Up, Around, Down and Back Up Monadnock

Submitted by Nancy, with special thanks to Tracey and Marcus, who help us find our hearts

Mountain: Mt. Monadnock (3,165)
Date: April 23, 2008
Time: 5 hours
Weather: Sunny, temperature in the 70s and 80s, light breeze
Miles: 6
Elevation Gain: 2,517
Trails: UP -- Old Toll Road to Do Drop Trail to Cliff Walk Trail to Bald Rock to the Smith Connecting Trail to White Dot Trail to Red Spot Trail to Cascade Link to Spellman Trail to Pumpelly Trail to the summit
DOWN - Smith Summit Trail to Fairy Spring to White Arrow to Old Toll Road

"How do YOU know?" I taunt Pat, hands on my hips, frustration seething out my pores, so incredibly exasperated that we are going the wrong way and have been for an hour. There is only a second of silence before she reacts.

OK, I better first set the stage for this...

Pat offers to take an afternoon off work to hike Monadnock. I jump at the chance. We haven't hiked in over a month and I am having hiking withdrawal symptoms. What if I can't do it anymore? What if my body has forgotten how? Maybe it's like riding a bike and my body will remember how to climb without dying...I hope, I pray.

I arrive at her house at 1 p.m. and Pat has already picked out a route. She is as psyched as I am.

"I want to show you the Spellman Trail," she says. "It's the steepest trail on Monadnock."

I glance at the map, but really don't care what trail we take. It is such a beautiful day, we are together, doing what we love, who could ask for anything more?

So up to the Halfway House we climb. After the first 100 feet we joke about that being enough uphill. We talk. We have such a powerful friendship that having a chance to really be with Pat and talk with her is a great gift to me. But this afternoon Pat is feeling a little distant. As we leave the Halfway House Trail and head up the Do Drop Trail I ask her if she is in her heart.

It's my way of asking her if she is feeling and present emotionally, if she is with me. When I am NOT in my heart, I am thinking about this experience or something else, or I'm critiquing myself or I'm worrying about something, all ways of keeping myself separate from others. I am disconnected from feeling and from my true self. To find my heart, I have to literally stop and focus inward and find me, find my kindness, my love, my tenderness, my vulnerability. When I am in my heart I FEEL an experience and I am truly connected to myself and others. That's how I want to live.

Pat stops on the trail ahead of me and we stand in silence. I know what Pat is doing - searching for Pat. It is such a powerful moment that she is willing to be so vulnerable, to find her heart, as I am breathing behind her. After a bit, she turns and smiles, and I know she is back with me on Monadnock. I am so touched to witness that moment.

We continue up, getting lost for a few moments on the Cliff Walk Trail and find ourselves heading the wrong way -- DOWN.

Now a word about going down when we are supposed to be going up. I HATE IT! Probably on all 91 hikes we have done in the past 2 years, whenever we head down when our ultimate goal is to go up, I say something. I don't mind going up, but let's go up! None of this down stuff when we will just have to recover all that altitude to get where we are going!

We realize our mistake, turn around and arrive at Bald Rock for beautiful views. The trees are below us and the world is laid out in front of us, going on forever. We continue up and before we know it the summit is off to our left and we can see lots of people milling about on top. When I finally see the summit I always breathe a sigh of relief because I know I am going to make it. Uh, not so fast...NOT in this case.

Pat's plan is to go DOWN the Red Spot Trail to get the Spellman Trail. Okay, I'm game. And down we go. Within the first twenty minutes I am fuming, feeling like I am going to explode with frustration. I hate going down when I know every step down translates into a step up later on. We are still going down and it has been 40 minutes! OH MY GOD! I am beside myself. I can't get a grip. Every step down pushes me into a higher octave of annoyance. I can't hold it in any longer and I start to vomit aggravation all over the mountain. "I HATE going down Pat. Holy SHIT! We are going down the whole friggin' mountain!"

We pass a couple on their way up. The woman is having a hard time and confides in us that she is exhausted. Pat is very sweet and encourages her to keep going. I am silent and I give her a look that probably would have turned her to stone had we made eye contact. Pat asks me why I didn't say anything, commenting it was unlike me.

"Do you want to know what I would have said to that women had I opened my mouth? I would have said -- HEY! At least you're going in the right fucking direction! UP! We're going to the summit too, BUT YOU WOULD NEVER KNOW IT BECAUSE WE ARE HEADING DOWN!!!! We have been going down for more than an HOUR. As a matter of fact, we were almost AT THE SUMMIT when we turned AROUND! Honey, you have no friggin' idea how lucky you are to be going UP - which just happens to be the RIGHT direction to get to the TOP!"

