New Year’s Eve was pretty quiet at my house. We had a few people over and a few drinks, but it was a far cry from some of the NYE’s in years past, particularly the one’s spent in a cabin on Lake Michigan. Thus when January 1st dawned we were reasonably up and alert. We decided to drive to a nearby state park called Golden Gate Canyon (I previously wrote about a solo adventure I took there in early November) for a brisk hike. The weather was positively warm and sunny in our neighborhood and- maybe because we were giddy with sunshine and holiday cheer- no one really bothered to think about what the weather in the mountains might be. We packed snacks, baby gear, and hiking poles, and set off. I threw on my denim jacket, which is comfy and full of pockets, but decidedly lacking in warmth unless it’s a balmy spring/autumn day.
It took only half an hour to reach our destination, but a good half of that was spent on snakey, wending, twisty roads that went up and up. So, for the second time in my life, I actually got car sick. Not pleasant. I sobered up, so to speak, when we got out of the car at the visitor center and felt the cold wind. Yikes, I did not dress appropriately! Luckily Ben was able to lend me his camo blanket, which I fashioned into a scarf. That, along with his deer-hide mittens, kept me fairly toasty. Oh yeah- and oh-so fashionable. Inside the center Bekky and I found a list of wildlife sightings from other hikers, along with the trails they were spotted on. “Bull moose! Coyotes! Foxes! Mountain lions!” They all listed the trail called Mountain Lion and so, with very little actual consideration for why that trail had so much wildlife (read: it was a remote and rarely hiked trail, due to it’s length and difficulty. The ranger even politely pointed this out. We missed the hint).
Out of the three adults on this hike, I was easily the most novice. My roommates were better hikers than me even before they moved to odor ado five-going-on-six years ago, and by now they are even better. It might be more accurate to describe my hiking style as “wandering around the woods, exploring aimlessly, and looking for animals”. Thus while we were all having a good time, I was pretty sure I would not make the whole 8 mile loop and live to tell the tale. The trail was gorgeous, alternating between views of the sit ant peaks and valleys, and winter woodland scenes, complete with little mouse trails in the snow. Some parts of the trail were covered in a thick sheet of ice where snowmelt had frozen rather suddenly. We did a lot of vertical hiking as the trail went up and and up towards Windy Peak. A ways in I finally begged for mercy and we agreed to cut some mileage off our total hike. It was getting later in the day and we began to o worry about losing the light. In the mountains, once the sun goes behind a peak it gets dark much faster than on flat land. It was also getting colder and *most* of us were tired (Ben seemed fine). I have never used ski poles (if that’s the right word for these. Like I said, novice) but was quite glad that Bena nod Bekky had brought them along. When you are sore and exhausted and going up or down steep grades they are a lifesaver.
It was quiet, oh so quiet on our hike. Apart from all the noise we made, of course. There was light snow over on the ground, but also plenty of just dirt. A few birds trilled warnings to each other as we went by. The air smelled delightfully clean and crisp and of fir trees. When we finally reached the top of Windy Peak the sun was setting, so the view was even more stunning than I would have guessed. The sky was a vivid pink and orange, and it threw the surrounding peaks into sharp relief. As the name implied, it was pretty windy, so we didn’t spend too much time oohing and awwing over the view. We did take turns climbing onto a rocky outcropping that dropped off steeply on all sides so that we could properly take in the view that we had hiked so far (it felt like) for. However, since we were a the top of Windy Peak at sunset it meant that we really were in a race against time to get to the service road at the bottom before full darkness. The way down went much faster, thanks to gravity, and a small amount of panic. Well, urgency is probably a better word. Again, those ski poles came in handy. At this point the baby, who had been cheerful the whole way, began to get cold and hungry and generally fed up with the whole thing, so the trails were silent except for our huffing and puffing the thababy’s wails. Bekky and Ben had headlamps which they broke out all too soon as the sun really and truly set and darkness set in. I’m sure that all the wildlife for miles around was sitting tight and listening to us careening our way down the mountain. We finally reached the bottom and…the sign, which should have pointed the way towards the parking lot where our car was, pointed back the way we had just come. SHIT. It was dark, cold, and windy. The baby was wailing and freezing. We were exhausted and confused. A decision had to be made and fast, so we decided to heed the signpost and had back up the trail. It didn’t feel like the right way, but who were we to doubt the freakin’ signs? Luckily we saw flashlights coming our way. Two tired but friendly hunters (with enchanting Southern accents) appeared and told us that they were also heading to their car, which was parked in the same lot as outs. Hallelujah! Saved. It turns out that the service road we had just been on had in fact been the correct way and that we did not need to head back up the mountain. Another in saving grace. It was a little disconcerting to me to be walking in the darkness with two people carrying rifles. They told us that they heard the baby’s wails from way off and we afraid a panther had gotten someone. If that statement doesn’t give you chills in the dark and cold I don’t know what will.
We reached the car without incident and said goodbye to our deus ex machina friends. We left the park, the baby fell asleep in the car almost immediately, and we rewarded ourselves with pizza on the way home. In retrospect, in the warmth and comfort of this coffee shop (aka my office) it was a might adventure and an excellent way to kick off 2017. I’m not sure I want to do it again though. Next time, I vow to plan ahead.