The Via Ferrata in WV – Part 3 AKA “Backpacking – Dear God, what did I get myself into?”
June 6, 2008, 7:39 pm
Filed under: Outdoor Adventure

I’m an introvert by nature.  One aspect of introversion means that I recharge by being alone. 

Backpacking with 18 other people pretty much guarantees that you aren’t going to be alone ever for the entirety of the trip.  This may have been the motivation behind a few impromptu hikes to the car for some others.

My nerves were paper thin by the time we made it to the trail head.  I was also suffering deeply from motion sickness because we’d gotten lost driving to the trail head.  Oh yeah.  I get motion sickness, that’s another small detail that I had forgotten about myself.

We had to drive over a twisty, curvy, mountain road, and then turn around and drive over it again and then up another mountain to get there.  We had left the via ferrata later than expected and it was getting cold and dark, quickly.  It was obvious that I wasn’t the only one feeling agitated.

After a little hiking, setting up camp (We managed this in record time, even before sun-down.  Ok, so there are some advantages to backpacking with a small herd. ) and having some warm food trail food, I was feeling more balanced.  My body stabilized a little bit before bed.

It was cold that night; much colder than I had expected.

I was dumb enough to leave my sleeping bag liner at home.  My body is anti-cold.  My brain hates it, my sensibilities hate it and my body hates it.  I’ve learned that as long as I am well-prepared, I am capable of doing outdoor trips in cold weather.  The key word here is “prepared.”

For awhile, my unprepared self lay shivering in my sleeping bag which is rated for 25F (some kind of cruel joke, obviously, and yes, I was using it correctly), but then I started cooling down far too quickly after the days activities.  Every muscle I own cramped up at once.  I did my best to stretch the cramps out, but any movement created more cramps.

The pain was so intense that I started crying.  Adam has a degree in Exercise Physiology.  You’d think this would be a time during which it would be a huge advantage to be sharing a tent with him.  I tried to wake him up as quietly as possible because we were sharing a tent with a third backpacker.

He woke up.  I explained my problem to him.  He mumbled something and went back to sleep.  I tried again.  He reassured me that I was fine and went back to sleep.  Great.  Prior to this, I had no idea that the definition of “fine” included being nothing more than a pile of excruciating cramps.

I knew I’d have to make some serious noise to get him up for real, plus, there was still that excruciating pain distracting me from being overly rational.

I lay there in a crumbled, painful, knotted-up sobbing heap for about ten minutes.  During this time, I concluded that:

  1. I am now officially too old to abuse my body anymore.
  2. I have to drop out of skydiving.
  3. I have to drop out of Lake Placid.
  4. I should never, ever, ever leave my warm bed overnight ever again.  Ever.
  5. I was just not made for this.
  6. I miss my cats.
  7. I would kill for a hot shower, right now.

I think that’s about it.

I find that crying is a good stress-reliever.  It relaxes the muscles and re-aligns the thoughts.  It’s an outburst of emotion that drains out all the negativity.  When someone says that she’s had “a good cry,” this is what she means.

Or maybe all the trembling finally created enough heat to make me feel better. 

Either way, I was able to relax a little bit and maybe even get a little sleep.

The next day was a ten mile hike.  We weren’t sure where we’d end up, so we took everything with us.

We had to do a few stream crossings.  For some of these streams, we had to take our boots off and wade through knee-deep water. 

I was a little worried about this, but only a little.  It was going to be my first time wearing a pack and wading through water as it trickled over sharp rocks.  The first stream was ankle-deep.  The water was ice cold, but I could handle it.  Nothing big.  A little ankle numbness never killed anyone.

Feeling more confident at the next stream I stepped right in and screamed.  My legs were plunged in up to my knees.  Ouchouchouchouch.

Painfully cold. 

Luckily, the day was hot and sunny and once I was out of the water, I felt refreshed.  After a few stream crossings, it started to only become annoying to constantly remove our boots, cross the stream and put them back on, which always seemed to happen just as my water shoes stopped dripping.

