False assumptions foil hikePublished 9:42am Friday, January 18, 2013
There is an old saying that you should never assume anything because it makes an … well, I can’t in good conscience finish that thought in print.
The gist of it, however, is assumptions are dangerous and can sometimes lead to undesirable results.
This saying came to mind Saturday as I sat inside my tent, somewhere on the Pinhoti Trail in the Talladega National Forest.
It was 6:30 p.m. Lying still in my tent, I could hear the faint sound of wind as it made its way through acres of forest. The near silence turned into a deafening roar with each intermittent gust that barreled its way through our campsite.
But in between gusts, there were no familiar camping sounds. No whistling of butane stoves. No fire crackling. No laughter or conversation.
That was because most members of our nine-man group were buried deep inside their sleeping bags, destroyed by a hike they weren’t ready for.
All because of a few miscalculations – a few assumptions.
I’ll shoulder the blame for most of it, as I organized the trip. I was the one who was too lazy to pull out my map and relied on a low-resolution version I found online.
On the fuzzy map, the contour lines suggested there would be a tough climb. I couldn’t make out the exact elevation, but I knew we would eventually end at Odum Point, which at 2,343 feet is the second-highest peak in the state.
I assumed that it wouldn’t be that bad. This is Alabama – I’ve mounted peak bagging attempts on summits in the 14,000s, I thought.
Still, I warned everyone that although it was a mere two miles, the trek might be a tough climb – advice that would send most experienced hikers digging through their packs in search of unnecessary pounds and ounces.
I assumed everyone would drop weight accordingly.
In fact, some had taken the opposite approach. Encouraged by the short distance, some packed luxuries I would never dream of lugging into the backcountry. One of my friends packed so much, he ran out of room in his near 80 liter pack. The solution? He bungee-corded a milk crate onto the bottom of his backpack, and then jammed it full of everything that wouldn’t fit elsewhere. Needless to say, the “Redneck Sherpa” was at the back of the group most of the hike.
Our plan was to reach the top of the ridge and then take the half-mile approach hike to Odum Point.
Halfway through the ascent to the ridge, however, it became painfully obvious that the whole group was losing sight of the final destination. It was getting later in the day, and we were falling behind schedule because of the constant breaks.
When we reached the top, all hope of making the final half-mile push was gone. We walked up on a mountaintop oasis – three campsites, all with flat ground, fire rings and plenty of pre-chopped wood.
Once our tent city was erected, we began work on a fire. In my hubris, I assumed I could breathe life into the wettest of firewood. But I underestimated the slow, steady rain that had managed to soak any and all available tinder.An hour of staring at smoldering wood and almost a half a bottle of lighter fluid later, we had only managed to singe some arm hair and burn a few leaves.
Exhausted and without the warm glow of a fire to trick our internal clocks into staying awake, we dropped like flies. By 7 p.m. or so, most of us were well on our way to REM.
In a few weeks, we are going to attempt to summit Odum again. I won’t assume that we will make it there this time. But I think it is safe to say the Redneck Sherpa will be leaving the milk crate at home next time. Well, one can only hope, I guess.
Nelson is news editor of The Outlook.