Fear And Anxiety In The Mountains | Exciting Hiking Adventure | Saddleback Mountain
As someone who loves to be outdoors there are so many different aspects of being outdoors that I enjoy. There are a lot of simple mundane things to be found in the outdoors that bring me joy. The texture of tree bark. Noticing when the wildflowers are blooming. Sitting in the shade under a tree.
But often I crave something different from my outdoors experiences. I often seek some type of new experience. I want to have experiences with some type of novel component. Something that I have not experienced before.
The entire trip doesn’t have to be new. It could be a new season at a location I have been to before. Or revisiting a particular location with a different focus or intention than previous visits.
One way to create a sense of novelty in my outdoor experiences is to plan something that is more of an adventure to me. Try to take on something that will challenge me in some way. Push myself outside of my comfort zone.
Planning to Camp in the Adirondacks
This year I went to the Adirondacks on a camping trip. I camped at a campground I had never been to before. The campground was in a region of the Adirondacks where I had never camped before either.
One of my main goals for this trip was to include as much new as I could into one trip. Simply starting every day at anew campground was a good start.
Another new thing for me was to try to plan out at least the outline of an itinerary so I would help me structure my trip and allow me to focus on the things I most wanted to do. There are so many things to do in the Adirondacks for a nature lover that it is easy to get sidetracked from ones original goals. It is also easy to feel overwhelmed with all the options and end up doing nothing. So over the years I have relied on guidebooks to help point me in the direction of things I want to do. This trip was no different and I used a guide book to plan my itinerary.
Over the years I have climbed a few of the 46 high peak mountains in the Adirondacks. The High Peaks are those with Elevation over 4,000 ft. above sea level. My goal for this trip was to add a few more peaks to that list.
To really push myself out of my comfort zone I planned a few hikes that would include summiting more than one High Peak mountain during each hike. Prior to this trip I had only ever summited multiple High Peaks in one hike once. That hike was hiking up one peak descending pat way down and then ascending another nearby peak.
I was looking to do something more ambitious on this hike. My goal was to hike a route that would have me summiting three High Peaks mountains. The route also would be an out and back. So, I would end up summiting mountains five times before I completed my journey.
The first big adventure I planned for this trip was to summit Mt. Haystack. The route I wanted to take of the two options listed in the guidebook I had indicated that Haystack could be reached via the State Range Trail. The route I chose would take me over Saddleback and Basin Mountains as well. So I would be able two summit two additional High Peaks mountains on my journey out to Haystack.
I was really looking forward to and excited for this adventure.
Beginning the journey
When I go on hikes in the mountains I feel like they have often ben rushed. Even when I take the time to stop and take photographs it seems like every step between a photograph was taken in haste. I really wanted to slow down and enjoy this hike more than anything else.
I had my camera with me but I was going to wait for a while to take any photographs. Maybe even wait until I reached the summit of a mountain. My goal for this hike was to just enjoy being out in nature. Enjoy a nice casually paced hike in the woods and slowly climb up some mountains. I didn’t want to feel like I was just rushing to get to the top of a mountain. I spent a lot of time trail running and I wanted this experience to feel as far away form that as I possibly could.
As I left the trail head to start my adventure I tried to maintain a very leisurely pace. I was probably hiking at a slower than average walking pace. The terrain was relatively flat so the exertion was minimal for quite a while.
As the terrain began to gradually get steeper I maintained my leisurely pace. I was probably meandering at around a 2 mile per hour pace. I didn’t want to feel like I was exerting myself until I really needed to exert myself to make the climbs. Just trying to relax and soak in the time in the woods was the goal.
The elevation gain didn’t really start to become challenging until over half way to the planned first summit of the day. At about ¾ the way to the first summit the terrain became significantly steeper and required more exertion. Even without going intentionally slow in these areas there were some 1 mile per hour segments.
Saddle back Mountain is the first mountain that has to be overcome on this journey. And approaching the summit is where this trip began to get challenging. But that would be just the beginning.
I was really trying to take my time and soak in the experience. I was so intent on being in the moment and enjoying nature that I didn’t even take any photographs until after I summited the mountain. And if you know me that is a huge feat.
The scenery and the terrain were a huge part of the experience on this hike. There was a nice variety of sights to see and terrain to traverse.
On the journey there were stream beds with large stones pilled up. Some streams were traversable by bridge others had to be walked across among the stones.
As is often the case in the Adirondacks there were random giant boulders dispersed among the forest lands. These giant boulders are one of my favorite features to find out in nature. They are just fascinating. Thinking about the forces of nature that moved these boulders across the landscape and then left them behind to be encountered now in this moment.
It was quite a dry summer but there was still water to be found among the streams. Some of the streams were still trickling over the rocks enough to form small waterfall type natural features.
Most of the hike is spent in the woods. The forest is quite dense at times. Large trees towering overhead. Thick green foliage providing shade from the summer sunlight.