"It won't be much farther, I'm sure the trail is right around the corner." Pat says with a combination of hope and encouragement.

I stop and glare at her. Who is she kidding? She has no idea how far we have to go! With my hands on my hips, frustration seething from my pores, I sarcastically say, "How do YOU know?"

Silence. We're looking at each other, each of us replaying that little number in our heads. I sound exactly like a 10-year-old totally fed up with the hike, and life in general.

We burst out laughing. Real, honest, doubled over, hands on our knees, laughing. What a gift. We both feel better.

We continue down and I lose my humor quickly. I look out at the lakes that an hour ago looked like tiny silver dollars that now look like huge bodies of water that I will be able to dive into in only moments. I just can't seem to unearth a positive attitude about this. For a while I am quiet and then I burst out in a bitching frenzy. "HOLY SHIT, Pat. We are climbing down the whole fucking mountain just to go back up again. We were within spitting distance of the summit and now we are so low there is absolutely no view. We are back in the trees almost to the Park Headquarters!"

At this point there is nothing Pat can say, and she chooses to just keep walking, probably praying that the link to the trail comes soon before I completely lose it.

We finally arrive at the Cascade Link and soon after the Spellman Trail. OH THANK GOD! I am sure Pat is thinking the same thing. The trail is straight up and I am thrilled. We are going up. Halleluiah! I don't give a shit how steep it is - we are finally going up. And that is really the ONLY way we are ever going to reach the summit.

The combination of the fact that we are finally going in the right direction, and the physical exertion required to get up the almost perpendicular trail takes me out of my cranky 10-year-old and plunks me back in my heart.

I am flooded with emotion. Looking back over the past hour or so, I realize I was fully me, at my crankiest, and nothing terrible happened. I didn't hurt anyone and I didn't lose my friend. Pat didn't get mad or leave or tell me to buck up. She laughed. And she was quiet. She offered to turn around. When I said no, she kept hiking. She loved me, even though I was not being perfect. I am touched by Pat's reaction, and by my truthful this-is-where-I-am moment. Normally I hide my frustration; huh... I guess I hide me. Or I only show what I think people around me can handle. But today I am just me, no control, nothing held back. Maybe experiencing the real Nancy, as cranky as I was, is better than hiking with a fake Nancy holding in her feelings. At least it is real.

Now in a full lather of sweat and sucking pretty hefty wind, we finally reach the intersection with the Pumpelly Trail. We are on a beautiful ridge with gorgeous views. And we are still heading up and I am so thankful. The trail at one point takes us down into a snow-filled ravine and I almost lose it. But it is a down of maybe a minute, not an hour. I am able to hold on.

We left at about 1:30 from Pat's house and we arrive on the summit at 5 pm. Really? Are you kidding? What normally takes 1.5-2 hours took us three and a half hours! Of course -- because we went up, around, down and back up!

On the way down we talk about what we learned from my pout-burst. I am a peak bagger, a summit seeker as Pat says. I don't like to dilly-dally around going here and there. I want a goal and I want to get there. We can take trails that are harder or easier, more direct or less direct, but I like to be headed in the right direction. I don't like going down and around when our ultimate goal is to go up. Pat is with me on this, but not quite as intensely. I also know that each step was my choice. We could have turned around, we could have taken a different trail. My choice, my learning.

As we climb down into the trees, I am worried about Don being worried about me since I told him I was just climbing Monadnock and wouldn't be late. Pat and I check her cell phone every 5 minutes on the way down. No service. On the Old Toll Road we run into a young man and ask him if he has a cell phone and any service. He did and it did, so I call Don. What a nice guy to let me use his phone. I love meeting nice people in the world; it makes me feel so good.

We get back to Pat's house and sit on her beautiful new porch looking at the setting sun and Monadnock off to the right and laugh and talk about our hike. It is so beautiful out, our hike so full of meaning, I don't want the adventure to end.

This is supposed to be an unofficial hike, no pictures, no keeping track of time, no report. But I realize too much happened today not to make it a part of our hiking journal. Pat had the guts to find her heart and stay in it, being in the moment. I showed my true colors, instead of holding them in and, it appears, Pat still likes me - a testament to our friendship. And we learn I am truly a peak bagger at heart.

And what we are in our hearts is really all that matters.