How a World-class Acrophobe Survived Pyramid Peak (sort of)

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Disclaimer: I may have done some pretty stupid things back when I was young and foolish – like yesterday – but nothing like hiking Pyramid Peak. At least not in the last 10 minutes. (Kids, don’t try this at home.)

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You know that saying about “There’s dangerous and doable and then there’s dangerous and stupid?” (If you’ve never heard it before, don’t worry. I just made it up.) Well, guess which category the Pyramid Peak hike fell into?

My husband, aka Snuggle Bunny, and I planned to do what we always do to celebrate our anniversary: hike the hinterlands. I mean, who needs romantic candlelit dinners and tiramisu when you can chug through every mosquito-ridden, rock-strewn traipse known to man in knee-deep mud and cushion your every fall with a nice, thick slab of granite while enjoying The Great Outdoors?

Pyramid Peak 2

This year we decided to tackle Pyramid Peak. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Perched on the southern hip of crystalline Lake Crescent, the peak is located in the magnificent Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. The hike is about seven miles round-trip and offers peek-a-boo views of the lake as well as “big views” to the north and the interior of the Olympics. According to the guidebook, the trail climbs to a saddle in the ridge west of Pyramid Mountain at about 2.0 miles in. Fine. What nobody told us is that the trail pretty much disappears into a death-defying tight rope walk over a precarious landslide chute at about two-thirds of the way up.

Lake Crescent from Pyramid Peak Trail.

Lake Crescent from Pyramid Peak Trail.

Snuggle Bunny and I surveyed the situation at the south end of the chute. The “trail” – if you can call it that – was a pencil-thin path about ten inches wide. Teetering on the rim edge of a cliff, the single-file only “trail” snaked across a sheer drop of like, a year. No ropes. No pitons or carabiners. No hand-holds. No vegetation or obliging branches to grab. Only a sheer, unforgiving wall of crumbling granite to the left and endless space on the right. One mis-step or mistake could mean serious injury. Or worse. Did I mention that brains were also in short supply?

Summit fever isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

So, like a couple of idiots, Snugs and I started across. Single file. After all, Snugs and I have been hiking for over thirty years. Over all sorts of terrain. In all sorts of weather. Over all kinds of obstacles and geography. We’re not exactly novices.

We got about half-way across when I remembered that I’m deathly allergic to anything over two stories high. Flashes of the tragic fate of the 1996 Mount Everest expedition danced in my head. (Memo to self: Never read Jon Krakauer late at night.)

The wide part.

The wide part.

I looked up, hoping for good news. No joy. The trail got even narrower and more hazardous. I started shaking. Pretty much paralyzed, I was unable to proceed or retreat. Hundreds of crumbly, unstable feet above terra firma, I was keeping it together with mental Scotch tape and chutzpah. Then I ran out of tape.

Just ahead, the pathetic excuse of a “trail” petered out into a nearly invisible ribbon of dust with the structural integrity of powdered sugar. Choking down an iceberg of fear, I started to hyperventilate. My legs turned to Jell-o. (I did not tear up. Did not. Did not. Did not!)

About this point I smiled sweetly and chirped to Snuggle Bunny: I. Am. Not. Doing. This.

“Then we have to go back” Snuggles sagely observed. It took me about a nano-second to realize what that meant. Since the razor-thin trail wasn’t wide enough to switch places or pass, we had to do an about-face in order to retrace our steps. And I had to lead. Oh, joy.

The other wide part. Photo by Riri.

There’s a point at which your fear is more dangerous than the situation. I knew this, smack in the middle of a crumbling landslide chute, suspended over a potential fall of like, a year. I also knew we couldn’t spend the rest of our lives on that thin lifeline of packed earth. So I turned and shoved down the fear as best I could. Summoning every LaMaze breathing technique and Sunday school song I ever learned, I focused every ounce of concentration on one thing: Moving forward, one boot at a time.

Oh, yeah. Snugs and I hit terra firma about a year later. I stopped shaking 20 minutes after that.

The next day we were perched above Lake Crescent like birds on a wire, tackling the Storm King Trail. This puppy features a 2,000-foot vertical climb over two miles to the “End of Maintained Trail” sign teetering on the edge of a cliff (and they’re not kidding). Then you have to figure out how to get down.

Is this place great, or what?