Funny Thing about Grief


I went back up Mt. Wire today. Has been nearly a year and a half since I went up. I usually go to Red Butte and back down, which is ⅔ of the climb, and a very lovely hike. Today, I wanted to go to the top. I wanted to summit and see the tower again. I wanted to go to bed tonight physically exhausted, so that my ongoing grief would be quiet enough to allow me to sleep, perhaps even soundly and through the night.

The funny thing about grief is that it lessens in the mountains. The movement, the effort, the rhythm of going up, all of it calms and induces a meditative state that helps in the acceptance and processing of grief. Others might find walking or drinking or something else helpful, I turn to going uphill in nature.

I had a late start today, not arriving to the trailhead until 1:00pm. The sun was up, the day was hot, around 25˚ in the shade, one billion degrees in the sun, as the sun does in a desert. I was going up as light as I could: a liter of electrolytes, a liter of plain water, a long sleeve in case the summit was cold, a lighter because both Eric and Priyanka always carry one when hiking, knee braces because I was planning to go downhill, hiking poles because I was planning to go downhill, a couple snacks, TP, a towelette, plastic bags, my phone, and earpods. Without much more than parking, peeing, putting on my backpack, and starting the workout tracker on my watch, up I went.

I quickly caught up to a group of four who looked like college students, but I didn't catch up before we entered the trail split under BST. The timing was fortunate, because I didn't feel like I was going quickly, but they were going even more slowly. Our bodies move at the pace that is most efficient for them, so moving faster or slower than that optimal speed means using more energy. And, well, let's be honest, walking behind someone who is just a little bit slower than you are is some level of frustation-triggering that is better avoided. Which I did. By going around at the trail split. I was pretty sure the group didn't know where they were going, as they went a long way around to the start of the Living Room Trail. I went the shortest way to the start of LR.

At the start, I met a man coming down from the trail who didn't know where he parked. I can understand his confusion. I took a good year before I understood the layout of the Wasatch northeast of downtown Salt Lake City, which trails went where and how they all connected. One gully looks like the next hollow over if you don't know the peaks around you. I tried to help him, giving him the three main exits off the BST where we were (flat near the Natural History Museum, shallow due south dumping out at the research center, and rolling hills to the short descent to the zoo and This is the Place). He couldn't say where he was, but "that way seemed right." I wished him luck, and turned up the mountain.

Twice before this point I had stopped to ask descending hikers how things had gone. Both of them seemed surprised I was going up at 1pm, but one somehow knew I was going to the tower, and confirmed. I suspect having hiking boots, compression socks, hiking poles, a sun shirt, and a backpack that looked weighted probably gave me away. The weather up top was nice, they both said, so I figured, "make it to the Y, and I'll be set." Up I went, at what I thought was conservative, steady pace. My legs quickly felt like they were working, a feeling I usually don't have for a couple hours into a hike. See above, been a while since I went up a mountain of any significance. My legs were going to carry me up to at least Red Butte, slow and steady.

Except my slow and steady wasn't exactly slow. My heart rate stayed around 154 going up, which is about 10 beats a minute faster than my old aerobic threshold. I thought to slow down, tried even, to find myself 10, 15 minutes later back at the pace I tried to slow from, and my HR back up around 154. Okay then, this is what my body wants. 154 up the mountain I went.

Many of the people on the trail were young. Almost all the people on the trail lacked knowledge of trail etiquette which can be summarized as "hikers going uphill have the right of way, let them go first:"

1. Hikers coming uphill have the right of way. If you’re descending the trail, step aside and give space to the people climbing up.
2. Bicyclists yield to hikers and horses or other pack stock. Come to a full stop and step to the side to give the right of way.
3. Hikers yield to horses and other pack stock.

Coming down, a number of hikers going uphill stepped aside for me. I thanked them as I passed. I stepped aside for runners going downhill when I was going uphill, because momentum is a bitch, and we were both safer with my stepping aside. However, given any absence of momentum or previously arranged conversations, the uphill hiker has the right of way. If you are standing still, or sitting down in the shade, for the love of whatever god you think is helping you, get the fuck off the trail for people going uphill.

I passed one group of college age kids literally stopped on the trail, blocking it two across talking about another person and how she didn't know what she wanted in life, or something. As I passed, I said loudly, "It is okay to step off the trail." The two boys didn't like that I spoke, based on the commotion behind me as I kept going up. I'm not a fan of confrontation, but I'm less a fan of ignorant assholery. Even if we weren't on a trail, move the fuck over. What the hell, why do I need to say this?

To my surprise, I was at the first look out at 27 minutes. I usually hit that spot at 30 minutes. Okay, I wasn't going as slowly as I thought I was. I kept going up.

To my continued surprise, I was at the Living Room Y at 41 minutes. I usually reach that spot at 45 minutes. Okay, I really wasn't going as slowly as I thought I was.

