(Mountain) lions and clowns and bears, oh my!

Things I learned on this camping trip:

– I burned more calories backpacking last weekend than I did running the marathon last month.
– Chris is terrified of clowns.
– Bears do come out in the winter, and when there is snow on the ground they leave the tracks to prove it.
– The guys all knew exactly what type of animals were up there, they just decided not to tell me any of it until later. (I’m kinda happy about this.)

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Day 4: Is it really time to go home already?

Seen on the way down the mountain
Seen on the way down the mountain

The last day came with a mixture of relief that we’d lived 3 nights in the snow and we were going to get to go home to tell about it, and sadness that it was ending so soon. Most of the group packed up and hit the trails early, but Jeff, John, Chris and I stuck around to enjoy one last breakfast over the fire. I had granola with bananas and milk, and it was delicious. And of course Starbucks Via.

We packed up camp slowly, taking time to tidy the campsite, make sure we left nothing behind. It’s good practice to always leave the campsite in better shape than you found it – and we left a small stack of firewood along with the now-cleared fire pit. So if it doesn’t snow before the next group of hikers finds it, perhaps they’ll be happier than I was on Day 2 when I couldn’t find the fire pit …

The fire died down, which meant we better start walking – it was cold!

The trip down was, as I had expected it to be, very frustrating and slow moving. I’ve always had a much more difficult time with downhill. I feel like even as tight as I can get my shoes tied, my toes still slam into the front of my shoes. And although my pack was notably lighter, it’s still extra weight pressing on my back, making me feel like I could lose balance at any moment.

Luckily for me, everyone was very patient. In difficult spots, like over frozen creeks, the others gave me direction on where to step. I stepped in existing footprints when I could, knowing that the ground was likely packed solid – it can be pretty unnerving to have the snow give in underneath you, especially with a pack on your back.

Downhill also can be frustrating for me in that I feel like it’s not as much of a workout. If I’m going to be hiking, I want to feel like I’m getting some cardio in! I don’t breathe heavy on the way down like I do on the way up. I don’t feel it in my legs. I *want* to go faster than I can.

John sits and waits for us to catch up
John sits and waits for us to catch up

But, slowly and surely, we made our way back down to the real world. It took a crazy 4 hours and 45 minutes to get down, and it was practically dinnertime by the time we reached the cars. We piled in and drove out, making sure to look back at the mountain we’d been a guest of for 4 days and 3 nights. It looked amazingly huge from the ground. It’s hard to believe I was within 1.6 miles from the top (and have been to the top before!).

We ended up at Waffle House, which has become tradition at this point, and I ordered the Daily Special (waffles, eggs, bacon, toast, cheese grits), and for the first time in my life, I ate the whole thing. And it was good. But the coffee was bad, all burned and gross, and I whispered to the group that I’d rather have the Starbucks on the mountain.

As far as Mitchell goes, I didn’t summit this year. But I did feel like I proved to myself that I could do something I never thought possible – spend 3 nights in the snow, and not cry, and not hate it. In fact, there’s a part of me that wants to be back there right now.

For future Mitchell plans, I do want to go back during the “hiking season” and visit the cafe and restaurant at the summit when it’s actually open. I learned that the reason I really loved winter camping (lack of animals) is so not true – the snow tracks everywhere proved otherwise. Of course, I’d go back next winter and try again to summit. Being in the cold is a great excuse to exercise – because the alternative to moving is sitting around being uncomfortably cold.

And I can’t wait to camp and actually use my hammock – it was way too cold to break out this trip, as Jeff and the REI employee warned me.

I want to climb other mountains, and I can’t wait to do so. But there’s something about this one that will always hold a special place in my heart. Kevin put it best over at Mitchell Winter when he said one of his favorite parts was, “Seeing 9 people on the trip that 2 years ago started with 2.”

So, who’s coming with us next year?

Read the other days of the trip here, here, and here. And don’t forget to visit this site to read about others’ adventures on the mountain.