I woke up Tuesday morning not completely rested; my knee had been uncomfortable throughout the night. When I stood up to take advantage of the bathroom right across the hall, I knew it wasn’t good. Every once in a while I’ll twist my knee while hiking and although it’s uncomfortable, it’s nothing worth mentioning because I usually rest the next day. This was different but being someone with a high tolerance for pain, thought I’d be okay after taking something.
With a warm belly full of soup and homefries, and with my pack emptied for the day trip ahead of us, Paula and I were at the trailhead by seven forty-five. The first couple of miles I didn’t really notice my knee because the rest of my body was screaming at me for trying to move so quickly. This was our fourth day hiking and a first for attempting as many miles as we did. By mile five it was impossible for me to hide from Paula that I was in pain. I was limping and my pace was not at my normal chipper rate. I took another Aleve and ate a snack at Slant Rock in hopes that this would do the trick… but it didn’t.
Lucky for me the pain was nonexistent while going uphill. We took the little “shortcut” over toward Basin instead of taking the route that we took toward Haystack for two reasons: a) it was steep and b) it cut off a small amount of distance. I personally enjoyed the steep little climb, although, I had to be very cautious of my knee when stepping so high. I couldn’t trust it 100% even though there wasn’t pain, it was still weak. Paula kept asking me if we should turn around but we were almost to the middle of the mileage for the day, so I figured why not continue upward? I should have done my research about this hike ahead of time.
The mile or so up Basin once we met the trail junction was steep! It had ladders. It had a cliff. It had sheer rock with barely anything to hold on to. It was a test for my fear of heights. One young man passed us who said he had done this hike a number of times and suggested that maybe we not go over to Saddleback because if it was wet, it could be dangerous (we were in the clouds). I had no idea what he was talking about and didn’t care; I was in pain and there was no way in hell I was going to re-climb Basin. We got to the top, took our photographs and immediately headed toward Saddleback.
The descent was just as steep as the climb. It was slow-moving and because we were in the clouds, we couldn’t really see where we were headed. All I remember thinking was I will never re-do that mountain in the winter in fear of falling off cliffs.
Before I knew it, we were heading upward and it wasn’t bad until we broke the treeline. I literally could not believe what was in front of me: boulders stacked upon boulders. There was no trail. There was a yellow painted dotted line giving us a suggested route but there was no definite route. You could see dirt and skid marks from crampons all over the boulders. It was do or turn around and re-climb Basin; which was not an option in my book because of the pain in my knee.
It took Paula and I a good five minutes to assess what was about to happen. The rocks weren’t wet, which was a plus, but they seemed impossible to climb. I could conceptualize how I was suppose to move forward (up really) but I couldn’t physically do it; the fear was in me 100%.
Paula decided to go first; this tactic of her proving that it could be done is what had gotten me up other similar situations. When it became my turn, I followed her direction (meanwhile, she was clinging to the boulders up above us) and then froze. I was shaking and the tears were a-flowin’! There was no budging. I had to close my eyes and say out loud that I HAD TO DO THIS. I had to. And I did. Slowly. And ever so tightly gripped to rocks that didn’t have spots to grip onto. It was by far the most difficult thing I had to do on my 46er journey.
We got to the summit with absolutely no views and no fingerprints left on the tips of my fingers. I was happy but very worried about the walk out. After a quick snack in the trees to avoid the wind, we headed down Saddleback; which wasn’t too bad at all. Before I knew it, we were at the junction to either head out of the woods or go to Gothics; we chose to walk out (our plan all along).
All I really remember from the walk out was the amount of pain I was in. Luckily Paula let me borrow one of her poles which helped me take off some pressure from my right knee. It was a long steep out, and this time we got to see the finished staircase going down the slide that was created from the hurricane. When Paula and I hiked Gothics last summer, they were just starting this project. I was very thankful for those stairs because although I moved slow, they helped in that very steep section.
We passed JBL and Paula picked it up this time to get me motivated to get out to the car. We knew we’d be in the dark for a little bit of the trip, but with no water crossings ahead of us, we were both in a better mood. On the trail we got to see a man from PA that we had met the previous Sunday on top of Redfield. He was camping out there for a couple more days before heading home to his wife. We also met a father and son from western NY who were planning on staying out in the woods, but decided to get a room in Keene instead. They were shocked to hear that we only had one more peak left. How dare them doubt us!
We only walked a mile or so in the dark, and reached the car shortly after seven. We stripped off our boots (mine were still wet from the water crossing the previous night) and cranked the heat… and cracked the window because our gear stunk! Despite the knee pain, it was a wonderful four days in the Adirondacks and it was an even better feeling knowing that we accomplished what we set out to do.