I was a couple thousand feet above sea level, in 35 degree weather, gasping for air and drenched in sweat. I felt dizzy and nauseous and cold and hot and exhausted all at the same time. I was still under the tree line, staring at bare branches covered in frost and frozen mud under my feet. I wanted to turn around and go home.
I was hiking The Dome, what most Alaskans would consider a pretty “easy” mountain on the edge of Anchorage. It’s a bump on the front range of the Chugach that leads to trails to bigger mountains, and I had to travel 2,700 feet to get from the parking lot to the top. I’ve done parts of this hike before and although it’s steep, it’s not technical or difficult. But today it felt that way. I was wearing a thin moisture wicking t-shirt with a fleece on top, fleece lined pants, and had a windbreaker stashed in my pack for the summit. But even though there was frost everywhere, I was completely overheated from the constant uphill motion. For a while I didn’t even have to stop to catch my breath, but once I became too hot I was stopping every few minutes. My hiking partner was patient with me, but I was embarrassed and confused about why I was feeling so awful today. I thought, “Why can’t I do this? I thought I was a better hiker by now”.
It reminded me of running. Some runs are better than others. Sometimes you have an off day, where running is difficult and every step you take feels awful. You don’t want to keep running, but you do it anyways because it’s worth it. And that’s exactly how I felt on that mountain. I wanted to be back home where the temperature was controlled and my feet were firmly on flat ground (or better yet, propped up on my sofa). My hiking partner even asked me if I wanted to turn around, but I knew I was close to the overlook at the edge of the treeline. I took off my fleece, drank some water, and pushed on. And after only 5 more minutes I was rewarded with a killer view of Anchorage!
All of my pain and suffering instantly melted away as I took in the city below me. It’s always fun to try to pick out where my house is, where I work, and what all of the buildings are. We took lots of pictures, ate a snack, and then stared up at the top of The Dome ahead of us. I was feeling much better, but I knew that there was still a bit of uphill to go until we reached the official peak of The Dome. We’d never made it up to the final peak before, and I knew that we both wanted to make it up there today. After checking in with my body and determining I was okay, I dug deep for some extra energy and we pushed on to the summit.
When we got to the top my hiking partner was literally jumping around and dancing. We finally made it! There were trails everywhere leading off to higher mountains, but we decided to definitely save those for another day. For now, we celebrated the fact that we’d pushed through a hard hike and met our goal for the day.
The trail down is always easier, even if I’m constantly afraid I’m going to fall on the loose scree and mud. But once I’m facing downhill again, my body is able to relax and enjoy the fact that I just summited a mountain. Even though the path uphill was tough, I knew that I’d made it up to the top in one piece, and for the rest of the day I felt like I could do anything.
Hiking isn’t always easy. I don’t have any Instagram pictures of myself sweating and struggling and close to tears or holding onto a ledge for dear life. But that’s what a tough hike consists of. The part I always remember once I’ve made it home, showered, and eaten a warm meal is how amazing it felt to stand on that summit and know that I got myself up there. No matter how tough it is along the way, there’s no such thing as a bad hike. Any hike that gets me outside and into the mountains is perfect, no matter how hard it is or how slowly I have to go!
What’s your favorite part about hiking? What’s the hardest thing about hiking?