Second, to Rosie S., Tom K., Penny S., Sheena K., Carol L., Aunt Janice, EMR, Aunt Carol and all of our wonderful readers ... thank you for your concern about me. Please forgive me for leaving you with a cliffhanger. Writing this hike update blog is a good way for me to digest all that has transpired during this adventure. Can you blame me for wanting to live a bit of a mystery writer's life for a few days? Hopefully, this will be the last of the scary events on this adventure. To Lesley ... yep, hopefully it was assuring that I was OK since I published the blogs from my perspective.
Third, to Fran ... Because I believe in the Freedom of Speech and defend it openly, I did not delete your comment. Also, my family and I are not deterred by your calling us Hobos. After wearing the same 4-5 outfits every day for the last 7 months, we kind of look like "hobos". Along this journey, we've heard a lot of people refer to hikers as "hiker trash" because they are dirty, smelly, bearded, tired looking folks who don't go to jobs every day. Of course, they are probably working harder every day than the naysayers .... and they've carried $1,000's of dollars of gear on their back while they convened with nature. And even though every ounce of gear weighs heavily on their backs, many a hiker emerges from the trail each day carrying out the trash left behind by others. But ... back to your comment ... as for "more news coverage of this fiasco", there was none. It was just me and a few very professional prepared staff and volunteers at Baxter State Park during this incident and it will likely remain that way. Christine of the Freepressonline (and several other journalists) can vouch for just how difficult it is for media to actually find us. This was one small "hiccup" in an otherwise well planned and thought out family adventure. Of course, that's just my opinion. You are entitled to yours and you're welcome to join us for the rest of this adventure. If you find my writing style irritating or not to your liking, I can appreciate that, too. Remember, just like television, you can change the channel. And ... we will be returning to "real jobs" after this adventure. I can hardly wait to start saving for our next family adventure!
Fourth, Speaking of next adventure ... to Rob with North Face ... we will be in touch as plans for the next adventure come together! And thanks for supporting us in this, too!
Fifth, to Mari ... Yes, yes, we did receive the trail magic. Thank you! When I revised the "Interview with WLBZ", I thanked both Larry P. and you. I'm sorry that you didn't see it. Here's a direct link to that blog: http://www.ridethenation.org/3/post/2013/10/interview-with-wlbz.html. Thank you again for all your support and kindness. We consider you part of the success of this adventure!
Sixth, to Sherpa ... I'm so glad you and your son got to meet Chipmunk and Papa Chip at the summit! And ... yep! you nailed it! Spur Trail!
When I finished my snack, I turned to my right and put my wrapper into my pack that was sitting on a rock to my right. When I zipped my pack closed and looked up, I saw a blue blaze ... to my right. I had been following blue blazes upward all day and it made sense in that moment to go towards that blue blaze. I never even considered that the hiker who headed off to my left, was heading to the summit.
I hiked for quite some time before I saw another trail sign, again reading "summit .5 mile". I sat down, feeling very confused and I was trying to discern what the information before me meant. When a woman hiked up to me and asked if I was okay, I said that I was but she could tell that I wasn't. She said her name was Meredith and that she was an ICU nurse at a hospital in Flagstaff, Arizona. She proceeded to ask me a few questions and I remember feeling a bit "spacey" and answering them as best I could. I was very preoccupied trying to figure out not how far a half mile was or why I saw the same half mile to the summit sign twice, but actually trying to figure out what a "half mile" was. It was as though certain words just didn't make sense.
She turned to her husband that was with her and talked to him for a few minutes and then asked me which trail I was supposed to be on. I told her that I was taking the Saddle Trail to the summit. She told me that I was actually on the Cathedral Trail. Her husband consulted their trail map and found that there was a spur trail between the Saddle Trail and the Cathedral Trail. They thought that I somehow followed that instead of the Saddle Trail.
Meredith asked me several questions and I explained that my husband headed to the summit to meet Chipmunk. She sent her husband to the summit to tell my husband that she would get me back to the Saddle Trail and help me get down, even though they had not planned on taking the Saddle Trail down. I told her husband not to tell Papa Chip that I was crying or confused; I was afraid that he'd leave the summit before Chipmunk arrived and miss the one chance opportunity to take pics not only for us for us but also for key people who helped us along the way. He left and Meredith took very good care of me.
She pulled Cashews from her pack and told me I likely needed a good dose of salt. She also re-filled my water bottles, from her own. When her husband returned, they guided me back to the Saddle Trail. I felt a bit dizzy but I was also aware that I needed to get down the mountain ... before darkness set in.
When we got back across to the original "summit .5 mile" sign, I was not even tempted to head towards the summit. I was not well and I knew it; I just didn't know exactly what was wrong with me. I don't know for sure how long Meredith and her husband coaxed me downward before the Ranger, Jennifer, appeared. I remember becoming aware that Meredith was filling her in and that Jennifer assured her that she'd get me down. I thanked Meredith and her husband and then I turned my focus to Jennifer.
