How I Almost Became a Statistic – Mt. Jefferson, Hike No. 10

Brianna is my 18 year old Ambassador Girl Scout, she has asthma, she has never hiked or ventured into the White Mountains for that matter. She wanted to start working on her Ultimate Adventure badge, one of the requirements for her was to find a new trail. So we did just that. I researched the Cap Ridge Trail going up Mt. Jefferson, we met beforehand to go over details, I kept a close eye on the weather as usual. Then Friday morning came and all systems were go.

I picked up Brianna, who is like a sister to me, at 6:30am. I promised her mother that I would deliver her home safe and sound in the evening. Brianna was brimming with excitement. I’ve never seen a teenager so awake early in the morning. Brianna would borrow my normal Grivel daypack, while I tested out my new Gregory Deva. The drive up was met with the usual Massachusetts rush hour traffic which set up behind already. Once we hit the mountains I started pointing out different sites along the way, she was mystified by the beauty of our surroundings. Every time I visit the White Mountains I feel the same way.

We reached Jefferson Notch Road and continued down the dirt road until we finally reached the trail head. I helped Brianna pack the gear she would need for the day. It was only 5 miles round-trip, how bad could it be?

It wasn’t bad at all. The temperature was perfect, the sun shining. The slight incline made Brianna nervous. She needed to stop often to catch her breath. Sometimes I could tell she really needed to stop for her own safety. Other times I could tell she was caught up in her head. Brianna had a ton of anxiety about her asthma. I would let her catch her breath for a few seconds. It gave me time to snap photos since I didn’t have my favorite trip photographer (Anton).

Eventually we reached a boulder that was easily climbable. We both enjoyed the view, even if you just hiked the 3/4 of a mile to this boulder through the forest it is well worth it.

Then the real battle began. We were in the trees for another 1/4 mile, the dirt path became all rock and much steeper. This is the Presidential Range that I know and love.

Brianna had to stop more often, we were way behind schedule. I began to worry more about her endurance. She is a determined young woman, but if I told her to turn around she would have gladly. This poor kid was exhausted. I asked her about her exercise routine, Brianna couldn’t handle cardio as a result of her illness. Eventually I came to the conclusion that going had at her pace was best. I knew she would be much faster on the way down since it isn’t as physically demanding.

Eventually we both were starving and had to stop for lunch. She felt much better afterwards, but I noticed an ominous cloud in the distance. The radar said there was a thunderstorm, but it wouldn’t hit us so I ignored it. We hiked on, Brianna became increasingly nervous and didn’t know how to handle many of the rock scrambles. I demonstrated a path, she followed cautiously. I looked back as she followed me, her foot caught and she rolled her ankle. My heart hurt for her. She was so preoccupied with her thoughts that she was making many of my past mistakes. Brianna told me of pain she felt all over her body. I knew some of it was true, her feet should hurt at this point, but she also said her hip hurt. I remember that my hip was in pain at the start of my intense hiking regimen. The next day it always felt better, why? I never truly felt pain, it was all in my head.

Then we made it to the summit. I felt overcome with pride for my dear friend and Girl Scout.

On the summit the storm cloud looked eerily closer, I could see cloud to ground lightening striking in the distance. I checked the radar again, the storm changed course and was heading straight for us. We saw a group from an all boys camp racing down the mountain. To help calm Brianna I decided that we should hike with them, the counselors were happy to let us join. Safety in numbers, an illusion, but a comfort.

The clouds engulfed us. Brianna was in tears, she truly thought she wasn’t going to make it. I was chatting with the counselor Mike, a young college student, about some of his favorite adventures. Brianna stayed just in front of me so I could keep her in view. I told her that she would arrive home safely that very night. I am quite sure she didn’t believe me. Mike and I were brimming with excitement.

The rumbling became louder, drops started to fall from the sky. Not only were we in a thunderstorm, we were in the storm cloud. Mike and another group fell behind us, but Brianna and I went as fast as we could without slipping on the now wet rock. Eventually it started hailing, the storm was right over top us. I told Brianna to crouch under a shrub I found. It was the only shelter available, and I knew that we had to get down to the ground immediately. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that lightening was about to strike right over us, ignorance is bliss sometimes. Sure enough it struck about 75-100 feet away. I saw a bush burst into flames for a split second, then it was extinguished by the driving rain. I worried for the group behind us. The crack of thunder which immediately followed was so loud that Brianna started crying all over again. The hail let up a couple minutes later, and it was safe enough to move again.

Mike along with three other boys caught up to us eventually and we made our way to a larger group of eight boys and another counselor. I was in adventure heaven, my adrenaline still pumping. Brianna and I stayed toward the back with Mike, who I think Brianna felt comfortable around. I was grateful to hike with them on her behalf.

Out of nowhere I heard a cry, one of the older boys slipped on a rock. He was very hurt, in complete agony. Brianna and I joined Mike in an attempt to help him. His name was Patrick, and I did everything I could to distract him from his pain while we bandaged him. Brianna helped too, she noticed that Patrick hit his head on impact so she tested him for concussion. I gave Patrick my trekking poles so he could have something to lean on to take pressure off his knee. He was swelling, I didn’t say anything to Patrick or Mike who stayed religiously by his side, but Brianna and I both saw it, and reported to the other counselor. He definitely was suffering from a sprained knee at the very least. I stayed slightly ahead of Patrick to assist him in getting down the slides. Mike and the boys helped us in our hour of need, this was my way of giving back. Besides that, I would never leave a fellow hiker who was in need. Once we hit tree line where there were no longer steep sections Patrick gave me my poles back. The pain killers he took were finally kicking in, the poor boy no longer looked like he saw a ghost.

We finally reached the bottom by 6pm. Brianna and I were both so happy to see the parking lot. In spite of everything, Brianna was glad that she hiked with me. Now she had good material for the college essay she needs to write! As for me? I was happy to give her this gift, seeing her out there conquering her worst fears gave me pure joy.

Trail Tips: Never trust the weather forecast in the White Mountains. Prepare for anything, if that means purchasing a bivy sack for your comfort, then do it. If you’re hiking with a new hiker or are a new hiker, remember this, the greatest battle is the one you have with your mind. Don’t give up, you can do it.

My apologies for the lack of storm picture and video. At the time I could only think of getting to safety.