I Kept Walking (Slice of Life: Day 19)

The day of our summit to the glacier began at 3:00 a.m. I woke up physically exhausted and yet awake from the bitter cold in our tent. My thermos was already filled with coffee my tent-mate had prepared the night before. I sipped it slowly as I checked in with my body. I didn’t notice feeling tired; I just knew it was time to hike.

As I was putting on my hiking pants, I started to hear the tiny taps of rain on our tent. I hoped they would stop. I knew they probably wouldn’t. The first hour leaving camp was the wettest. It rained on us constantly, dampening the ground, soaking the plants we pushed ourselves through, and began turning the trail into a small creek. I kept my hands tucked into my sleeves to keep my gloves as dry as possible. It didn’t take long for my hiking pants to soak through and I prayed my 2 layers of long underwear would keep me warm. We hopped back and forth over the trail, avoiding deep mud and rain flow. It happened in an instant-my foot slipped just slightly off the brush. Water quickly filled the side of my boot. “Oh no!,” I worried to myself, thinking of the day of cold-weather hiking ahead of us, “My feet can’t be wet already!” But it was too late. I tried moving my toes to see if it had soaked through both pairs of my wool socks. I can’t say for sure, since it was 5:00 a.m., dark, and my memory is hazy, but I think it was the exact moment I had that thought that I sunk ankle deep into a mud puddle. I pulled out my boot and paused to look at it in disbelief. Pants, socks, boot–all brown, covered in sopping wet mud. I stood there for a moment, as if there was something I should do about it. The hiker behind me waited, and though I couldn’t see his face, gave me some response along the lines of, “Yeah, that sucks.”
And so I kept walking.

By the time we stopped for breakfast, the rain had turned to snow. With the high altitude and an early morning, I wasn’t ready to eat much. Instead I shuffled about, trying to keep warm, and distracted myself by worrying about my wet, cold feet. By this time, both sets of toes had become frozen blocks attached to my pads of feet. Water squished when I stepped and it hurt to move them. I asked my friend if my toes would fall off, and she promised me they wouldn’t.
And so I kept walking.

The group had split after breakfast. Those attempting the summit moved on while the rest stayed behind. Each step began to feel like a workout of its own and my pace slowed. The others were ahead for a while until we paused for a break. When we started up again, the guide pointed his hand to the lead, telling me to go in front. I’ll hold them back, I thought, I don’t want to feel rushed. “No, I don’t want to,” I protested. The group argued against me and the guide lightly gestured me forward, as if it wasn’t an option. “We stay together as a group,” he explained. I fought back tears, wishing I could refuse.
And so I kept walking.

The snow continued and the trail turned white. We entered a zone we called, ‘Cookies and Cream’, rocks small and large peeking out from the blanket of vanilla snow. Crossing them was precarious, each step inviting an opportunity to slip, fall, or injure. Even stepping carefully, we slid on slushy rock surface landed knees into snowy mud, and clutched wet gloves into the sides of boulders for support. After some time, we came to a crossing along the side of a mountain. The trail led us on its teetering side, an angle that looked too steep for skiing. A tiny path of slippery rocks and building snow was ahead. I glanced down at the long, dangerous path to fall. I looked at my friend and with complete honesty and a hint of desperation, I said, “I’m scared.” He grabbed my hand, guided me across the slope, and pulled hard when I slid down towards the rocks below.
And so I kept walking.

The altitude climbed with us, as we approached the glacier. With every step, my breath was heavy, unable to catch itself. The wet snow made it more difficult to walk slowly, as each step came with an uncertainty you didn’t want to hold on to. I grew increasingly frustrated with myself for my inability to keep up with the group, find solid footing, and breathe. The guide in back called out to me, “Vamanos!” Let’s go!, and I felt the tears start running down my face. Two of my friends stopped with me to encourage me and ensure that we were in no rush.
And so I kept walking.

Until we could feel our feet again
Until the precipitation stopped
Until we reached our summit,
I kept walking.

Until we finished all the chocolate
Until we sang every Shaggy song
Until the fog cleared and nature flashed its beauty,
I kept walking.

Until our feet, ankles, and knees were done
Until we reminisced of 5 a.m.
Until we crossed the finish line at base camp,
I kept walking.

2 Replies to “I Kept Walking (Slice of Life: Day 19)”

  1. Great to hear about your trip! What a challenge! I’m super impressed and proud of you. You continue to amaze.


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