I turned right and kept going up towards Red Butte, grateful for the immediate shade and reduced temperature. The flies were out in volume along the trail, hovering near the ground for the most part, but also divebombing into my face, my ears, my neck frequently. I didn't notice them for the most part, except for the occasional fly that stuck in my sunscreen on my face or neck. The sounds around me were fascinating, a lot of tick-tick-tick or the sound a wisteria pod makes when it releases its seeds and sends them everywhere. Not quite Predator ticks, not quite not Predator ticks. The movement of a hundred small animals over dried leaves, maybe?

I continued up for an hour, then stopped to drink electrolytes. I know better than to have only water. I was bringing two liters of liquid: 1L of electrolytes, 1L of plain water. My plan was to turn around at the summit or when I had half of a liter of water left. While sitting, I checked my map. I was 1.5 miles up, 0.7 miles left to the summit. Hot damn, I was ⅔ of the way up. WTH? How was I feeling this slow and going this fast?

While sitting in my puzzlement, taking pictures of the clouds and sky and forest around me, a hiker came down the mountain behind me. "Hey! It's the professional mountaineer! How are you?" I laughed, made sure I was off the trail so that he could pass easily, and asked him if we had met before. "You climb this mountain a lot last year, didn't you?" "Yes, I did." "And you set the pace for all of us!" I was pretty sure he had me confused with someone else, but I smiled, laughed, and said it was lovely to see him again, as I looked carefully when he passed me. I believe I have seen him before, in winter with my heavier pack, but anyone who climbed that mountain frequently likely saw me. I say hello to pretty much everyone I pass, and chat with them if they are interested in talking, so we likely met before.

After a five minute break, I gathered my pack, slung it on, and started up again. I have to say, the clouds coming in when I came out of the woods near Red Butte gave me pause. I did not want to be on the top of a mountain, near a metal tower, my hiking poles sticking up behind me, in a storm. The clouds had no apparent rain or lightning with them, were across my path, based on the breeze lower where I was. I was only a half mile from the summit, and I longed to see the tower. I went up.

The last half mile was harder than I recalled it being, leveling off and rolling near the summit. I definitely slowed down. I probably should have had something to eat when I stopped. I had not.

The rain started as I was at the final hill below the summit (all of 30' left of elevation to go!). I quickly made a video that said, yep, I feel the rain, I'm this close, I recognize the risk I'm taking, I'm going up. I arrived just as another woman also arrived at the tower. She came up the south face, which is far steeper than George's Hollow. I recommended she go back down via George's Hollow, which she readily agreed was her plan and the best one. I realized near the summit that I would like to summit Mt Wire via the Western Hollow trail, a faint, rarely-used trail that connects to the last part of the Red Butte to Mt. Wire path. Pretty sure that path is Tick Central, so more planning will be needed before attempting.

I took a few pictures at the summit. Realized how tired I was. Remembered Ken's words, "The summit is only half way," and packed up to start down the mountain. I put my knee braces on, expanded my poles, and off I went. The breeze was lovely. My footing wasn't too bad. I was definitely tired. Going down took me over an hour. I quickly learned that I no longer have my hiking / climbing calluses. My feet hurt a lot. I felt some blisters form and other blisters pop on the way down. I stopped briefly to retie my boots, to keep my toes from the hitting the front of my boots, and drink some water. I kept going down.

On the way down, I stepped aside for hikers coming up. I chatted with the ones who wanted information on distance and terrain, and encouraged the ones who were tired. The percentage of people going up without enough water was around 95%. I don't know if they mis-estimated the heat or the distance or the elevation gain or what, but a half liter is not enough water to go up 45 minutes minimum in the blazing sun at altitude when you are not used to hiking uphill. I wanted to offer my water, but had cut water to move lighter, and didn't have what I considered enough to spare. I worry about those people often.

I felt myself stumbling a bit below BST, so was careful when walking down sharp rocks and loose dirt. I made it off the trail, down the street and to my car before the nausea hit. Which I guess is a good thing, that I was motionless enough to feel like shit, and not moving even more, thereby making myself even more ill. Thinking the problem might be dehydration, I gulped down the last half liter of water I had, then drove to find food and electrolytes.

Tell you what, nausea is as good as a mountain for fending off grief.

After grabbing food and protein drinks and electrolytes, I went over to Dena and Grue's and just about collapsed on their couch. They were planning on watching a movie, so I joined in. It had some delightfully absurd moments, where I was the only one laughing loudly (physical comedy FTW!), and some weirdly absurd moments, where I asked for the movie to be paused so that I could puzzle out the absurd. The movie had enough plot twists after plot twists that I truly enjoyed the movie.

I managed to head back home, then pass out quickly. Exhaustion also helps with grief. Funny things, those.


You are a good storyteller.

Add new comment