When the clock struck 6:30am, Jill and I ran out the door. As we headed North in the Jeep, I had no idea that later that same morning, we would be looking at each other puzzled (and I bit worried) regarding the predicament we had gotten ourselves into. We had literally taken the road less traveled and were regretting it at that particular moment. Okay, let me back up for a minute.
A few weeks back, Jill and I scheduled a trip to climb Mt. Cardigan and this was the day we picked. I had done quite a bit of research regarding the best route to ascend to the summit from the East. I like to gather as much information on the hikes we have planned for a few reasons. I wouldn’t say that we are extremely experienced hikers since we really started hitting the trails less than a year ago and for this reason, it’s nice to know exactly where we’re going and what we're getting ourselves into. So, for this hike, it was abundantly clear from online posts and from my hiking guides that we wanted to start by taking the Holt-Manning Trail to the Holt Trail. After a brook crossing, the Holt Trail splits off to the Clark-Holt Cutoff at the Grand Junction. This Cutoff drops you onto the Clark Trail, which is the best route up to the Cardigan summit. This was the plan. This is what I had prepared for!
Feeling good and moving fast through the first half of the hike, we came upon the Grand Junction. There we found a large sign that said “Easiest Route to Cardigan”. This was the route I mapped out. When I pointed in this direction, I saw the wheels spinning in Jill’s head. Since we were moving so fast and we felt great so far on this hike, she suggested we continue on the Holt Trail. I believe her wording was, “let’s challenge ourselves”. Now, I had heard from my friends Matt and Steph that it was a tough trail and a bit steep. Also, I hadn’t prepared for this trail. This was against my better judgment. However, as always with Jill, I caved and we continued on the Holt Trail.
As we hiked along this poorly maintained path, we were presented with discouraging signs that said the trail ahead was extremely rough, steep and dangerous. Along with these “warning” signs, we soon found ourselves noticing that something was missing. There were at least 30 cars at the trailhead when we started out, but we were hiking alone. There were no other hikers on this trail, but still we continued on.
As all signs indicated, the trail did become very steep, very quickly. Before we knew it, the trees quickly shrunk and the rock slabs started growing taller. It may be a good time to add that the rock slabs had constant streaming water running down them from the sun-baked snow on the summit. We pushed ourselves to climb up one slab after another, losing our footing and grip on many of them. The slabs continued to get steeper, longer and wetter, until ultimately we found ourselves stuck on the side of the mountain. We looked at each other and wondered how we were going to get up the next ledge without injury. We had past the point of no return as heading back down the slabs would be more dangerous than continuing up.
In my head, I recall thinking, “This was not the plan!” I was mad that I was not prepared for this type of situation. I was prepared for the Clark Trail, not the Holt Trail. To my amazement, in this tough situation, we could actually hear people talking and yelling above us, on the beautiful, open summit. This was very taunting to us since we were below and in a very sticky situation. We finally picked a path and decided to execute. We chose this particular path, not because it looked like the path of least resistance, but because there was a small shrub below. We figured if we did fall, gravity would let us slide into the shrub rather than falling 40 feet onto rock.
After taking on a few scratches and a lot of bruises, we did make it to the top of the challenging slab. It was definitely the worst one, but also the last. When we got to the top of the slab, we could finally see the roof of the fire tower on the summit, so we pushed on. The feeling of making it through a tough situation, one that not many people tackled that day, felt great. We felt tough. We had just ascended 1000ft in 0.4 miles on a class 3 trail (all of which I researched after I got home). We were bad asses!
As we walked around the summit and sucked in the views, we held our heads up a little bit higher than we would have if we took the Clark Trail up. We had taken this road less traveled, and as Robert Frost explains to us, the tough Holt Trail had made all the difference!
Whites/MW in the Distance