Eventually the hiking trail emerges from the thick forest and there are more stone features to navigate. Many of the high peaks in the Adirondacks have some unique solid stone features to navigate while climbing towards the summit. On the way up the upper portions of Saddleback Mountains approach there is a large section that is a steep completely flat stone slab.
The trail leads along the edge of the sheer stone face. There is no direct way up that rock face. This section is so steep that there is a long wooden staircase build on top of the stone that allows for people to make the ascent. I could not imagine climbing up that section without having those stairs in place.
The end of the line
I had most of the trail up to Saddleback Mountain to myself. Upon reaching the summit I was immediately joined by another hiker reaching the summit just after me. I let the new hiker pass me by as he was clearly making faster progress than I was at that point.
I stopped to take a few photographs. Then I continued on along the summit following the trail. Looking for where I would descend before moving towards the next mountain I had to summit on this trek. I figured I would follow the previous hiker on their way down.
The summit area was small and somehow the hiker that passed me had quickly gotten completely out of site. And I for some reason could not make out where the trail lead after this. After walking a small circle along a deer trail that lead me back to where I reached the summit I realized my mistake.
I looked down and followed the yellow painted trail marking more carefully with my eyes. Walking along the summit I saw the trail do something I had not expected. The trail appeared to drop off a cliff. Just over the edge and gone.
That explains why I quickly lost site of the previous hiker. They were not moving horizontally anymore they were descending vertically out of sight.
I approached the ledge to get a closer look. There was a series of small ledges to make ones way down. Not what I had expected.
I had never experienced this type of terrain on any hike I had previously been on. This was really taking me outside my comfort zone on this one now. I am not a fan of heights, but I have never been in a spot on any previous mountain hike where my fear of heights has bothered me. That is until now. I was not sure I could do this.
Standing on the summit, looking at the landscape before me, I tried to gather my resolve. I wanted to give this a shot. Maybe it would not be as bad as it looks once I started going.
I moved ever so slowly and cautiously to the edge of the mountain summit. Looking down into the vast forest below. That did not help. I slowly began to shimmy and slide my way down the first ledge to the next spot I could get footing. Take moment. Regroup. Slowly move down another ledge. Look. See where I need to go. Slowly move my body down along the edge of the mountain.
I moved down a few ledges from the mountain summit. I was now on this exposed cliff face. There was a great view. But unfortunately for me it was a view of out and down.
And that is when it hit me. A wave of fear and panic. I rapidly lost my composure. I couldn’t move. Fear gripped me.
I sat there pushed up against the rock face. Unable to move. I couldn’t go down and I couldn’t go back up either.
Fear was in control. The strange part is I wasn’t actively afraid of falling. It wasn’t like I was sitting there thinking I am going to die because I am going to fall. I was afraid of being too afraid. It seemed like a completely irrational fear that I had no control over.
I was afraid that if I kept slowly moving back down I would eventually reach the point of no return where I couldn’t easily get back up or the rest of the way down. My fear had me worried that if I successfully got down and made the rest of the journey out to Mt. Haystack that on my return trip I would be too afraid to climb this rock face back to the top so I could leave. I was afraid I would not be able to finish what I had started.
I stopped where I was. Literally sitting on a cliff edge. My legs dangling over the edge. Trying to get a grip on myself.
I was able to turn my focus inward. I focused on calming down. Tryin o get control of the emotions that were running wild inside of me. I needed to be in control of this moment. Nothing good was going to happen if I couldn’t get in control.
After a few moments I was able to calm the fear enough to make a decision on what I needed to do. I decided I was going to go back up to the summit of Saddleback Mountain. That was the only choice that seemed viable. And I convinced myself that I could do it.
My goal of hiking over Basin Mt and up to the summit of Haystack Mt was not going to happen. That was not an option. I had to abandon any hope of doing that. And making that decision hurt.
I Slowly shimmied my way back up. One ledge at a time. Taking time to compose myself after each cliff ledge I ascended. I think I even took a few photos while sitting on those ledges trying to compose myself. The view was truly spectacular. But I couldn’t swear to it. The moment is too much of a blur of fear.
I eventually made my way back up to the summit. I was on top of the mountain again. Back on firm ground. At least physically.
My fear of heights was still running wild. I wanted to stay at the top of Saddleback Mountain and take some photographs since that would be the only mountain I would end up summiting that day. But my fear had completely rattled me. After that experience I could not find any joy in that summit anymore. I quickly took a few photos nd then headed down the mountain.
I have never ben so completely gripped by fear from a physical experience before. This was like nothing I had ever experienced before. In the aftermath of this experience I almost abandoned any plans to hike any other high peaks mountains in the Adirondacks during this camping trip. I was completely shaken.
Would I run into more terrain like this? How would I respond if I did? Could I confidently hike these mountains anymore?
