Follow the Badge Lady

Badge Requirements

1. Help your patrol, troop, or camp unit plan and go on two all-day hikes. Plan where to go, what to wear and take. Get necessary permissions.

2. Know how to walk and rest correctly, how to walk in a group on street, highway, or country road.

3. Use good outdoor manners: On the way. At hike site. On trails. Do an outdoor good turn on each hike.

4. Plan and carry your lunch for one hike and cook part of it yourself. On the other hike cook something for a group.

5. Help make and use: Fireplace. Woodpile. Fire.

6. Dress for expected weather and activities. Have rope, eating utensils, and bandana.

7. Learn one new campcraft skill: How to tie knots, handle a knife, use a compass, or lay and follow a trail.

8. Be able to teach a game to play on the way. Know a hiking song.

9. Help keep troop first aid kit ready to use. Know what to do if you cut or burn yourself.

10. Watch a sunset, look wide around a hilltop, or discover something interesting in nature. Find a poem or story about the out-of-doors or about the way it makes you feel to share with your patrol.

11. After each hike, talk over the hike and what you need to learn or practice before your next outing.

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 Purpose: To be able to plan and go on an all-day hike.


Summit Fever

Some people see a mountain and want to climb it. I see a mountain and am content just to look at it. I do enjoy taking in a sweeping view from a mountaintop, but I’d just as soon drive to the top and pull off at the scenic turnout to take it in; sometimes I’ll even get out of the car to stretch my legs. So the idea of spending a weekend hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains was a little foreign to me. But here I was.

I’d signed up for the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Women’s Adventure Weekend to learn some essential skills about hiking in the wilderness. We would be operating out of AMC’s Crawford’s Notch lodge, a sprawling three-story wood building with a prominent sloping rooftop nestled at the foot of the White Mountains’ southern Presidential Range. When I arrived on Friday afternoon, it was bustling with activity. There was a decidedly summer camp feel to the place. A number of AMC employees in green shirts checked people in, answered questions, provided information on hikes, the weather forecast, and dining schedules. My group, I was told, would meet for orientation that evening.

I’d been concerned I’d be one of the oldest among a bunch of fit, young women, so I was relieved when I entered the meeting room and saw a few gray heads. There were eleven of us, ranging in age from forties to sixties. Some were experienced hikers, others had a moderate level of expertise. And then there was me, the complete novice. Over the years, I’ve taken the occasional one- to two-hour nature walk while on vacation; otherwise I never hike. I don’t do much in the way of exercise other than incidental walking around the city and infrequent bike rides (see cyclist badge). It was hardly the necessary preparation for a weekend of mountain hiking, and I was a little worried about my inexperience, but since I was already here, I tried to put it out of my mind.

The evening began with an introduction from our leader, Julie Higgins, a spunky twenty-something trained in mountaineering and outdoors skills. She had a teacherly way about her and I wasn’t surprised to learn that before she’d become a mountain guide, she’d taught German and Spanish. She listed the necessary gear on a whiteboard and went over the whys and wherefores of each item. Rain jacket and rain pants were at the top of the list since precipitation and thunderstorms were predicted for the weekend. We would also be required to pack warm layers even though the late June daytime temperatures were in the 80s. Apparently, alpine hiking requires layering much like winter in the city. Still, it was hard to imagine we’d need hat and gloves, but they were on the board so I dutifully wrote them down on my packing list.

After we ran through the items on the board (essential, optional, optional but highly recommended, and normally essential but not necessary this time because the guides would be carrying it), Julie took us to the gear room where we were allowed to borrow “everything except socks and underwear.” It’s always fun to raid someone else’s closet, and I entered the L.L. Bean gear room with the delight of a child at Christmastime. Among the identical purple rain jackets hanging on the rack was one lone burnt orange jacket that caught my eye. I was happy to see it was my size, and snatched it up before moving on to the box of rain pants. Once we’d stocked up on all the items on our lists, we retired to our rooms to rest up before our big hike.

On Saturday, I awoke to a dense fog that sat low on the horizon obscuring what would have been a spectacular view of a verdant mountain range. The air was already warm, lending a soupy feel to the fog. But by the time we’d eaten breakfast and gotten ready for our expedition, the day looked more promising; the fog had lifted to reveal a partially sunny sky.

We began with a lesson in map and compass. Julie started us with the basics: how to use the compass to face north. It was a simple task that involved twisting the dial on the compass into position and then turning our bodies until the red needle aligned inside an outlined arrow, which Julie cutely described as “putting red in the shed.” Now we were facing north. From there, we were supposed to use the compass and map in conjunction, but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the concept. I have a poor sense of direction and am terrible at reading maps. Not that it really mattered because without my reading glasses, I couldn’t see a thing anyway. I suppose reading glasses should have been listed on the whiteboard in a special column called essentials for hikers over forty. Though I hadn’t made much progress with the navigational skills, I didn’t sweat it. There would be time to revisit the lesson later. Now, the hike was to begin.  

