Another failure—or not? March 12, 2011Posted by Jenny in Black Mountains, hiking.
Tags: Celo Knob, winter hiking, Woody Ridge
Every now and then I have a hiking experience that leaves me divided as to whether it was worthwhile or not. The last time I had this sort of outing was on my unsuccessful attempt to go up the Ravine of Raymond Cataract. This time, on a beautiful spring day, I decided to do a hike I’d done before, going up Woody Ridge to Celo Knob in the Black Mountains. It was partly just to get some good exercise, since the trail is very steep, ascending 3200 vertical feet in 2.2 miles—about a thousand vertical in one particular short steep section of well under half a mile.
As soon as I got onto I-26 heading north of town, I saw that all the high elevations in sight had snow on them—visible mainly on grassy spaces and ledges, but definitely lurking everywhere under the trees. Of course! The big rain event we had in town on Wednesday had been a snow event in those places. This is the sort of thing that I really should have thought about ahead of time—the kind of thing I’ve been known to sneeringly criticize others for not realizing—but now the joke was on me. I had plenty of warm clothing with me, but the one item I should have brought with me was my microspikes or any sort of traction device for going up steep snowy terrain. Should I turn back and get the spikes? I thought about it, but you know, it is very hard to turn around once you’re moving along on the open highway.
I turned east to Burnsville, then south on Hwy. 80 at Micaville. The Black Mountains towered above the Toe River valley—the upper gullies and ridges looking quite snowy. I drove to the Woody Ridge trailhead at 3200 feet and started my way up. Temperatures were pleasant, the trail was mostly bare with a few patches of snow. I reached the start of the steep section, which is a very distinct departure from the gentle woodland climb below. Up, up, up over bare ground splotched intermittently with white. At around 4500 feet, I got into continuous snow. Slippery—but at least I had my poles. I slithered and scrambled up the trail, my boots doing a sort of comical Road Runner routine of spinning around in circles with minimal forward progress.
At around 5000′ I looked at more steep snowy trail above me. The will to continue dissolved. (In fact, if I had continued another few hundred vertical feet, it would have gotten less steep and probably better.) I was there by myself and no one in the world knew where I was. I fall somewhere in the middle between folks who won’t go anywhere on their own without someone else knowing their destination, and others who will do all sorts of crazy things on their own and take the risk (you know who you are!).
It wasn’t the physical effort that was the problem, it was the continuous slipping that made me wonder when I would collapse in some interesting and awkward position with appropriate injury to ankle or knee.
So I turned around, and going down was a lot harder than going up. I retreated very slowly with my tail between my legs.
When I think back on it, part of me feels embarrassed not to have forged ahead. Part of me looks back on the image of myself climbing alone in the snow without proper gear, and I have this odd feeling of pride for being out there at all. There is a certain kind of intensity to the memory that I actually treasure, the solitary struggle up the trail.
What do you think? Be honest—I’m not looking for validation. You can tell me you think I should have gone to the top.