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Mile by Mile week 4 Part II: If you don’t know, don’t go.

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Three peaks

As my journey into hiking unfolds, my experience and knowledge has been expanding. With every trail, I’ve been able to teach myself new tips and tricks.

The few that I’ve collected so far include wearing the right footwear, pacing myself and bringing extra food and water.

I half seriously and half jokingly write these tips in a notebook and call them my “golden rules.”

While hiking the second half of Olomana, I kept reminding myself to add a new tip to the list – “If you don’t know, don’t go.”

As I stated in last week's article, my hiking partner Ethan and I had very little knowledge about the Olomana trail past the third peak.

Ethan was able to loop it back to the main road years ago. However, he didn’t remember exactly how he did it.

On the top of the third peak, feeding off each other’s excitement and trusting in our outdoor skills we decided to brave the unknown and attempt to loop the trail instead of hiking back out the way we came in.

Immediately, we could tell that no one has looped the trail in awhile. The backside trail of the third peak was overgrown and covered in bush.

It soon became a narrow ridgeline with steep dros on either side. Because of the precariousness of the situation, Ethan and I didn’t converse much and instead focused our attention on the trail.

After ten minutes of hiking, we came to the first of three down-climbs that we needed to complete to get to the bottom of the mountainside and into the valley.

This one was the least difficult of the three. Someone actually created and bolted a PVC pipe and rope ladder to the ledge. Again, not being familiar with the integrity of the rope and homemade ladder, Ethan and I opted to climb down without its assistance.

The second and third down-climbs were completely different animals. They were vertical and narrow, with steep drops on either side. During the descent of each one, I fought both physically and mentally. Putting off thoughts of what might happen if I fell, I clung to the rock with more force and fear than on any climb I’ve previously attempted. We took all the precautions we could and made it down each section slowly and safely.

Just before we entered the valley, Ethan took a hard look at our surroundings. This was the last time we would be over the tree line and he wanted to get a solid orientation of the land.

In the valley, there would be no real trail to follow. Our plan was to find a stream, follow it to the right and find the main road.

The atmosphere in the valley was nothing like the ridgeline. Under the trees, the air was thick and humid. No breeze made it through. The shade, moisture and lack of flowing air made the valley a perfect mosquito hangout. We were swarmed immediately and within minutes my legs were covered in raised bumps from the bites. With no trail, we did our best to make movements to the right where the main road would be.

The valley, which was on the foot of the mountain, was sloped. As we made our way through the muddy terrain we constantly fell to the floor. We slipped and slid with our limbs flailing in attempts to stabilize us. Ethan quickly made a game out of it. He squatted onto feet and “skied” down the hillside. I followed his lead. As we slid down we caught branches to our left and right to slow us down. Many times I almost took out Ethan in front of me.

It was fun while it lasted, but as we started to get further into the valley and less sure of our location, the smile faded from my face. I wasn’t worried that we wouldn’t make it out. But after almost four hours of intense hiking and climbing, I was wiped. All I wanted at that point was to be back at the cars.

At some point we found a red marker; a piece of colored tape tied to tree that signifies someone’s made up trail. We decided to try and follow it out. Every three to four yards we found a marker tied to a tree that showed us we were going in the right direction. However, after about fifteen minutes, we lost the red markers. We doubled back to see if we missed one, but we couldn’t find anything. We decided to push forward, trying to follow the same path-line the markers were going.

We ended up finding a different colored marker on our path. This one was blue. It was the only sign of a trail so we started following those ones, but they too went cold and disappeared. Again we took off in the direction the markers looked like there were headed.

We pushed forward but were sometimes turned away because the brush and trees became too thick for us to break through. Multiple times we had to circle back to find a clearer path.

Later, we found another marker: an orange one, but it was unfortunately tied to a downed tree. This valley had endured rainfall and the loosened mud caused small landslides throughout the valley. It was then we realized why the markers kept disappearing.

At one point during our search for a trail, we found pig tracks in the mud and on top of them, dog tracks. Ethan concluded that there was a hunt and if this were a hunting area, there would be a hunting trail near by. He kept his eyes on the ground and followed the tracks.

Because I respect and admire Ethan, I pushed along silently behind him. Not once did I tell him that I was exhausted, bug eaten, sunburnt or hungry, although for the whole second half of the hike, I was all those things and more.

In my head I kept cursing myself for allowing us to push forward with the hike we had little information about. We were out there for four hours, and I wasn’t mentally prepared for this. I kept repeating to myself, “Next time, if you don’t know, don’t go.”

Unsurprisingly, Ethan was right. We found an established hunting trail and made it out to the main road, a mile away from our cars.

Getting out of the valley made me feel instantly better. I wasn’t dealing with mud, mosquitoes and uneven terrain. It was easier to will my legs forward on the even surface of asphalt. It also helped that I mentally knew that the hike was over; we just had to get to our cars.

I brightened up. Ethan on the other hand had never dampened. The whole way through the hike he kept saying how happy he was we decided to loop it through. Now that we were officially out of the woods, I started to share the same sense of exhilaration.

“If you don’t know, don’t go,” seemed a little too harsh now. The second half was a real adventure.

We ventured into the unknown and found our way out. We scrambled over precarious cliffs, slid down muddied hillsides and followed animal tracks. We hiked eight miles for five hours and came out dirty, sweaty, but feeling accomplished.

Not knowing and going anyways challenged me. I did things I didn’t set out to do, learned and experienced more than I expected. Going on this hike made me a better person, even if at that moment I didn’t want to be.

In the end I decided “If you don’t know, don’t go” was a better guideline than rule.