Crawford Path, the oldest continuously used trail in the U.S, leads from the lodge to the top of Mt. Pierce and beyond. It’s a narrow path that cuts through the forested mountainside, sloping up gently at first then increasing in steepness the higher it goes. Even at a gradual incline, the climb is taxing and it wasn’t long before I was winded, sweating, and struggling to keep up the pace. Though the brochure had described the hike we would take as “moderately challenging, including a potential summit attempt on a nearby 4,000 footer” and had warned that the “terrain encountered will be steep, rocky, and uneven,” the information didn’t sink in. I’d imagined a slow, easy hike on relatively flat land with an optional steep climb for those in shape. At the very least, I thought there would be switch backs, such as I’d experienced in my youth on day hikes while vacationing in the Sierras in my home state of California. But here we were heading straight up the mountain, like climbing stairs. I began to feel a dull sense of regret as I realized that for the next few hours we would be in a steady, unrelenting ascent.

We hiked single file up the trail with two guides, Mim and Jean, at the head, while Julie pulled up the rear, where I spent most of my time. We’d developed a pace of about a mile an hour, including short breaks to catch our breath and drink some water. As slow as that sounds, the constant movement meant calling on reserves of energy and strength I wasn’t sure I had. But so far I was able to keep up and was relieved to see I had company at the back of the pack with others who were showing signs of exhaustion and exertion too.  

I was also thankful for the distraction of conversation as we slogged our way up the mountain. I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to the women up front, but those of us in the back got to know each other a little as we talked about our shared experience on the trail and our separate lives back home. It was a friendly and interesting group of women, including writers, two retired professors, and even a dog groomer who also rides in an all-female motorcycle club. By and large, we were an adventurous group with a love of the outdoors, though we all agreed we could do without mosquitoes, ticks, and those persistent gnats that like flying up noses and landing in eyes.

I enjoyed hiking in the company of the women, and we began to develop a camaraderie as we worked toward our shared goal. It felt like we were part of team—the White Mountain Lady Alpinists or something like that. And if we hikers were the team, Julie was both coach and cheerleader. Along the way, she offered snippets of information about good hiking practices and also kept up our spirits with a loud woo-hoo whoop as we reached milestones along the trail. We made it to our first landmark, Gibbs Falls—0.3 miles in—up went the Julie whoop. We’d been hiking for one hour, up went the Julie whoop.

But the further we trudged, the less Julie’s enthusiasm was able to keep me in good humor. The trail on Mt. Pierce is rugged, filled with jutting rocks, exposed tree roots, and irregular topography, which is challenging under the best circumstances. But we were climbing in particularly wet conditions. Rain for the past seven days had made the trail muddy and slippery. It took concentration to navigate, and I rarely lifted my eyes to take in the beauty of the forest I was traversing.

As we marched on, I began to wonder whether the hike was enjoyable. I was beginning to think not. It had started to feel tedious, boring, and tiring. What good is it to get out into the wilderness only to stare down at your feet and push along at an arduous pace? This felt more like an extreme sport than a pleasure hike through the woods.

Then, after nearly two hours of onerous hiking, we reached Mizpah Cutoff, 1.8 miles from the trailhead, at 3,800-foot elevation. Here, the trail forked, presenting us with two options. We could take the Mizpah Cutoff trail for 0.7 miles of the same type of moderate climbing we’d been doing and reach the AMC hut, Mizpah Springs, where we could rest, eat lunch, continue our map and compass lesson, use the restroom, and have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate before heading back. Or, we could continue on Crawford Path for 1.2 miles of increased steepness and reach the summit of the mountain.

When I’d signed up for the Women’s Weekend, the point had been to learn essential skills. If I chose to go to the top of the mountain, I would sacrifice education; I’d miss the extended compass class, and I’d be too worn out to remember any on-the-trail lessons. I’d also give up the chance to take a long rest stop, which I so desperately desired. But none of that mattered to me now, a mile from the top. This was the most demanding hike I’d ever attempted. I wanted the payoff, and that was reaching the summit.

Normally I’m not a very driven person. When it comes to physical challenges, I’m happy to accept defeat rather than push myself to ride my bike that one additional mile or do just five more sit-ups. But the lure of the top of the mountain was too strong to ignore. There was no question of turning back now. Mt. Pierce was mine to climb. 

We took a vote and our group split in two; Mim would lead the four hikers who chose to go the hut, and Julie and Jean would take the rest of us to the top.

There was a gain in altitude of 500 feet in the final 1.2 miles to the summit. I wasn’t versed in mountaineering to understand how steep an incline that translated into but I gathered it would be the steep. And it was. But really the hardest part of the climb was the amount of time it took. We had seemed so close, and yet there was still more than an hour to go, one foot after the other in a slow but steady rate of progress.

