All of my treks are extreme ones, and I almost always go through “stages” after completing one. First, I’m on a high, then the exhaustion kicks in, then I find myself in a low state, not quite knowing how to be in the “real world” yet, and then I balance out and am mostly normal again. It’s like a drug, this thing we do. It’s the best drug I’ve ever known.
Split Mountain was tough for me, both mentally and physically. This was my first hike without RC, my other half, my rock, the person who is always there for me when I’m hitting my wall on a hike. I knew that this time, I’d have to find everything I needed to help me push without him there by my side. Also, on this hike I’d be the only girl amongst 3 of the strongest, fastest male hikers I know. I was intimidated but determined, with a hint of fear and anticipation. I didn’t want to slow anyone down or be the weak link. I wanted to prove to myself that I could hang with the big boys.
The trail to Red Lake isn’t grueling, nor is it a stroll in the park. From the trailhead (6600 elev), you travel 4 1/2 miles and gain about 4,000 feet until you hit Red Lake. It’s uphill from the get-go and the guys, true to form, began with a pace that had me questioning if I’d be good enough or fast enough. But then come those “moments.” Those little things that happen that give you that extra push you need, that motivation, that bit of belief that, yeah, you got this. The first “moment” for me was seeing the heart-shaped rock in my path, and silly as it may sound, I felt Rob at my side and I could hear his voice telling me “You got this. You’re solid. You’re strong.” And I whispered out loud “I feel you” and I smiled and tucked him away inside my heart to carry with me on my journey.
The second moment was when amidst the fog appeared a majestic buck with enormous antlers. He trotted his way casually up the hill alongside me and I was humbled and honored by his presence. The third moment was when we were almost at Red Lake and I knew I hadn’t slowed the guys down and I began to believe that I actually could keep up…that I wouldn’t be the weak link.
Once we hit Red Lake, we would ascend nearly 3,500 feet in about 2-1/2 miles in unforgiving terrain of talus rock, and from about 12,000 feet to summit, fresh, unpacked snow, then an unexpected snow storm packing freezing wind gust of up to 30 mph.
I could talk about the hike, the grueling work in the snow, the severe weather and the massive rock avalanche that missed us by barely 30 minutes but I guess what’s really hitting home for me on this hike is the human aspect of it.
There’s something that happens when you spend countless hours with someone on the trail. There’s a bond that forms that is like no other. A unique comradery, a trust, a rhythm, and a mutual respect that grows for one another. We all give of ourselves, to each other, to the mountain. We share silence or easy conversation along the way, we break bread together, we know when to let one another be and we know when to come together. We inspire each other. Through each of our combined strengths and weaknesses, we come together and form a formidable team.
I learned something about these guys this weekend. I always knew these things, but this weekend really cemented it for me. I speak the truth when I tell you that any of these guys would give me their last sip of water or bite of food. They each have an endless amount of advice, encouragement, courage, support and strength to share. And each of them, in their own way, helped me up to that summit. As I write this, I find myself immensely moved by my thoughts and caring for each of them and the special things each of them contributed to the group, to this expedition. Jose is simply happy go-lucky and I smile when I think about how he loves to share all he has learned. He shares simply because he loves mountaineering and the mountains and it ignites a joy and enthusiasm in those around him. Lorenzo has this quiet, calm confidence and a really big heart. And I wonder if he will ever know what it did for me when he offered me a hug at 13,600 feet as I was struggling harder than I had ever struggled before and I didn’t know how I would take another step. With that one hug and his simple words of “you’re a fighter, you can do this, you’re almost there” he eased my fears, brought calm and confidence back to me and I was able to push to the summit. And then there’s Rob, he is my compass and a fearless leader. He’s the big brother I never had (even though I’m older than him). I trust him and I know I can always count on him. And I’m so thankful that on his day he didn’t let us turn around with 1,000 feet to climb.
We all climbed Split Mountain this day, as a crew and as individuals. And me, yeah, I’m smiling inside, because not only did I climb Split, I kicked ass while doing so. Welcome to the big boys club.
Journey to Split Mountain (North Summit) || Distance: 12 miles RT || Net Elevation Gain (at Max Elevation): +7,465′ || Max Elevation: 14,065 elevation (or 14,058 depending on where you look)’ || Difficulty: Strenuous
- 4wd and/or high clearance is definitely required to get to the trail head. From the turn off at Glacier Lodge Road to McMurry Meadows you will travel 11 miles on a very unfriendly dirt road. Allow for up to 1 hour of drive time to travel this 11 miles if you want to make it all the way to the trail head.