To climb or not to climb? That is the question.
At least it should be by anyone considering exploring an Alaskan mountain range.
My recent experience attempting to climb O’Malley Peak ingrained in me the importance of that question.
I am from San Antonio, Texas, located in the Texas Hill Country. The phrase is self-explanatory. There are a lot of hills and a lot of spacious fields where I come from, making me awestruck by the foreign beauty of Alaskan mountains.
So, when a newly acquired Alaskan friend suggested I climb O’Malley Peak with him one afternoon, I said yes without a moment’s hesitation.
I knew I’d never climbed a mountain, and I knew climbing two flights of stairs leaves me breathless but climbing a mountain seemed completely feasible to me.
We began the trek to Little O’Malley Peak some time after 4 p.m. on a Monday. Excitement filled my little heart with anticipation as I saw the gently sloping valley to the top. I soon discovered that the gently sloping valley was not so gentle because, as it turns out, climbing a mountain is really difficult.
I fell multiple times. I clung to hiking poles for dear life. I sweated through my lovely gray cardigan. But, arriving to the top to Little O’Malley seemed worth the pain.
About 100 feet from the tip of Little O’Malley, my friend suggested we run to the summit because, forget climbing a mountain, running on a mountain was the only logical thing to do next, right?
I took about six steps before I busted it. Blood poured down my leg and, at 1,200 feet, the first aid I settled for was one wipe, triple antibiotic ointment and one bandage.
Despite the wound, finishing the remaining 3, 984 feet to O’Malley Peak still seemed possible to me.
The rest of this story goes as you think it does. It involves clinging to the side of rocks, skirting across snow the way only a Texas girl can, practically sliding down the side of a mountain because of blistered feet and inadequate footwear and, needless to say, conquering four false peaks and never arriving at the summit.
Despite the scrapes, bruises and failure to stay the course, I was lucky.
Although my hiking friend woefully unprepared me for the mental exhaustion of climbing a mountain with multiple false peaks, he was experienced enough to know to hand me a bag loaded with water, Gatorade, granola bars, a first aid kit, bug repellent, a jacket more appropriate for protecting against wind than my cardigan, walking poles and a GPS.
The only thing I brought with me to the hike was sunglasses and bear spray, which I accidently left in the car.
It was enough to make me wonder how my hike would have ended if I had tried to reach the summit on my own, and what has happened to inexperienced people who have tried.
An internet search of the phrase “dead hikers” showed news reports informing me that death by hiking can be brought on by falls, animal attacks, faulty equipment, exhaustion, exposure, being unprepared and lighting.
Luckily enough, a quick online search of the phrase “How to prepare for a hike or mountain climb,” gave me access to a sufficient amount of knowledge I could have used before I attempted to climb a mountain.
For instance, the Web page http://www.backpacking.net/beginner.html provided me with basic information about preventing blisters, equipment suggestions, trail safety and tips for getting in shape to hike and climb.
Blogs from self-identified hikers and climbers were also helpful.
I have made climbing O’Malley Peak a personal goal. But, while some pain is worth the view from the summit, death is not.
I recommend all new hikers and climbers do research to ensure their first outdoor adventure is not their last.