Then, at about noon, we made the summit. As if on cue, the clouds parted, revealing a majestic view of the nearby mountaintops. We were above timberline, looking out over a beautiful vista. But more than a visual treat, the view also provided proof that we’d reached the pinnacle—hard, physical evidence of a goal achieved. I had pushed myself beyond my perceived limits and was now atop a 4,312-foot summit.

I pulled out my smashed cheese sandwich and bag of baby carrots from my backpack, sat on a rock, and enjoyed my cafeteria-made lunch like I’ve enjoyed few others. After a short rest to refuel and savor our accomplishment, it was time to head back. At least, I thought, the strenuous part was over.    

But what most experienced climbers likely know, and inexperienced hikers like me do not, is that going down is a lot harder than going up. It’s harder for balance and sure footing, and it’s immensely harder on your quadriceps.

The first leg of our descent would be 0.8 miles down other side of the mountain on Webster Cliff Trail to the hut, where we’d be rewarded with another rest stop. It was a treacherous, difficult climb down. Picking out footholds and grabbing tree branches for support, we made our way slowly down the slippery, rocky terrain. Some of us opted for rear-end sliding, rather than climbing, down the larger rocks.

At one point Julie described some interesting features in a rock, and we were each to repeat the information to the person behind us, like a game of telephone. When the hiker in front of me murmured that she wouldn’t be pausing to take part in the geology discussion as she was lucky to still be upright at this point, I was relieved the lesson stopped before me and I was off the hook.

We pressed on. Then, suddenly we heard the Julie whoop coming from up ahead. The hut was only a few minutes away. The much-needed rest was at hand. We staggered off the trail toward the respite of the hut, but I didn’t bother to go inside. I took off my pack and sat on a rock.

Somehow still energetic, Julie pulled out the map and compass and spoke a little about where we were in relation to where other things were, but that’s about all I could absorb. She also gave us a mnemonic for remembering the trail ethics Leave No Trace rules that went something like “Pass the doughnut to your Rasta brother on the left” and then she rattled off the rules that corresponded to the first letter of each word in the Rasta brother thing, but all I could concentrate on was how good it felt to be sitting down.

Then the sky started to darken, so we drew our class and rest to a premature close and got back on the trail. It wasn’t long before those menacing dark clouds delivered on their threat, and it began to rain. We stopped on the trail and put on our rain jackets. It was too hot for rain pants, so we marched on with at least our upper bodies protected. We were lucky and the rain was light for a good long while. 

But the already saturated ground quickly became slick. We tried to hasten our pace in a futile effort to outrun the storm. My legs skidded out from under me and I fell. I wasn’t hurt, I got right up and continued on. Then it happened again. And then again. The ground was wet and slippery, but that’s not why I fell. My legs had gotten too tired and weak to keep myself from slipping. My muscles seemed to have turned gelatinous and were giving out; they were done with the hike. At least we were nearing home base, I thought.

“Only two more hours,” Julie said with an optimism meant to offer us relief. From her ever-positive outlook, we faced only a small hurdle. To me, two hours sounded endless. How could there still be two whole hours left when it felt as though we’d been hiking since the dawn of time? I never understood more clearly just how slow a form of conveyance it is to travel on foot. There was no way off that mountain other than plodding down it step by painstaking step.

Then, about an hour from the finish, the light rain turned into a deluge. I was entirely soaked. My rain jacket didn’t seem to be keeping me dry in the least. I didn’t figure out why it wasn’t working until we were back at base and I removed the jacket and checked the tag, which said the fabric was nylon—not Gor-Tex. It had been hung in the wrong place, among the waterproof jackets, the lone deficient garment which I had chosen for its fashionable color.

Finally, the rain stopped and we soon emerged from the trail, soaking wet, tired, and thrilled to be finished. We gathered together in a circle, put a hand in the center, and together did our very loudest Julie whoop.

I was elated to have achieved the goal. But I was also perversely happy it had been so grueling that my legs now barely worked—all the more proof of what a hard-won victory it had been. We were like soldiers returned from battle, war buddies with tales of derring-do to tell. 

On Sunday morning, we set out for our second hike of the weekend, Mt. Willard, a shorter walk on flatter, though still rocky, ground. We hiked about 30 minutes to the small waterfall spilling into Centennial Pool, where we stopped and voted once again whether to continue on another hour upward or turn back and be done for the day. With legs so stiff they barely propelled me, I opted to turn back. I’d already made one summit. I didn’t need another. My summit fever had broken. I would return to the city with its easy sidewalks and speedy subways.

Once home, I made a show of how difficult it was to stand and sit and go up and down stairs. I talked about the stiffness in my legs more than was probably necessary, just to be sure everyone realized what a difficult feat I’d achieved. And while I may not have mastered map and compass, or retained much from the outdoors lessons, I’d learned something else. I’d discovered a drive, determination, and reserve of energy I hadn’t known I had. But I’m not so foolish as to rely on these hidden capabilities the next time. I’ll spend some time training (and pack the proper gear) before I take to the mountains again. 24 July 2013