Pretty.  Not the most fantastic falls I’ve seen (disclaimer: I’ve seen some really fantastic falls.)  A few brave/crazy souls jumped into the swimming hole below the falls.  I took some pictures and video.

After lunch, a break, and a chat with the day hikers, we set off again.  The nice flat trail was replaced by a steady incline.  The hike became grueling at times, but not death defying.  By the end, I was feeling ever so slightly beyond <i>sore-in a-good-way</i>, and partly into <i>ok-enough-of-this-already</i>.

While looking for camp, we inadvertently finished the trail.  Our alternative was a pretty campsite that we had passed early that morning, after leaving our first camp.  We hiked the entire trail, and then some to get to that camp.

I was feeling slightly bitter that I had just lugged 30 pounds of stuff around a 10.5 mile loop only to camp a few yards down from where I had camped the night before, but too tired to care. 
 
Adam and I set up the tent and lay down as the sun went down.  Everyone else had the same idea and the campsite was solemn for awhile.  I was achy and ready for some non-trail food, warmth and indoor plumbing.

Once a fire was going, most of us emerged, ready for dinner.

That night, I was given a fire and the camaraderie of a lot of wonderful people who had felt a lot of the same things I’d been feeling during the past three days.
 
Thanks to the generosity of those backpackers, I had a nice headband made from a sleeve to keep my head warm and my hair back, I had stream water filtered for me, after I ran out, and later, something to boil that water, when I needed food.

The next morning, we were shuttled back to the camp ground.  I took a shower while the others packed.  We stopped off at an adorable motel/restaurant, called 4-U.  They offered tasty made-to-order home cooked meals (crucial for vegetarians and vegans trying to survive the wilds of West Virginia).  The staff, composed of what seemed to be a hardworking WV family, passionate about running a motel/restaurant and home cooking.  They literally ran from table to table, like maniacs, to serve the 40-something people that our group provided.

For the journey home, I laid down in the backseat of the car and leaned up against a pillow.  I fell asleep looking at a clear blue sky, white puffy clouds and mountain tops passing through my view.



The Via Ferrata in WV – Part 2
May 30, 2008, 3:28 am
Filed under: Outdoor Adventure

This is part 2, obviously. If you want to read part 1 first, then scroll down.

Ok, Last time, Amy was hanging off a 400 foot drop off in WV..

Despite all of this, it was the most spectacular outdoor experience that I’ve ever had. I’ve never seen anything so breathtaking (other than having an eel in my face off the coast of Florida, but that’s another post).

At one point, the via wraps around the side of a narrow cliff, and the climber ends up eye-to-eye with the dramatic cliff-face of the neighboring mountain. The wind cut across that corner and whipped my clothes against me. This only served to make me hold on tighter and wish I could also grip the rungs with my feet, too. I moved around the precarious bend.

I took in the sight. I took in a deep breath.

Adam called from around the corner, “Where did you go?”

I called back, “I’m around the corner. Get the camera ready!”

“Why?”

“Remember that cliff we saw driving up? You’re about to be face-to-face with it!”

I kept moving. Beyond this corner the bridge came into view. It’s a bridge constructed of nothing more than very-widely spaced two-by-fours and some cables. The climbers are still clipped in, and there are cable “railings” strung along the length of it.

By the time the bridge was in view, I had managed to get my rope octopus mostly under control and I was feeling more confident in my own abilities. I could see people crossing it, and I started to appreciate the beauty of what we were doing.

As most people who meditate know, it’s possible to have an intensive spiritual experience during sitting meditation. It’s a moment of clarity that is usually achieved after long and intensive sit or a series of long, intensive sits.

It’s the kind of experience that most people frustratingly can only describe as “indescribable.” It’s what happens when the ego, sense-of-self and attachment to time drop away. You lose all of what makes you mortal and touch the thing that makes you divine.

