Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting back to Real Hiking

As readers of the blog know, I have been plugging along with my Hiking Training Plan the last fourteen weeks. Most of them have been pretty good weeks, especially when it involves getting out to hike. However, most of those hikes have been missing...something.

That isn't to say I haven't had some workouts, or seen some great sites. I've walked up several hills, a few steep inclines, and done more than four miles in one hike multiple times. I'm proud of what I've accomplished, on days both perfect for hiking and some that weren't quite so perfect. Still, there has been a significant lack of challenge in the hikes I've done.

Part of this was intentional. Considering I had been out of hiking practice for several months at the beginning of this, I figured it would be best to start off with easier hikes. Jumping straight to hikes like Blood Mountain or the hundreds of stairs at Amicalola Falls would not end well, and perhaps discourage me from continuing. In addition, for a couple weeks my back was kind of tender, limiting what I felt was doable. As such, I stuck mainly to hikes that never ventured far beyond an easy to moderate difficulty level.

This is why I enjoyed my hikes this past weekend at Pictured Rocks. Now most of them were comparable to previous hikes. For about 90% of the time the path was flat, the footing was good, and the weather was great. It wasn't much of a challenge, although it most certainly was tranquil and scenic.

However, the other 10% was plenty challenging. Because of the nature of Pictured Rocks, the Lakeshore trail can greatly vary in difficulty. You can go a long distance on flat ground, either along the shoreline of Lake Superior or high atop the escarpment, without much of a change in elevation. However, going from one zone to another you can travel climb or descend over 100 feet in a very short distance.

In some places (like at Sable Falls), the descent is done on a nice, even stairway. This is somewhat strenuous, but the nicest way to make that descent as you don't have to worry so much about footing. When making the ascent, there are several landings to stop at and catch your breath, or take a seat and enjoy the nature around you.

In other places, such as the end of the connector trail from Sand Point to the North Country Trail, the ascent (or descent, depending on your direction)  also goes up and down stairs. However, these don't niceties like even and stable steps, or handrails to help you along your way. Most of the time, these steps are larger than a regular step that you would take, or the trail at the bottom of it has eroded somewhat. These can give a great workout, and are not for the faint of heart or the weak kneed. Still, they break up the grade and are better than a dirt path going straight up or down the hillside. These can be actual wood or stone stairs, water bars to control erosion, or just large roots and/or rocks in the trail.

The worst type of descent is when the trail just goes straight over the hillside. I say descent here, because it can be difficult to ascend, but downright problematic going down. This is where trekking poles (or a good walking stick) is essential.

It was the descent of the third type that I encountered between the Logslide Overlook and Au Sable Lighthouse. For some stupid reason I didn't take my trekking poles with me, so I had to overcome the descent by moving slowly and stepping carefully. In one place I was extra cautious, sitting down and scooting on my posterior. Other than a dirty seat of my pants, this worked out well. In another place, I sat down and put my feet over the edge of a steep step, turning it from a difficult step down to just standing up.

As annoying slow as this could be, it was still enjoyable, as it showed I was still up to a real challenge. In addition to the descent, there were several downed trees along the way. Some were easy to step around, or step over. But one required me to sit on the downed limbs as I swung my legs over. Had I not kept my balance on the three limbs, I could have got caught in them, which would have been the lamest search and rescue situation ever.

A little bit later along the trail, I had to take my pack off, get on my hands and knees, and crawl under a downed tree. This was a challenge that only applied to those who were tall and/or not a skilled at doing the limbo. Those who were shorter could likely have bent down and got under. Not me, however, I had to get on my knees to get under it.

Although I was glad to finally reach the Lighthouse, where my parents were waiting*, a part of me wanted to just keep walking. Granted, I knew I didn't have the supplies or equipment to continue hiking much farther, I was having a lot of fun. I had met the challenges, few though they may have been, and succeeded. Perhaps that sense of accomplishment is one of the reasons I enjoy hiking, despite the heat, the bugs, and so many pointless ups and downs. It doesn't hurt when the you look to one side of the trail and see views like this.

* After we had parted at Logslide, they had driven to the Au Sable trailhead and walked the mostly level path from the parking lot to the lighthouse.

No comments :

Post a Comment