During the first half of April 2020, as we were all starting to conform the life under the "shelter in place" order due to the COVID-19 outbreak; we ran a little contest:
We asked you to send us stories about your best day on the trail from 2019, so we can all get a little inspiration. We had a host of stories that were really great to read. After many internal debates (we were not allowed to share our opinions with each other), we have selected 3 winning stories. Those winners are:
First prize: Cristina R.
Christina story was a great, terrifying and exhilarating story from the PCT, and for that she is taking home a pair of our new CNOC Outdoors EVA Trekking Poles. Here it is for you to enjoy:
An ‘Outdoor enthusiast’:
• Respectfully enjoys the beauty of nature’s finest offerings
• Accepts there will be times fraught with physically exhausting elements and natural challenges
• Perseveres to overcome obstacles
Much as a strength can originate in a weakness, the spotlight on my best 2019 trail day was lit the day preceding it. Linda ‘Nails’, Donna ‘Day-Z’, and I, were backpacking north through Washington state on the Pacific Crest Trail.
On August 9, we three senior hikers traversed the ‘Knife’s Edge’ in the Goat Rocks Wilderness Area. It exceeded the breathtaking, mindfully-stepped journey we’d been anticipating...with a kick.
Following several foggy mornings, this day dawned crisply clear. We were elated. After the circuitous Old Snowy alternate, bypassing the more direct but snowy final approach, we lunched overlooking both steep sides of the looming range. On rocks far below, some of the area’s namesake goats lazed sunnily.
Fortified by our respite, we set off to [finally] hike the Knife’s Edge! Noting the marbly tread, I promptly reinforced the notation by slipping and falling flat on my back. That fast.
Unharmed, I began again, albeit with heightened respect for my alliance with this trail.
We hike at different paces. Linda is generally well ahead; Donna and I tagging steadily along. This stretch, heeding a strong personal focus, I moved forward. Though not alone, a sense of singularity prevailed. Awareness of our edge-top vulnerability coupled with the weather’s fickle unpredictability no doubt guiding my steps.
Through a panoramically recollecting lens, I see myself in that rugged. richly saturated landscape; silent exhilaration filling my heart; unparalleled freedom, my soul.
In due time we safely exited the ridge line onto an open area, deeply grateful for the amazing experience.
Glancing back, dark ominous clouds roiled overhead. We donned rain gear as distant thunder boomed. Fat wet raindrops multiplied torrentially, lightning illuminated our exposure.
We hurriedly sheltered in a cluster of small dense trees until the rain subsided, then, far from dry, resumed hiking. Assailed by erratic thunder and lightening, a thin line of smoke immediately rose from a hillside strike just ahead. Almost before comprehending this peril’s significance, another downpour extinguished any danger.
Trodding on mostly in rain we passed full and fuller camping spots, until finding refuge in an old hunting camp.
Anyone on trail that night recalls what they heard, felt, or feared. If you pray, you prayed. Three hours that storm raged. At 12:25 a.m., a simultaneous thunderclap-lightning bolt resounded so fiercely-brilliantly, the ground shook. I thought about miracles.
Though heavy rain continued, that last terrific boom had been the chaotic symphony’s grand finale. I slept. Soundly.
Best 2019 trail day? The day following one with incredible splendor and gutsy challenge; neither canceling the other. That August 10, embodied in the truest spirit, outdoor enthusiasm emerged unscathed from tents up and down the trail. Yawning-stretching-laughing-growling, it assessed damage and checked maps and broke camp. Then, grinning in muddied boots and damp packs..... it hiked on.
Second Place: David I.
David brought to us a touching story about conquering cancer, and fulfilling a life ambition to pass the love of backpacking to his kids. David is getting a new single CNOC Outdoors EVA Trekking Pole to take him through many more adventures. Here is his story:
I have spent my entire life in the outdoors, either as a wilderness trekking instructor or in the military. I have diverted periodically into other pursuits in my life but the outdoor life has been my center since my father first took me into the woods near the Catawba River in North Carolina and taught me to make a fire with a single match chill of the night, a thrill I will never forget. He taught me that night the importance of simplicity and efficiency in the outdoors.
