Hike through Hesitation to the top of Lazy Mountain

When it comes to tough outdoor activities, I’m the queen of mercy.

If I’m in pain? I do not insist. When I’m not having fun anymore? As long as I have an escape option, I use it. I’ve stopped hiking before I reached my goal, stopped running halfway through a route, and set mountain biking or fat bike goals just because I don’t had more fun.

Yes, I can and do bear the discomfort. But the point of being outdoors for me isn’t to build muscle through a pain fest, it’s to improve myself and my life. If I feel like I’ve passed the point of “improving” in my efforts, and instead in a red zone of “Why am I doing this to myself?” I stop. As simple as that.

That’s why my decision last Sunday to continue seemed important to me.

Lazy Mountain dominates my garden in Palmer. In fact, that’s not entirely true. Pioneer Peak dominates my garden proper. Lazy Mountain is to the north, most visible from my front yard. What dominates the skyline the most, however, is the Matanuska Peak complex. Lazy Mountain, unfortunately, is just a low point on this jagged profile.

Seen from the ground, it looks like a big nothing. It was very disappointing for my sister when she came from out of town. She told me she wanted to hike a “mountainous” mountain, which turned out to mean a mountain that has a real highlight at the top of the tippity. Lazy Mountain certainly has that, and it’s a grueling effort by any measure to get to the top. But, seen from below and especially compared to Matanuska Peak which practically pierces the sky?

Yeah, that’s not impressive. After our epic day hike, Emily looked back at where we had come from and said, “Is that lazy?! Is that what we just did?!” Then she pointed to Matanuska Peak and said, “Next time I want to do THAT.”

At 3,720 feet high, the Lazy Mountain trailhead is located at about 1,000 feet, which provides a good head start. Not so pleasant, though – the classic Lazy Mountain Trail heads “almost straight up the mountain,” as the red police sign at the start warns hikers. At two miles and change to the summit, hikers gain about 3,000 feet in elevation.

This is how you gain what locals call “lazy legs,” which is shorthand for not being able to walk pain-free for weeks after the first hike of the season.

My husband threw me on a lazy hike last weekend. I was a little stressed, with a major road trip ahead to pick up a mobile art studio trailer that’s been in the works for years and the almost overwhelming logistics that come with that kind of effort.

Thought a hike would provide a nice refocus. I said yes.

Here’s the thing: I remember Lazy Mountain from the last time I did it last year. And this year it got steeper and longer. I have proof – took me 30 mins longer to get to the top than the time I practically trotted it – people really do, my husband is one of them – 4th of July 2021.

By the time we reached the first picnic table, often a goal for a day or evening hike in itself, I felt rather uninspired. I wasn’t exhausted or knocked out, per se. I just felt tired of feeling tired, a noticeable lack of interest in the summit, and pronounced anxiety about all the things that needed my attention at home.

And yes, I was a bit frustrated that the hike wasn’t easier. I suddenly remembered that I had spent most of that winter running or skiing on flat surfaces, whereas the previous summer I had had a strange flurry of running that culminated in the marathon of the equinox. No wonder the slope is steeper than I remember!

As we took a water and granola break at the picnic table, I asked my husband if he would mind turning around. He shrugged and said, anyway. That left the decision to me.

I sat there and pondered the incredible view and daylight, feeling pretty confident that I would choose to come back down. I tried this and it works for me. After all, I’m totally comfortable hiking or goal early, with the spirit of being outdoors for fun and growth.

It’s that last part that bothered me a bit. I wasn’t as decisive as usual – I sat there, flipping the choice, letting my mind wander to the option where we kept walking.

I realized that with two intense weeks right ahead of me and all the major decision points and elements that are both in my control and – a lot – out of my control, this hike was something I could complete. It would be nice for me to reorient my mind and body to finish what I had set out to do, even if and when it was difficult, so that I could have that base and point of reference for the weeks to come.

The fact that it was sunny at floodlight level helped; the kind of sunny aerial sun that leaves no whisper of cloud in the sky and saturates everything it touches with warmth, even when the air temperature is cool.

I decided to continue, with an adjusted, slower and more methodical pace, and focusing on how the coming weeks would unfold deliberately step by step as well. I could and I would.

The second half of the hike was much easier than the first. The summit was, as I had left it, a mountainous mountain and filled me with a vision of life and my position in it that I felt proud of. There’s a reason to complete some outdoor goals after all.

About Ethel Partin

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