slides around my back each time I pitch forward. I climb lower, entering the treeline, and make a futile attempt to use my cell phone one more time. I can’t stay on this mountain; the sun’s going down behind it. If I stumble into the trees and keep heading east, I should run into the trail again. But what if I don’t?

*

Mt. McLoughlin, a nine-and-a-half thousand foot lava cone in the Cascade range and the Sky Lakes Wilderness, is about 45 miles from where I live. Being the amateur mountaineer I like to think that I am, I invite two friends to climb it with me. And when they call me, after I’m all ready to go, and tell me they won’t be able to make it, I decide to go anyway. Alone. Because I had planned to do it today, and I’ve wanted to do it ever since I moved here ten years ago. So I grab my backpack, already packed with water, a tuna sandwich, an apple, and granola bars. I get in my car and drive to the trailhead by myself. Because I’m under thirty and I tend to think that’s not a bad idea.

The last mile of the hike is a little strenuous, but I summit with about ten other people. I go to the front edge of it and gaze at the view of the Rogue Valley and beyond, all the way to majestic Mt. Shasta. McLoughlin itself is beautiful, almost a perfect cone shape, and I figure it’s the ideal place to do some journaling. When finished with my lunch, I pull out my notebook and get started.

After a while I realize I should probably head down. I look around and discover that I am the last person up here. I go back to where I think the trail is and can’t find it.  Hmm. I could have sworn it was on the back side. I decide to start down where I think the trail should be; I’ll probably find it soon enough.

It’s slow going as I pick my way down the steep rocky slope. I try to quicken my pace but don’t seem to be getting anywhere. I don’t recognize anything. I refuse to believe that I’m lost and continue scrambling over the boulders, descending the mountain as fast as I can.

Finally I have to admit to myself that I am nowhere near the trail. I am lost, and the sun is setting. The Sky Lakes Wilderness, a sea of trees, stretches before me. I can see a lake in the distance. All is quiet except for my rapidly beating heart.

I head east hoping to connect with the trail at some point. Even after I enter the treeline the large volcanic rocks still surround me, along with fallen trees. It takes forever to climb over and around them. My entire body is sore, and I am trying to remain calm as the light continues to fade.

After what could be a mile of boulders and trees, I hear talking. I see someone sitting on a rock along the side of the trail. I’ve made it! My idea of heading east worked! I climb over the last section of boulders and greet the two guys hanging out there. You get lost? one of them asks. Yeah, I was over that way quite a bit. I’m so glad I made it back to the trail.

I look at them then. They both appear to be in their late thirties. Strangely, neither one has a backpack. They look at me. A synapse fires in my brain, my heart skips a beat, and in a millisecond, I know without even thinking the words. They were waiting for me.

The “fight” part of Fight or Flight is not an option. I turn and immediately break into a full-out run. I don’t feel my rubbery legs and sore feet. I do not feel tired as I push my already battered body into a sprint for the next two miles back to the trailhead. But I don’t think about how long it is, or the fact that it’s getting dark, or whether or not I still have my backpack on. All I know is that I hear two sets of footfalls behind me, and I am running for my life.

At some point I think that I hear only one set still behind me, but it feels like the guy is breathing down my neck. From somewhere deep within myself I find my last reserve and take longer, faster strides. I keep going, propelled by adrenaline and the goal of outrunning my pursuer.

After some time, I think the only footfalls I hear are my own, pounding in my ear. I do not look back but continue on, slowing down a little to keep myself from vomiting. Finally I make it back to the parking lot and notice that there are only two cars in it – mine, and a beat-up brown sedan parked in the far corner of the lot. I look back at the trail and see no one. Fortunately I still have my backpack, and my keys are in it. Shaking uncontrollably, I get into my car and drive off. About a mile down the road, I choke back sobs, not daring to think of what my fate might have been.

*

We hear news stories about people being lost in a forest or on a mountain.  Sometimes we think how scary that must be. And sometimes we find out just how scary it really is.