I was full of enthusiasm for my first hike in the Catskills. It was a sunny day, the temperature was cool, and I was surrounded by mountains higher than those in Pennsylvania. I had batteries, a working camera, and a good attitude. I’d hiked up Hawk Mountain, Pole Steeple, and the Raven’s Horn. How much trouble can this be?
|Phoenicia, pumpkin spice soy latte capital of New York.
I’d chosen the Tanbark Trail based on a description in a brochure on hiking published by Ulster County. It had an overlook, was less than a mile long, and wasn’t too far of a drive. And the brochure didn’t describe the trail as difficult or technical.
I set off in high spirits. The trailhead is in the town of Phoenicia, which could be described as the Portland of the Catskills if Portland were five blocks long. I parked in front of the post office, laced up my shoes, grabbed my hiking poles, and headed off. First I crossed a small park, then over a wooden bridge at the entrance to the trail.
And then I saw the wall. The Tanbark climbs Mount Tremper, and it might as well have been a brick wall. It was all I could do to get my footing. It was plant one foot, plant both poles, bring the other foot up, check for timber rattlers, repeat. I am a slow hiker under normal circumstances, and as tough as the Raven’s Horn was, this was tougher. And unlike the PA trail I didn’t have two experienced hikers with me.
I got around the rock outcropping in the photo, and proceeded on to the next part of the climb. My shoes dug into the earth and I planted my poles. I reminded myself that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me and I pushed on.
About now I became concerned about getting down. One of the members of the Caleb’s Crew Hiking Club recently advised me that I needed to take “the next step” – that I’m a “big idea” person, that I like to see projects as a whole from beginning to end, and that the next step is to have faith – not just in God but in my abilities to complete a task. Finding the trail more difficult than I imagined, I doubted myself. And I doubted how to climb up the trail. Since the going was tough and the slope steep, I tried lowering myself to the ground and proceeding on all fours.
|Pants by Cabela’s, shoes by Brooks, socks by Wigwam.
My changed stance was a poor decision, and lasted only a few steps. By now I was so discouraged and full of doubt I decided to turn around and call it a day. The Tanbark could wait. I tried to back down the slope. I slipped, began to slide, and in the scramble to regain my footing wound up on my back and backside. My heels dug into the crumbling earth. I looked down, and decided crashing into the tree or the large rock beneath me would have been unpleasant. So I sat on the side of Mount Tremper while I caught my breath. While calming down I took a couple of photos and marveled at how tough my outdoor clothing is.
I’m estimating I was perched there for ten minutes, but it could have been less. I didn’t cry for help because while its bad enough to abandon a hike a tenth of a mile into it, its worse to need help getting off the hike. While usually pride goes before a fall, in this case it came after.
Eventually three hikers wandered by above me. I called out to them.
“I was wondering if you might give me a hand here.”
“What’s the problem? Are you OK?”
“Oh, I’m OK, but I can’t get up.”
The lead hiker, Matt, hastened down the slope with the two ladies in his group. Matt and an older Russian woman took charge. They helped me slide down to the rock, stand up, and guided me back down the hill. Despite my seeming calm, I was nervous and embarrassed about the hike, and talked too much, I’m sure. But we got down safely, and Matt and the Russian woman – I never learned her name – posed for a photo with me. In the photo I look very short, but that’s because they stood on the footbridge to the trail and I didn’t.
I thanked my ‘trail angels’ and headed back to the car. Matt and the Russian woman were alternately full of encouragement and chiding – I deserved praise for pushing myself and hiking trails that would challenge me, and it was a poor choice to do such a difficult trail, and to attempt it alone.
At the time I was discouraged and down about the ‘failed’ hike, but looking back at a distance of two weeks gives me a different perspective. The comment made to me about the next step – having faith – seems to be key here. I knew I could hike the trail based on my experiences with others. But I doubted myself. I need to work on that, take the next step, and remain confident that I can do it. Self confidence is a bigger mountain to climb than Tremper, and I have no doubt that if I return to the Tanbark Trail I will be at the overlooks – standing up.