When looking out from my position on the rock, I wondered to myself, “What would happen if I applied a meditative mind to this?” What happened was that I dropped immediately into that moment of clarity. The entirety of the universe rushed into my head and I suddenly understood it.

Because I had this experience before, I knew that my understanding was temporary, and I was completely content to move onto the next thing, when it happened.

The next thing was my eagerness to get to the bridge.

I’m sure the bridge was the safest part of the entire course, but that didn’t stop it from being the scariest part, too. It’s merely balancing on a board, one at a time, which would be nothing to anyone, if it were only a few inches above the ground. Because it was 150 feet off the ground, with a strong cross breeze causing it to sway, it became very scary.

I had to drag my own ropes along with me because I am almost too short for my harness to reach the safety cable above. I could have also clipped to the railing, but by the time I reached the end (the part where the cable was the highest), it was too late.

After the climb, I was emotionally drained and sensory overloaded. Climbing is not only physically challenging, but it requires a lot of thought and problem solving. I felt like I had just completed the SAT’s and my life had depended on the outcome.

This would have been fine, except that I was then expected to launch into a 2-night backpacking trip with 18 other people.  Which you get to read about in the next post.

Here’s a slideshow of pictures we took on our trip to the via ferrata.



The Via Ferrata in WV – Part 1
May 28, 2008, 2:14 am
Filed under: Outdoor Adventure

I might have to drop out of skydiving next weekend.

I wasn’t expecting to be scared on the via ferrata and I was completely terrified.

I had forgotten that I am afraid of heights; this is a detail that I always forget until I’m staring into a deep gorge of some kind. Besides, wouldn’t any reasonable person feel some fear if she were hanging off the side of a cliff?

It wasn’t just a little bit of fear. It was intensive, heart-pounding, adrenaline flowing terror. I’m not a thrill-seeker. That’s not the reason I get myself into these things. I’m more of an explorer and skill acquirer, but definitely not a thrill seeker. I won’t even change my brand of moisturizer out of fear of the possible consequences.

Not being a thrill seeker wasn’t my only obstacle here. I’m also not a climber. I’ve been to the rock gym three times in my life, and each time, I’ve had to learn to trust the harness. During the whole duration of the via ferrata, I had no confidence that it would save me if I fell.

I’m pretty sure this is not uncommon. If you stopped a bunch of random individuals on the street and asked each one if he would trust his life to a couple of strips a cloth, I bet you’d have a whole lot of people in the resounding “NO!” category.

This means, if you’re about to climb, test the harness. Do this by clipping it somewhere stable and allowing yourself to hang from it before you start ascending. It’ll save you a lot of heartache (or even a more serious heart-condition).

I climbed the via ferrata like someone who truly believed her life was in danger (because I truly believed it). In some places, I only got myself through by pretending that I was only a few inches off the ground and remembering the soldiers that had climbed other via ferrata’s.

The European via ferratas were originally created to move soldiers over mountains. This means that regardless of desire or skill-level, some people had been forced to climb these things out of duty.

The harness decided that merely not helping me wasn’t enough. It went a step further to actually hinder me. Not only was I doing a difficult and frightening climb, but I was doing it with a rope octopus attacking me. It wrapped around my legs, it hung up on things, it draaaagggeed along the steel cable, and caught itself in places that I couldn’t reach without seriously compromising my comfort level.

My last obstacle was my height. I am 5’2 1/2″ and it seems that the via ferrata was designed by someone about a foot taller than me. The rungs and holds were ridiculously far apart. Many times, I only had my fingertips or tip-toes to support me.

In some cases, I had to jump a bit to get to the next hold. In most cases, I just had to some extra climbing.

More than a few times, I looked at the puzzle of the climb and said, “I can’t figure out how to get past this.” It took me a few extra minutes to find a way, but I always found one. I even found that my smaller stature and flexibility became an advantage on occasion.

This post is getting very long, so I am breaking it up.  Next post: The Via Ferrata; More than Terror and Rope Octopi.