Nina Spencer

The Snowy Road Less Travelled or “Pride Goeth Before A Fall”

Last Sunday I hiked Algonquin Park's Centennial Ridges for what probably will be the last time this season. Too bad...last Sunday's climb was my "lucky 7th" hike of that trail, and I was becoming quite fond of this 5 hour challenge. The first time I climbed to the first 2000' ridge, on July 26th, old middle-aged tender-heart that I am, I quietly cried...and was a little embarrassed that I did. It was just so stunningly beautiful, I couldn't help myself. I felt awe and sadness at the same time. Sadness that I'd waited 52 years to see such beauty in my "own backyard", for, until this past summer, I'd never visited Algonquin Provincial Park, despite it's only three hours from home. But, these past five months, I've more than made up for my neglect. I've climbed Centennial Ridges seven times in fifteen weeks--that's once every two weeks-each time with full awareness that I was a woman on a mission/with a purpose: to be as ready and as fit as possible for the "real" climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro yet to come.

This past weekend's climb-on November 7th-however, was different. Why? Unlike everywhere surrounding, the park had S-N-O-W! Everywhere. From the minute we passed through the gates it was a winter wonderland, yet autumn was still visible in our rearview mirror. We knew this climb would bring a different kind of adventure.

As you can imagine, by time seven, I was becoming cocksure of myself and of knowing the way. Things looked pretty different, though, all gussied up with snow. Nature's summertime landmarks were camouflaged and many of the blue dot trailblazers nailed to periodic trees (the coloured markers showing the way) were covered with sticky wet snow. Save a couple of sets of old boot prints here and there, we were pretty much on our own. I didn't let on I was a bit scared. Maybe scared is too strong a word, but I was surely lacking my summertime confidence that I knew the way. Could I trust my instincts despite the visibly changed landscape? Did I know more than I thought I did? Should I confess my hesitancy? Would I get everyone lost or worse--hurt? Leadership had its penalties that morning.

I pursed my lips and gave myself a good talking to. "Nina, you've done this trail six times. You know the way, snow or no snow. There are too many people here doing this trail for the first time. Don't make them scared. They're counting on you to know what you're doing. If you confess uncertainty, just imagine how they'll feel, knowing they're going 5 hours into the snowy wilderness with no other parties on the trail (as there were no other cars in the trailhead parking lot). Buck up kiddo. Buck up." And so buck-up I did.

Just as in life, I reached a fork in the path that I didn't recognize from my previous six outings. And it came early in the climb. I had to make a choice, but I was uncertain if was the right one. I chose left-I went with my intuition. For the next 15 minutes I had this sinking feeling I'd chosen wrong, but kept moving forth, pushing that dreadful feeling down and encouraging myself to trust my intuition. By the 15 minute mark I saw the truth of my choice, for there ahead was the crest of the first ridge. I'd chosen correctly. Whew! Now my confidence grew, but there were more moments of truth to come.

Much further along the route--by about the 2.5 hour mark--the trail requires a hiking across sloping granite and boulders atop the second ridge. As I was the trail leader, up I went first. Until this point, the snow made for a breathtaking hike and a welcome new page of variety to our training (for, of course, we'll have snowy hiking days on Kilimanjaro, too). All of a sudden, however, the exposed bits of granite here and there posed a different and dangerous experience. After only going about one third of the way up the sloped rock I started to slip and could easily see the thin sheen of ice covering the crest of the rock...and beyond the rock was a 2000 foot drop! "Hey guys. We can't go this way. It's too icy. I have to get down. Don't follow me up here." I felt stuck. Couldn't go forward and was too scared to go down the way I'd gone up. I could imagine slipping and cracking my head on the rock behind me. So I threw my poles down to my climbing buddies, squatted down as best I could and did what a kid would instinctively do...I went down on my bum. Best decision of the day...and it was fun, too! Oh, I felt so clever! And, opportunists that my friends were, out came the cameras-as though they were recruited by the paparazzi--to capture for posterity (no pun intended) the moment I used my posterior, instead of my head, to push through a difficult situation.

And so the climb continued. And so it was completed, generally unscathed by our group. I'd had my one scare and two others had suffered the indignity of muddy slips, too, but all of us were fine and well by journey's end, and quite proud we'd accomplished this challenging hike on what would probably be this trail's last day opened.

My workplace (and life!) "take-aways" from this hike:

1. Dare to follow your instincts more often: Whether at a fork in the road or atop a slippery slope, trust your intuition and go with the flow of the moment. Sure, sometimes your intuition may lead you along a "wrong" path, but I suspect, more times than not, surrendering to your instincts and not over-thinking, will yield greater satisfaction, serve you well and successfully take you through to the other side.

2. Things Change: When you think you know someone or something so well that you've gone on autopilot (like a trail you've hiked six times), better think again. Just like landscapes that change with varying seasons, so do people and situations-workplace and otherwise. There may be more to discover than meets the eye. Stay on your toes.

3. Know when to Hold 'Em and Know When to Fold 'Em: As a leader, there are times when it's best to keep your doubts to yourself and see what happens next; and then there are times to know you're "licked", confess your vulnerability and ask for ideas/for help. Going "lone ranger" all the time is never a good strategy and can end up seeing you, and even others, go "splat"! Remember, oftentimes "Pride goeth before a fall".

4. Opportunists Abound: When you do something silly looking, you can just bet there'll be someone close by to record it for all time! Mind that you always "look good" and, if you can't, better be sure to take along your sense of humour (and/or patience), to ride it out.

5. Go As a Child: When you find yourself in a "spot", like being stuck on a slippery rock, on a 2000' perch, go back to basics. Sometimes thinking simply-like a child-is the best strategy of all. Getting "back to basics" is a tried and true expression for a darned good reason and using your "butt" instead of your head may sometimes be the best solution of all.

This Sunday is an urban hike that may log 15 to 20 K along the Humber Valley, through Toronto's High Park and along the Martin Goodman Trail. We'll see how our time goes re the length of Ks we walk. Five hours is our typical limit. It won't be the Challenge of Centennial Ridges, or Rattlesnake Point, to be sure, but we will log the kilometres we desire, even though these ones will be very easy, by comparison.

And that brings me to my last insight "take-away" for this entry:

6. Give Yourself a Break Once in Awhile: Sometimes it's okay to take the low road/the easy road...and give yourself a break. "All roads lead to Rome." Not all "outings' have to be of the Centennial ridges variety.

Until next time, then, thanks for coming along the virtual hike with me. Hope you like the pics of Snowy Algonquin!

P. S. Only 9 weeks to go until "Kili time", and am currently at the $3445 mark in pledges raised, with hope that I'll still reach the $10,000 mark for the cause for which I'm climbing. If you are inspired to pledge, I'd be most grateful. If you have done so already and know others you think may care to donate, too, that would be fabulous too! Thank-you.