A Foggy Night Hike

2007-03-26 23:51:40.000 – Mike Finnegan,  Summit Intern

The Citadel

It’s important not to become complacent of the weather up here. We live in this citadel atop the highest peak in the northeast and go out every hour just to make sure it’s still weathering out there, but we don’t always stray too far. Every once in a while, it’s good to remind yourself why people get lost and in trouble on this mountain (without doing so yourself).

Jon woke up this evening and asked if I wanted to go on a hike with him over to Clay. I had nearly asked him the same question last night, but got to doing work instead so tonight I was more than ready. Since mid-afternoon we have been in wicked thick fog – visibility limited to a mere 20 feet at times. Heading outside, we found this to be one of those times, except that now there was a light rain pattering on our jackets as well. The rocks appeared safe to step on, but occasionally deceived us with their coat of ice. Certainly not the safest conditions to be going out in, but we were prepared with appropriate gear including layers, water, radios, and a little plastic skull that glowed red at random times attached to the back of Jon’s pack.

I followed Jon who followed the cairns of rock in front of us. After a time, I asked Jon if he was able to see the next cairn with his light because I was having difficulty making them out until I was about on top of them. My lamp simply illuminated the cloud we walked in, allowing me to see a solid 10 feet or so. He admitted we were walking by educated guesses. Within the next minute our educated guesses led us astray and we were cairnless. Knowing our general direction, we hiked further down towards the Great Gulf, knowing that to our right were the cog tracks if nothing else. Search as we might, we eventually reached the edge of the gulf without ever finding another cairn. We hiked up and scoured around, searching for the Gulfside Trail, and eventually found a cairn next to the cog tracks.

Now what. We can’t see more than 10 or 15 feet, the next cairn is surely further than that, and we don’t know what direction it is in. I stay put for a bit and allow Jon to search and then go search myself. We never find it. We don’t even find the one we found. We start walking up the summit cone, looking as we go for rock piles in this mass of rocks. We eventually give in and set to hiking up the cog tracks themselves. I take out my harmonica and play a short train song, chugging up the tracks and the wailing of a lost trail whistle. Could there really be a more appropriate time? After a while, we decide to walk again on the ground, and do so until the top. We don’t see the lights of the observatory until we are perhaps 200 feet from it. Within 30 feet of the building we found our first cairn. Finally home, we came in to dry off after a wonderful, needed hike.


Mike Finnegan,  Summit Intern

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