Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Riding high on camel's back

No, we didn't actually go to the middle eastern desert to ride camels. 

Last week, Eric and I went for our annual "date" event, spending three days together in Vermont by ourselves while the kiddos spent some alone time with their grandparents.  At this point, we are less nervous about doing so as we had similarly left Tamar when we had our date in Hawaii in 2011 and in Maine in 2012. Of course we missed the kids, and found ourselves singing children's tunes in Tamar's high pitched voice, but we did have a good time. 

Vermont is perhaps my favorite state in the US. We've skied here in the winter, went leaf-peeping in the fall, and now we've hiked it in the summer.  In spite of the heat, we went hiking on all 3 days. The first day was just a short, liesurely hike at kingsland bay, while we did a longer history-laden 5 mile hike on the 3rd day at little river state park. But the 2nd day was the one to remember. On that day, I summited Camel's Hump. 


Blood, sweat, tears and milk

Five months post-partum, I found myself rock scrambling to Camel Hump's peak. At 4083 feet, Camel's Hump may not be the highest peak in Vermont, in fact it is 3rd behind Mt. Mansfield and Killington, but it is the highest undeveloped mountain in the state. Presumably this is because the other two have been developed for skiing.

I can't say that we really planned this hike ahead. We intended to go to the green mountain club to get a decent Topo map, but since it was getting late in the morning, we went straight to the park and hiked using a generic map instead. Eric really wanted to hike along the Long Trail, which is the oldest long-distance trail in the US and extends north to the Canada border, so we did. The plan was to go on Monroe Trail to Dean Trail, and at Wind Gap, we can decide whether to go left to Mt. Ethan Allen summit (3688') and back to LT to Camel's Hump summit (2 summits!), OR turn right and just go straight to Camel's Hump (1 summit!).  

The climb started cheerfully enough.  We stopped a few times to take pictures of the flora and little brooks.  We also stopped so that I could pump milk since I'm still nursing Maya. Thankfully, my breast pump is a backpack and not in a purse form or I would have been stylin' up that climb.

Dousing myself with cool water from the stream 
Well, we found out that we chose the most difficult path to take to the top.  This became apparent about 2 hours into the climb at Dean trail. The ascent became slow and steep and there were no switch backs to soften it. Instead, big rocks started to appear and soon enough we had to scramble up or around them.  I still have the bruises on my shins and knees to show for all that rock scrambling. 


When we finally reached Wind Gap, I knew there was only one choice to make: go to Camel's Hump.  Thinking that we could climb 2 summits was overly ambitious of my dear husband. As much as I love him, I will only climb one mountain a day for him. 

This was serious business, so the chit-chat had ceased somewhat.  We climbed, and climbed, and just when we thought we reached the top and tried to take in the breathtaking view...

We looked up and saw this:

"Is that the peak?" between huffs and puffs was probably the only thing I could utter at this point. And so, we continued climbing up.

"We made it, right? This has to be the summit. Surely, it can't go higher than this." After all, there were no more deciduous trees in this part, only conifers. But I had a sinking feeling it wasn't the summit still. After rounding the corner, this thing loomed in front of us: 

This one's from the web; I think I was threatening to pass out at this point.
After a short late lunch break of bread and 3 kinds of cheeses, we started off again.  We met 2 hikers climbing down, and they were commending us for taking the steepest and longest route to the top.  "WHA..??" Poor choice, dear Watson, poor choice.

Slowly, we climbed again. I felt like we were Frodo and Sam from the Lord of the Rings. Our water supply was low, and we're trying to save the remaining 750 mL for the way down. And here we find it, the part where the trees no longer grew. Our mission is to just climb up the rocks.  Up, up, up, my precious, without getting blown away by the wind. And yes, it is quite windy when there are no more trees to shelter you!

As I struggle between breathing, swinging my feet here and there, and hanging by my nails, I saw her waving at me. Ugh. Someone has witnessed this graceless effort. Thought bubble: Well, to my defense, I have only given birth 5 months ago. Truth be told, I am not (yet) in great shape. I have only managed to rejoin the gym early this month, and had only gone to work out a handful of times... I could have told her all that, but I was too busy catching my breath and keeping my heart from beating out of my chest!  Too busy to notice her ax, in fact.

Patty and her ax
Her name is Patty, and she's not a crazy ax-weilding person who would toss the dead bodies to the side of the mountains, as I had initially imagined. She's actually the keeper of the trail, and carries the ax to clear blow downs (fallen trees). And she hikes up Camel's Hump EVERYDAY. Show-off.

Just briefly after getting to the top, the wind started to pick up. Patty warned us that we should head back down soon as the bad weather was rolling in, and that she was climbing down shortly herself. And we looked out ahead of us, and we saw the thunderstorm coming.  BUT I JUST GOT HERE! Well, I'm certainly not getting stranded in the alpine trail in that thunderstorm.  

We clambered down Monroe Trail as fast as we could. But the trail, while more forgiving, was still steep and rocky. In less than half an hour, the rain poured. Rocks + Rain = very slippery slope. Not good. And soon enough, I slipped flat on my back. Thankfully, my pump pack and hip pack cushioned the fall, but I got a really bad bruise and scrape on my elbow. And then... I slipped again... And again.   

Three times. That was my quota of fall I could handle. My back took a beating; my elbow was swollen, and blood was trickling out. I was so frustrated, that I seriously began questioning each step I took. This did not make for a quick pace at all, but we eventually made it down safe and sound. 

Who conquered who?

It was truly a proud moment having summited Camel's Hump. I can't say I enjoyed the view well enough to make the pain worthwhile since we were only up there for a couple of minutes. Still, I hiked up for 5 hours and down for 3, all of 7.4 miles of its steep, rocky slope. I have to say though that this was also a humbling experience. Climbing the path we chose requires more preparation, physically and mentally. And even then, you can still find yourself ill-prepared for what mother nature could throw at you.  

So, will I climb Camel's Hump again?  

Only time will tell, kiddos. Only time will tell. 

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