My life has taken many twists and turns professionally but in 2017 I was diagnosed with cancer and had to explain to my kids, all under 13 years of age, what was in store for myself and them as I undertook measures to deal with my disease. My first thought was that I had put off teaching them to backpack my way, simply and efficiently, and might not get the chance. I dealt with my cancer over the next several years and came out of the dark free of cancer, weakened but resolved to “catch up” with respect to teaching them the outdoor life.
The first thing I did was accumulate all the lightweight but durable gear I could for the four of us to take our first trips into the wilderness. Most importantly I needed a simple and lightweight system of water purification and storage. Time was of the essence I felt, even though it clearly wasn’t. The summer of 2019, mid-July, I took them on a dry run up the 13 Falls Trail in the Pemigewasset, and these kids who’d never see the woods other than around their home, were backpacking, under 20lbs a piece pack weight, and it was lovely. This trip was meant to learn the skills they’d need for more ambitious routes. 8 miles in and out over two days. At the end of the first day, we were in the stream at 13 Falls, and they were tired and thirsty. They took our CNOC bags and some Sawyer filters and filled all the water containers we had with stream water. The looks on their faces made me cry because I could tell they knew what this was all about, beauty, relative independence and the luxury of clean water, hot food and family comradery that so often gets lost in today’s simulated world.
A week later, with great ambition we walked the Pemi Loop in the same manner over four days. If I’d died then my life would be complete, they are avid trekkers now, and talking about more trails this year having done one of the most difficult treks in the US on their second trip of their lives. What a year.
Third Place: Lorne C
Lorne's story is a bit friendship and over-reaching while managing to be amazingly humbling and for that he won a Vecto of his choice! Here is his story:
My business partner and I decided to have our annual meeting in Bishop and get permits to climb Mt. Whitney. Gord and I had been friends since high school and did a lot of hiking and skiing back then. Now in our 50s we had been working together as business owners for the last couple years. I knew he was big into hiking and outdoors stuff. I on the other hand had drifted away from doing that as I was busy with career and family but was slowly getting back into it.
As we made plans for our meeting and the trip, I decided to get in touch with another high school friend of ours who it turned out was living in Southern California and we invited him to join us. He too was big into outdoor activities as well pretty much setting up his career around the skiing and ice climbing seasons in Alberta where we all lived in high school.
Gord and I did our meeting sitting at Whitney portal the day before our planned trip. We got our permits and that afternoon Ron turned up. Both Ron and Gord were pretty relaxed about the trip while I had planned it and was pretty nervous about whether I could make it or not.
We set off very early the next morning from Whitney portal. It was magical as it was a full moon and it was so bright we didn’t even need our headlamps as we climbed up and up and up. We got to the base of the 99 switchbacks just after dawn and took a break to fill up on water. The 99 switchbacks pretty much killed me as my lack of fitness really started to show. I did make it up while Gord and Ron patiently waited at the top of that section for me to turn up. I made it several more miles but by the time I got to about 1.5 miles from the summit I was taking about 20 steps and then stopping for several minutes to catch my breath.
Doing the math on our turn-around time and how I was going I decided to turn around while they went to the summit. The trail was very busy so I wasn’t worried about safety. We decided to meet back down at trail camp. I made my way down and relaxed at trail camp waiting for them to show up. Not too long later they showed up and we continued our hike down. It was quite late and I was VERY exhausted by the time we got back down to the Whitney portal parking lot.
I remember being almost in a delirium as I made my way down the last couple miles. We got back to the hotel room and crashed. While I was disappointed at not making it to the summit, the mountain will still be there another time but the day out with high school friends was the best day on the trail ever for me. Since then I am in much better shape and am planning to go back to Whitney to finish summiting it but as sweet as that will be it won’t be as good as that day hanging out with great friends.