I asked her if she knew if Chipmunk had summited yet. She said that Chipmunk had not summited before she (Jennifer) descended the summit but that she had hiked down the AT trail, saw Chipmunk and that she looked great. She was sure she'd summit without issue. I thanked her for that info and apologized for my current state. I told her that I thought I "bit off more than I could chew" in this hike.
Jennifer's voice was very comforting and reassuring as she explained to me that she recently helped a hiker, who was afraid of heights and was abandoned by his fellow hikers on the very scary Knife's Edge Trail. She told me that she got him down the mountain and that she was sure she'd get me down, too. I told her that I only needed her until my husband came down from the summit.
We began to descend the "Rock Slide" area and I suddenly grew panicked. It seemed much steeper going down then it did on the way up. Again, if I looked beyond 5-10 feet around me, I grew dizzy quickly. Jennifer told me to turn and face the mountain and that she'd move my feet down to each place I needed to step in order to descend. I wasn't sure how it would work but she said it so confidently that I put all of my trust in her. It worked surprisingly well and I was instantly impressed at how good she was at what she does.
I don't know how far we descended before Chipmunk and Papa Chip suddenly appeared. Before I fully understood what was happening, Jennifer told Papa Chip to descend with Chipmunk and to leave me in her care. She explained to him that it was likely I would not be going home with him at the end of the day. They made a plan and then Papa Chip came to me and told me I'd be alright. He kissed me and then Chipmunk kissed me, too and it felt like they instantly were gone. I felt OK with the plan until I felt a bit of panic set in later and wished I hadn't let Papa Chip leave.
Each time I froze with fear, Jennifer coaxed me to drink and eat and rest. Each time, I'd feel a bit better, muster up the strength to go on and we'd hike a little further. This process repeated itself again and again from about 3pm-6:30pm. It grew dark around 5:30 pm and I recall hearing on Jennifer's 2 way radio a request for an update on the "older woman that was being guided down the mountain". I recall thinking, "Oh. There's an older woman that's having trouble on the mountain, too." Then, I heard Jennifer give an update on me and I suddenly realized that I was the "older woman".
After her update, she asked me where my headlamp was. I dug around in most every pocket of my pack and couldn't seem to locate it. She asked if she could check and found it easily. I pulled the elastic band over my head and pressed the button to make the bright light come on. She asked if I thought I could walk again and I said that I thought I could. Apparently, I asked her again and again how much further we had to go and what time it was. At one point, I recall that she told me the Ranger's cabin was less than a quarter mile away and I just couldn't understand what a "quarter mile" was. I told her that I didn't think we had moved any further ahead; that all the rocks looked the same. I grew worried that I was still high on the mountain.
Jennifer radio'd for help and I recall feeling very sleepy as I sat on a rock resting. I opened my eyes when I heard a different voice and a woman named April was standing before me. She handed me a package of "GU", a quick digest/high energy carbohydrate gel that marathon runners, long distance cyclists, etc. often use. She told me to eat all of it and then to drink Gatorade that she had in a Nalgene style bottle. I did as she said. As I started feeling better, I recalled that Jennifer said earlier, "If I could make the Ranger's cabin appear here right now, I would."
After I finished the GU and drank the Gatorade, I felt amazingly better and announced that I was ready to hike. I pulled myself up and then in what seemed to be an instant, I was at the Ranger's cabin. It was all very dream like and a bit scary. I was truly glad to take a seat across from the Ranger, Mark, who asked me a series of questions. I felt better than I had during most of the descent and they all remarked that I was probably low on electrolytes; that the GU probably gave me the boost I needed. After confirming that I don't have high blood pressure, diabetes or other health issues; that I wasn't on any medication, they decided to have me stay the night in the bunkhouse with Jennifer so that they could keep an eye on me.
After a trip to the privy, Jennifer, April and I walked to the bunkhouse. Jennifer made me a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff meal while I removed my boots and tried to digest the day's events. My body was aching and my toes were especially sore. I guess I slid too far forward in my boots as I climbed downward, smashing my toes into the front end of my boot. It's a common problem for hikers when they either have the wrong boot or an ill fitting boot. I recall thinking that I'm glad we got Chipmunk good boots; her feet are still in much better condition than most any hiker's feet I've seen.
After I ate, Jennifer told me I should go lie down. There was a comfy pillow and warm sleeping bag waiting for me on the bottom bunk. FYI, Chipmunk had dropped off her contact lens case and rinsing solution (which she normally carries in her backpack) on the way past the Ranger Station. She also dropped off a baggie of super sugary orange slices ... a little bit of trail magic she got from Marsha and Tric, 2 trail angels who visited the AT shelter the night before she summited. I ate one of the orange slices, removed my contacts and told Jennifer I was heading for the bunk.
