I’ve now hiked the Pinnacle Trail at Table Rock State Park three times, most recently yesterday when I came about as close to killing myself as I’ve ever done. And no bones about it, if I had slipped the surly bonds, it would have been a clear cut case of redneck suicide. (“Hey, ya’ll, watch’is!”)
First, when hiking an 8.4-mile mountain trail rated “strenuous,” it’s essential that you allow enough time to complete the trail before dark.
Second, when hiking an 8.4-mile mountain trail rated “strenuous,” you should bring plenty of water. Hydration good. Dehydration bad.
Third, when hiking an 8.4-mile mountain trail rated “strenuous,” you should study the trail map carefully and, if at any point along the way you become uncertain of the route, turn back.
At least I remembered not to wear flip-flops.
Maybe I was thinking, if I may use that word, that my extensive urban hiking experience, plus my prior experience with the trail in question (albeit 10 years prior) exempted me from basic best practices. Maybe the man at the gate who reminded me that the trail takes between six and seven hours to complete assumed that I knew what time it was (1 p.m) and approximately when the sun would be going down (6:30). He probably assumed also that I could add.
God bless him, he even said “Be careful.” I chuckled at that, of course. Be careful. Gimme a break.
The first half of the hike was a piece of cake. I reached Bald Rock Overlook (see photo) barely winded, ate there and forged ahead. Tally ho. Then, about five miles in, I arrived at an unmarked fork, one I didn’t recognize at all, and that, dear reader, was where I should have turned around. A mile or more later, I came to a dead end and the steeply downhill path I’d taken there was about to become the first steeply uphill leg of a long, sad retreat, the last hour of which I’d spend stumbling through the dark with only a cell phone to light my way.
If you click the “hidden trail” photo to the right of the Bald Rock overlook photo, you’ll see what the trail looks like in broad daylight. Now imagine hiking that same trail in darkness. Imagine that you’re exhausted and dehydrated. You’ve almost turned your ankle about a dozen times and you don’t know how far it is to the trailhead. You lose the trail, panic, guess correctly and continue. What’s going to happen if you guess wrong? Coming in, it was fun to cross the streams by hopping from rock to rock. Getting out, it’s treacherous. On the far side of one stream, you lose the trail. Again. Then guess again. “This is insane,” you say aloud and you’re surprised by how high your voice sounds. Calm down. You keep tripping. Should you stop before you break something? Sleep would be nice, but how cold will it get here? What’s hypothermia like? Will anybody notice that one car is left in the parking area and if so, when?
But I did make it out and here I sit roughly 24 hours later, my cat beside me, a warm mug of tea at my hand, frankly amazed at my stupidity. Serial stupidity, no less.
And my only punishment, it seems, not nearly the punishment I deserve, is a pair of damnably sore legs.