Climb Your Way Out of Your Comfort Zone

I am by no means a mountain climber. In fact, I am terribly afraid of heights. The prospect of getting on a ladder is terrifying. So it’s only natural that hiking would be far from my to-do list.

Last summer, after extensive begging and convincing, a friend got me to agree to hike up Black Butte just outside Mount Shasta. Granted this is not the largest peak in Northern California, but still for me this might as well have been Mount Everest.

The morning of, I’m in the kitchen stuffing as many water bottles in my backpack that I can find, simultaneously reaching for any substantial food that I can travel with. After all, this was my apocalypse. No way was I going to be stranded on some butte without water. Besides it’s July.  It’s 9 a.m. and already 95 degrees. This is going to be a long day.

10 a.m., I’m ready… or at least as much as I’m ever going to be.  My friend Is laughing at me carrying my heavy backpack like a life preserve as he gingerly throws his CamelBak over his shoulder.  I’m already sweating through the thick layer of sunscreen I have put on. I get in the car fed up with the day that has barely started.

We are finally at the base of the butte. I look up hopelessly trying to find the top, asking where the rocks we climb up are. I’m given a lesson on what a switchback trail is and how we don’t just simply climb rocks to get to the top. We weave back and forth through carved trails up the mountain. Great, just another way to prolong this.

It’s 100 degrees now. We are about an hour into this “fun” experience.  It only took about 15 minutes into the hike to realize that the gallon of water bottles and 10 Granola bars I so naively insisted on bringing was a terrible decision. I’m walking up steep trails fighting the weight of the backpack. My friend takes the backpack, giving me control over the CamelBak. Anything to shut me up. I remind him that it’s his fault we are here in the first place.

It’s noon. We are about halfway. I have stopped looking up. Solely focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I’m drenched in sweat and pretty sure acquiring a tan line that would make a farmer jealous.  I found a large stick that I have been walking with, trying to conserve energy.  I truly underestimated the endurance this takes.

2 p.m. My exhaustion has turned into unbridled anger. I’m yelling at my friend between draining the CamelBak and trying to maintain a steady breathing pattern. He’s yelling back. “You’ll thank me, you’ll see,” he says. “Stop being a baby.”

We finally make it.  Four long, hot hours later. I look up for the first time since beginning at the base.

It’s unbelievable.  The anger subsides, replaced by genuine awe.  I’m literally on top of the world.

I can see everything. The place that I have called home for the past 18 years I feel like I am seeing for the first time. It’s incredible.

I sit down. It’s so quiet. My friend is off on another rock doing the same. We both just sit there, not talking, silently suspended from reality.

On the way down we don’t say much. The descent only takes about an hour. We get in the car, dumping our stuff in the back seat and start driving back to the house.

“I told you, “ he said. I just nod. He is completely right.

Climbing Black Butte for the experienced hiker might not be a spectacular feat. However, to this day I never experienced anything like that again.  My purpose for writing this is to urge those of you reading this who might not consider yourself a candidate to do something like this. It was worth it.

Black Butte mountain
Photo credit: Kiely Nelson

Here are some hiking tips for you first-timers:
• Wear shoes with good grip
• Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate in the days leading up to the day of the hike
• Don’t over pack. Carrying an extra load will only exhaust you more.
• Buddy system. You don’t know how hard it is until you’re well into the hike. Support and encouragement is definitely recommended.
• Food: you will get hungry.
• Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses will be your saving grace.
• Camera: document it.

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