I had more questions rattling around in my head than ever before. I had always been a confident hike before. Now I had doubts.
Thankfully after a day I had regained enough of my confidence o not completely change all my plans for hiking. But I did decide not to do one hike because I was concerned about how I would react in the face of the terrain and I wasn’t ready for that right now.
This was an experience I will not soon forget.
Mistakes were made
I made a lot of mistakes on this hiking adventure. Hopefully I learned a lot from those mistakes and will not repeat them, at least not too often.
I made sure to bring my trekking poles with me. They are collapsible and easy to carry. I had them strapped into my hydration pack for the entire ascent of the mountain. For some reason I didn’t decide to use my trekking poles until I was on my way down the mountain.
I don’t know why I did this. This was a decision bourn out of pure stubbornness. My thought process was that I would get my trekking poles out when I NEED them. But how often does one literally need trekking poles. Probably not very often.
Instead I should have used my trekking poles the entire journey. It could have helped me save energy. Maybe I would have felt more confident at the top of Saddleback if I had conserved energy by using my trekking poles. Could that have made a difference. The entre trip as a whole could have felt more comfortable if I had used my trekking poles instead of being stubborn.
Another mistake I made was underestimating the amount of time it would take to make this hike round trip. I knew it would take a long time. The amount of time it would take was never a big concern for me. It was never a concern because I literally had all day to do it. I figured it would just take however long it would take.
Plus I figured if I needed to move faster at times I could. I was a pretty experienced hiker. And I was an experienced runner. I can move at a faster pace when I need to. I could have put more thought into this aspect of the hike. Maybe I should have had some sort of goal for how long I wanted to take to keep myself on track. That would give me a way to evaluate my progress.
This lackadaisical approach to the amount of time the hike would take lead me to decide that I wanted to make it a super casual hike. Take my time and really soak things in. There is nothing wrong with that, but perhaps this was not the hike with which to take that approach. This was a long and strenuous hike. I probably should have taken a more serious attitude to the pace with which I needed to maintain my forward motion.
The fact that the beginning portion of the hike was relatively flat compared to the rest of the journey would have been a good time to hike at faster pace and make up time that would be lost at more strenuous and challenging sections of the trail. Using my trekking poles would have helped with this. They help to keep me in rhythm and moving at a good pace. Assisting in stabilization, balance, and shifting some of the load from my legs to my arms to keep me moving more efficiently.
I was prepared for a long day on the trail. I had water, food, map, guide book, and head lamp packed in my pack. But this attitude I brought into the day ensured that it would be the longest day it could be. I will try to be more mindful of time in the future.
The terrain on this hike was a challenge. A challenge that I underestimated. My lackadaisical approach to the time required for such a hike and the pace with which I wanted to move combined with my unfamiliarity with the difficulty of the terrain to really slow me down a great deal.
Hiking to the first mountain I summit that I would have needed for the complete trip I had planned and hiking back to the trail head took the vast majority of the what I was expecting the total time to be for the entire trip. It did contain the most mileage but the part of the trip I did not complete contained much more challenging terrain considering I would have two more mountain ascents and descents to complete.
I did not respect how challenging hiking high peaks in the Adirondacks could be. Especially if I linked three mountains together to do all in one trip.
Part of underestimating the terrain was what cut my trip short. I was completely caught unawares as to what lay ahead of me at the summit of Saddleback Mountain. Being unaware of that was a huge error.
It just never occurred to me that these mountains would have descents like that. It was not something that I had experienced before. But, now I know and will hopefully be more aware of potential issues on future hikes.
Sadly I was completely unaware of the steep cliffs I would need to use to descend Saddleback Mountain because I apparently did not read my guide book carefully enough. I read the descriptions of the hikes and routes before I went out on the hikes.
I should have planned to spend more time on this part of the preparation. If I had spent more time and read more carefully I would have read this passage that may have alerted me to what was waiting for me t the top of Saddleback. “The trail turns shar R at the summit and follows along a ledge marked with yellow paint blazes. Turning L at the end of the ledge, the trail descends precipitously over ledges where extreme caution is needed.”
After reading that it is possible that I would have decided to still make this hike, but I would have at least have been prepared for a steep descent when I got to the top. I would not have been caught by surprise. And maybe I would have been in a better frame of mind to handle that decent without descending myself, into fear.
But reading that passage I could have also made a completely different decision. The guide book also includes a different route to get to Haystack Mountain. If Haystack was my goal I could have used this alternate route and succeeded.
Part of the problem is that I was enamored with the idea of climbing three high peaks mountains all in one go. I think that once the appeal of that possibility got to me I found myself with blinders on. Maybe that would have meant I still took this route anyway. Maybe that is why I glossed over that section without seeing it.
My goals and excitement crowded out my preparation. That is never a good thing. I need to do better next time. I will do better next time.