West Sleeper - Attempt #2

Submitted by Pat

Date: September 17, 2007
Time: 5 hours
Weather: Sun and snow showers, windy, 20's
Miles: 7.43
Steps: 24,471
Trails: Sabbaday Brook Trail
Holy Shit Factor: Water crossings in November suck

Picture Gallery

Short Video Clips
Nancy's Thoughts about Water Crossings in November (Rated R for Language)
Nancy's Thoughts about Water Crossings in November (Continued)

So, yes, we turned around on the Sabbaday Trail last Saturday and like Nancy stated in her November 12 Welch-Dickey report we worked through how bad we felt about turning around in short order. We are not hikers who like to give up, but it was clear that the water crossings on the Sabbaday Brook Trail were not what we expected and more than we had in us that day.

On Saturday, November 17, we decide to give the Sabbaday Brook Trail another try. We bring neoprene boots and courage and fortitude and will. [I told my housemate about turning around last Monday and she said, "Why don't you bring neoprene boots to cross?" Duh - and I could have had a V8.] We are ready. I know there are several crossings but am not exactly sure how many and the map isn't detailed enough. The Sabbaday Brook ranges in width from pretty darn wide to pretty narrow and all sorts of permutations in between. We arrive at the first crossing and unlike what Nancy states in her trip report we never did find the bushwhack the first time. We found out later that we had stopped about 50 feet short of the trail in our effort to find a place to cross. Today the water is higher, covering even more rocks than last time. It's colder with temps in the mid-20's and occasional snow showers and there's snow cover even at the bottom of the trail. The places where I thought we might be able to cross and keep the water below our knees were deeper and less inviting than last Monday. I can feel a creeping sense of anxiety rolling toward me. Nancy tries to talk and the water volume is so high that I can't hear her above the roar. Notch up the stress. I decide to walk down the herd path to see if I can find a better spot, but realize time is slipping away. We either have to do this thing now or not at all.

We return to the trail junction and sit down, roll up long underwear and pant legs, put on neoprene boots (in Nancy's case she has neoprene kayaking booties with smooth rubber soles and I have neoprene boots that were bought to fit over my cycling shoes and zip up the back - which means they are too big for bare feet so I put on thick wool socks first - luckily they have a tread on the rubber bottom), extend our poles and start across. My feet still haven't warmed up from the start of the hike so I walk into the water knowing I am already at a disadvantage. Nancy is struggling because her booties have no purchase on the snow or the rocks. Notch up the stress. Once on the other side, I know she is hurting from the cold - her hands are freezing and the rictus of fear on her face make it obvious that she needs to get warm and quickly. I sit her down on her gaiters, pull off her booties, and towel her feet dry. She puts on dry socks and her boots and turns to help me. This becomes the ritual for the rest of the crossings.

A high five and we set off. My feet are freezing - they are in that state of pain that happens when digits get really cold and then start to warm up again. I walk on my heels so as not to put pressure on my screaming toes. A tenth of a mile later we encounter another crossing. I scream at the top of my lungs, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" How can this be? I look across the stream and recognize the herd path we had been on a few minutes before and realize that was the infamous bushwhack. Oh, no. No, no, no. We have to cross the brook and we didn't really have to - we could have walked around it, had we known, had we pushed on a few more feet. Water under the bridge, so they say. We strip off boots, socks, and I put on freezing cold wet socks and the neoprene boots while Nancy slips into her cold neoprene socks. I rip my way across in no time and Nancy is right behind me. We go through the removing of wet things and toweling off ritual again, haul on our packs, and head up the trail.

I swear not 20 minutes later we come to another crossing. Oh my god. I have decided that I hate this trail and my decision to go on this hike and what are sane people doing trying to cross a brook in high water in November anyway? Obviously we are not quite sane. Notch up the stress. A couple of notches. We decide to walk up the brook because the trail junction is deep and wide and we are hoping for an easier spot. We are still ready and willing to continue. No luck - we see nothing good and sticking to our initial decision to limit the amount of time we spend looking for better crossings, we start back to the trail junction. On the way, we see a hiker start across the river - boots and poles - with his long legs he is able to make it across. We give him a thumbs up and he continues up the trail. No words are spoken. We walk up to where he crossed and look at each other. Nancy decides she is done taking off her boots and says she is going to attempt the crossing in her hiking boots. I can't do it - so I change into my lovely sopping wet socks and booties. Feels soooo good. I start across first and realize halfway across that this is a really sketchy crossing we have chosen.