I was only in there a short time when I realized I really needed to pee. In fact, I feared I might just wet myself if I didn't get to the privy ASAP. I told Jennifer as I tried to shove my feet into my hiking boots. I pushed them in despite the stabbing pains that were emanating from my toes up to my knees. We both pulled on our headlamps and walked quickly to the privy. I made it in time and was grateful for at least reserving that part of my dignity!
Later, back in my bunk, I realized that I hadn't taken but one other bathroom break that whole day. It, too, was an indication that my body wasn't functioning correctly. I fell asleep and had bizarre dreams, including one in which I summited but just couldn't find Chipmunk anywhere at the top of the mountain. I also awoke in the night, convinced that my hands had been shredded on the granite rocks during the hike. I found my headlamp, looked at my hands and discovered that they had only minor scratches. It was all quite bewildering to me. This is the first time anything of this sort has ever happened to me.
I awoke around 5 AM and although I felt stiff, I felt much more like my old self. I was pretty clear headed and was trying to sort out the prior day's ordeal. I stayed in my bunk until I heard Jennifer in the kitchen area. She asked how I was feeling and then told me that we were going to have breakfast in the Ranger's cabin with Mark so that he could take another look at me before I start the 3 mile hike down to the parking area to meet Papa Chip.
It was supposed to be Chipmunk's Zero Day and I was eager to end my time on Katahdin and rejoin my family. I ate the bowl of oatmeal that Mark prepared and thanked him for all his and his team's help. Before I left, I asked to fill out a comment sheet, so that I could let the "powers that be" know what an amazing job Jennifer did. I do believe she saved my life. I also believed that I was very fortunate that Meredith, the ICU nurse, was where she was when she was.
Jennifer hugged me before I left with April to begin my final uneventful 3 mile descent along the Chimney Pond Trail to the Roaring Brook Campground parking lot. I moved slowly, my body achey and stiff. In the crisp morning air, I was clear headed and quite aware that I had made some mistakes; mistakes that could have cost my family and me dearly.
I definitely had not researched well enough the difficulty and terrain of the two trails I used to climb Katahdin. Although the Chimney Pond Trail was in line with my abilities, the Saddle Trail had features that were above my hiking skill level. Although, Papa Chip and I were hiking regularly while Chipmunk was out hiking another part of the AT, (he and I would hike a different section a few times each week to prepare for Katahdin), there was no other part of the AT that we were on that came close to the terrain of the Saddle Trail. I was more driven by passion than preparedness; I so wanted to be there when Chipmunk summited Katahdin.
When I approached the halfway point from the Ranger's cabin to the Roaring Brook Campground parking area, I was met not only by my husband, Papa Chip but also by 2 gentlemen with the Maine Search and Rescue volunteer team: Mark and Yoshi. They happened to be training at Baxter State Park and asked if they could assist with the final leg of my descent. They confirmed that they were not called in for a "rescue" of me and that they could see I was fine.
We all shared stories about our adventurous kids and enjoyed leisurely conversation about our life experiences as we descended the final mile of the trail in the foggy morning mountain air. There were very few views to be taken in with the day's weather and I was thankful that Chipmunk had summited on a gorgeous clear, sunny day. On the way down, we also passed another 4 person search and rescue team that was training at Baxter State Park for the next few days. I was impressed by their dedication and professionalism. They were some of the folks involved in the very intensive search for the older woman from Tennessee who disappeared while thru hiking the AT in Maine this past July. To date, neither she nor any shred of her personal items have been found. This circumstance is extremely rare and our thoughts continue to be with her family and friends.
I have learned a few lessons from this experience and I will take them with me as I venture forward into my next personal adventure: a healthy weight loss/eating life style change. It is not beyond me that I am overweight and not as strong as I can be. I hauled extra weight up Katahdin not in my backpack, but on my body. That weight likely tired me out, drained my body's resources and left me incapable of descending alone.
When I reached the parking lot, I thanked the team that escorted me and together Papa Chip and I made it to the Chip Mobile just before 12 noon. As we walked, he explained that we needed to get back into town to meet up with some special friends that were waiting for us at the A.T. Cafe in Millinocket. Although I was tired and achey, I got butterflies in my stomach when I heard just who we'd be seeing ... some kindred spirits!
If you enjoy reading the story of our adventure, and you’d like to send some “Trail Magic” to Chipmunk, click on the “Donate” button at the upper right corner of today’s blog post. Chipmunk maintains a twitter account: @openlymtngoat where a common hashtag is #GoChipmunk . She (or we) will try to answer any questions you may have about her hike and this family adventure.
Thanks again for all your support,
Mama Chip, Papa Chip, Chipmunk and her dog, Chocolate Chip
(Tammy, Jay, Neva and Coco)