There will inevitably come a time when you decide to turn around on a hike, whether it’s your body, mind, trail conditions, weather, safety, or whatever. When facing this decision, pause, access, and listen. It’s better to turn around than to push past and end up with a potentially harmful situation.

The current culture is one of toxic positivity and constant hustle. It seems that if you don’t work tirelessly, you will never achieve your goals. While hard work is necessary, it’s important to take breaks and rest instead of constantly pushing yourself. You must rest. Sometimes we need to press the pause button and regroup. It’s the same in the mountains as it is in life. (Why do you think there are so many songs about mountains?)

My first bail out was on Azure mountain. This is my “conditioning hill,” and I have done many, many, many times before. I had just gone to the gym and my legs were toast. It was cold and raining. We signed in, started and I looked at my friend and said, “This sucks. Let’s turn around.” Rather than beating myself up about it, I recognized I was in tune well enough with my body to know that I was tired and didn’t need to be pushing any more. This was extremely humbling to do. I have been raised to keep pushing and to never quit. But I have had to learn that it’s not always quitter, rather it’s resting.

Last weekend, I went on a solo hike up Whiteface mountain in Wilmington, NY, in winter-like conditions. This was my second bail out. I had prepared well for the hike, carrying all the necessary gear, including the 10 essentials, and following the Leave No Trace principles. I had informed people about my whereabouts, slept well the night before, and had proper nutrition and hydration. Although I had previously hiked this route in the summer, I was aware of a few tricky spots where climbing could be challenging. However, I had never hiked in the higher elevations during winter.

I began my journey at 6 am, fully equipped with a flashlight, a backup, and extra batteries. I had my map with me and my spikes were ready to be put on quickly, which I did within five minutes on the trail. The weather conditions were not in my favor, as it was raining, snow was on the ground, and it was cold and wet. I wasn’t even sure if I would be able to climb the first mountain due to the conditions. To make matters worse, the sunrise wasn’t until 7:15, which meant that I was in the dark for over an hour at the start of my journey.

I started my day with Marble Mountain, which is notorious for being a tough climb. Although it’s not technically challenging, it’s a steep ascent that seems to go on forever. After reaching the top, I continued on to Lookout Mountain, where the climb became more difficult due to the icy conditions and rain. At one point, I felt like giving up and turning back, but I didn’t want to hike back down Marble Mountain. So, I took a moment to assess my situation. Was I warm enough? Was I safe? Was I tired? Had I drank enough water? Did I need to eat? I’ve learned that when I start to feel cranky, it’s usually a sign that I need a snack and some water. After taking care of myself, I felt better and decided to continue on. Although I was cold, I knew I could handle another four hours with the layers I had packed. So I continued on!

I reached the junction for Esther and felt ready to continue. The toughest part of the climb was over. As the snow got deeper, I put on my snowshoes and continued through the forest. Snowshoeing through the forest felt magical. I was happy that I kept going. I arrived at “boulder alley,” where I had to be careful with my footing. Even though there was snow, it didn’t necessarily mean there was ground underneath it. I had encountered this during the summer and knew it would be tricky in the winter. I was right, but I managed to get through it. This brought me to the WALL of Whiteface, which was exciting. From there, I had the option to continue on the trail with boulders or take the road and snowshoe up (thinking that would be an easier……) After being stuck for about 15 minutes, I finally managed to get through the last tricky spot that I had trouble climbing. There was some bouldering involved, and I was scared of misstepping and falling down a ledge. Since I hadn’t seen anyone that day, I was being extra cautious. However, I managed to climb up safely and decided to take the road instead of continuing on the same path.

It’s hard to say if taking the road was any easier than the actual trail. The road was covered in about 18-24 inches of snow, and I had the longest-shortest snowshoe of my life. I was convinced that I would never reach the castle at the top. I made a mental note to turn around at noon, no matter where I was, so that I would have four hours of daylight to descend. It was only 10:30, so I had plenty of time.

As I trudged through the whiteout, I finally caught sight of the familiar elevator structure that is usually open during summers. However, it was clear that there was no elevator today. Despite the lack of visibility, I knew the castle was nearby. I continued to walk until I reached the structure that I had been hoping to find. It was the stairway that led to the summit! A sign that read “4610 – Ft. Above Sea” indicated that I only had 259 more feet of elevation to climb before I reached my destination. I was thrilled to be so close.

I began climbing the stairs, but soon realized that it was going to be a difficult task. The stairs were covered in snow, and I was struggling to get a grip. I had hiked this path many times before during the summer months, but this was different. I tried to convince myself that I could do it, but I was wrong. I slipped and almost fell off the cliff beyond the railing. I was terrified, alone, and hadn’t seen any other hikers that day. I decided to stop and turn back. I stood at the sign that read 4610, and I felt proud of myself. I had come further than I thought I could. I didn’t make it to the summit, but I made it to that point, and that was an achievement in itself.

I took some pictures of the enchanted winter castle and changed my layers that had gotten wet. I looked around and there was not a soul in sight. I had this magical kingdom all to myself. I was doing things that I never thought I would do in my life. The sense of awe that I felt after accomplishing it made the whole experience worth it. I decided to skip the trail and snowshoe down the mountain. At about 3800 ft, I ran across a few skiers. It was incredible to see them ski up and down the mountain. I stayed to the side of the trail so as not to ruin their tracks or be in their way.

I never felt discouraged when I decided to turn around. Failing to reach the summit didn’t cost me anything. Instead, I prioritized my safety and gained a newfound sense of peace. I acknowledged my limitations and respected myself in that moment. While we all strive to reach the top of the mountain, sometimes obstacles arise that force us to change course. These challenges often help us appreciate the journey and our accomplishments even more.

Just remember, the mountains will be there. If you come into challenges on a hike, there is absolutely no shame in turning around. It’s a part of the journey sometimes.

Safe travels!
~Bad Penny (Which leads me to another blog post! What is a trail name?)