I can feel my muscles clenching and for a split second - because my mind and body are really busy trying to remain upright - wonder why I am so frightened. It's water, albeit cold water, but it's only water. If I fall in I'm not falling into an acid bath - I'm acting like this is life or death. I shrug and step carefully from on rock to rock, poles firmly rooted on something, then come to a tree trunk extending into the water. The trunk is glossy with ice and snow - and I'm supposed to walk up the trunk and get around a tree that is leaning out between me and the shore. If I fall off the trunk, I am definitely going to take a major bath. I don't look closely enough to see if there is potential injury involved if I fall. I can't believe it when I swing my leg around and find purchase on the shore. I did it! Yes! Nancy is behind me with her hiking boots on slowly making her way up the trunk. I am able to grab her jacket as she swings around the tree and onto the shore. Wow - what incredible relief.

But now we have an even more insidious fear creeping into consciousness. It's almost 10:30 a.m. We are barely two miles into the hike and we have to cross this brook again on the way back...in the dark. Notch up the stress. We don't talk about it...yet...but it is very much on our minds. I peak in and check on my sensory organs - heart says, "I really need to get to the top of this summit. I need to feel like I can do something hard and big, that I still have the right stuff, that the difficulties at work will somehow be made better by my getting to the top." My head says, "Do you really want to cross this brook at night? Do you have the legs to climb two 4,000 peaks and a hundred highest and then come down and recross this mess?" I respond by saying to myself that we can come down the Pine Bend Brook Trail. I know that trail has water crossings, but I have no idea how many or how deep and wide the brook. My mind is wonderful how it calms be by showing me this alternative and lulls me into complacency in the "not knowing". My gut says, "Get the hell off this trail. It's cold. It's deep. You don't know how many more crossings. It's not safe to cross in the dark. And you don't have the stamina for this. Not today." Who did I listen to in that moment? My heart.

We keep going. This part of the trail lasts for a while. We know we have at least one more crossing. When we finally come to it, we see that it's relatively narrow at the trail junction and there's no place easy to cross. Nancy keeps her boots on - she's done with the booties - and I take the time to change. We cross - halfway across the brook her pole collapses and she yells out for my pole - the look on her face tells a story of fear and loathing. She makes it across and helps dry me off before we saddle up and continue on. Not twenty minutes later we come to another crossing. I feel my will start to collapse. I still don't know if this is the last crossing - it isn't on the map. We look at the crossing options and they all suck. Finally we look at each other and it's like we "know" - the hike is over - we're done - it is not meant to be. But, man, I want to scream in frustration - instead, I turn around and we start slogging back to the trailhead, knowing we have at least two more water crossings. I dread them. I hate them. I hate that I'm scared and that it isn't the right time. But that's what it is and even though my heart is disappointed and my head says, "I told you so," my gut says, "Nice work, Piper - good decision."

The water crossings on the way back are anticlimactic and rank very high on the not-much-fun-o'meter. We finally reach the bushwhack and I get great pleasure not having to recross that first crossing again. Nancy is ahead of me and the footing is treacherous - she comes to a thin part of the trail that drops off into two or three feet of slow moving water and slips. Before I can react she is in the water up to her knees. I help her out and she shakes herself off and we start really moving. I don't know how cold she really is as we hike back - she doesn't say anything about it. But she heads immediately for the restroom to change into dry clothes the second I unlock the car at 2:30 p.m.

Lessons learned? Don't pick trails with brooks or rivers that may have high water in November. Summer or the dead of winter only. And don't waste time or energy being angry at myself or feeling like I failed. I failed nothing - this is not a test - I have only grown and am the better for having to turn around.

This is the last hike that I wear my glasses. I suffer from slight myopia so I wear glasses for distance. I couldn't adjust to contacts and as I have become more active in my old age - softball, running, hiking, kayaking, rafting - I realize that I have the power to change that. After doing the research, talking with Nancy, chatting with my heart, head and gut, and meeting the requirements, I decide to schedule myself for Lasik surgery. My surgery is scheduled for November 19 so this is the last hike that I will have to wear glasses. No more foggy lenses during winter hikes, no more sweat in my eyes that's not easy to wipe off, no more smudges on the lens that I have no way to clean. I feel determined and relatively calm. It is my eyes they will be burning with a laser after all, but I am ok. It is what I want. I deserve it. My life just keeps on changing. Stay tuned for the trip report I will write about my surgery adventure. I am sure it is bound to be something to remember.