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Gear or Attitude – What is the key ingredient for success?

November 09, 2020

The desk clerk at the AMC Highland Center at Crawford Notch confirmed their service was predicting the snow fall would continue another three hours. Our decision was wait, hike or cancel. My predisposition is to go regardless and figure out the unexpected. In this case the stakes were greater than just me.

I came to be at this decision point because my daughter said she wanted to get out in nature and do a backpacking trip. Her first. We started this conversation at the end of August beginning of September when temperatures were I the low 80’s . There have been many warm Octobers. We didn’t give it a serious thought even if temperatures dropped into the thirties. I had sleeping bags rated into the teens, a tent and a bivy and experience sleeping in single degree temperatures. With this gear, my knowledge and optimism we left Merrimack, NH knowing there was rain predicted to early afternoon with the higher elevations getting up to 6 to 12 inches of snow. I expected the first couple of hours we would be in rain gear with a couple of hours before getting to our campsite.

What I didn’t expect was the snow at the Highland Center. This meant our targeted destination would be snow covered as well. Still not a problem if temperatures were to stay low, below freezing. Instead the forecast was for temps to climb in the forties. Enough to melt what was falling and what would be in the trees. The ground was going to help with the melting because it had heat to give. My gear is not designed for what I expected to be wet ground conditions. This would require skills beyond my daughter’s novice enthusiasm and possibly my own.

We decided to change plans. Both of us feeling relief with this choice. As we turned around and drove south, it wasn’t long before we were in blue skies and the ground was only damp from the morning rain. Plan B became a day hike up Mt Cardigan. The parking lot had 3-4 inches of snow. On go the microspikes, we empty one pack and turned it into a day pack holding the additional layers we might want on the summit. In the midst of our preparation a mother and daughter approached us wondering if they were equipped for this hike. They were comparing their sneakers, running warmups and ball caps to these booted, microspiked, rain-geared, gloved, day-packed hikers.

Hike your own Hike – Live your own Life

I have learned long ago, enjoyment comes when we hike our own hike. This means what I think could be irrelevant for another hiker. I offered what I knew about the trail. We could see the current trail condition as snow covered and a little slushy. From prior experience I knew this to be a wet trail and was ice covered at the upper end and on the summit. It is only a mile and a half to the summit, so it is not demanding in duration but is in the 1,200 foot gain over that distance. I encouraged them to go as far as they were comfortable and to be willing to turn around. They thanked me for the information and set off on the trail. We departed some time after them and then stopped several times to adjust layers or equipment.

The trail was real wet. I was not happy with the shoes I chose because they weren’t water proof. They work when the air temperature is below freezing but not good when its warm enough to melt the top of the snow. Needless to say, I accepted walking in wet feet. The water was colder than the air so I wasn’t worried about frost bite or freezing. So I was very aware of the wet conditions. Close to the tree line we are passed by the mother and daughter as they were headed down. They reported going as far as the third visible cairn and turning around because of the wind. The combination of the wind chill and it being strong enough to push them around brought them to their limit.

They made it further then others similarly equipped. Getting to the summit this day did not require the gear we used. We saw quite a variety of ages and hiking gear. It seemed like the one thing those on the trail shared was a desire to see what was on top. How far we went was a choice.

I believe this is true for most endeavors. The will to achieve or accomplish is critical. Having the right gear might make it more comfortable or easier to deal with the obstacles. The right gear without the appropriate amount of desire will not ensure success.

When you are yearning to make a change, our fear may be our greatest obstacle. Focus on the step in front of you. Handle what is present and decide about the next step after. You won’t know if you will succeed without taking these steps.