I took about four steps and had to take a break. The energy to lift my leg and take another step just wasn’t there. I was only hiking around 7,000 feet in elevation when the day before I had hiked to 11,000 feet. So lack of oxygen shouldn’t have been a problem.
But I sure was tired. Maybe it was the sun, or perhaps it was the lack of exercise over the past year. Whatever it was, I was worn out and not even halfway through the hike. But when I reached a mile marker, my soul became deflated entirely.
My GPS had lied to me.
It told me I had gone 3.5 miles when I had really gone 2.5 miles.
When researching my hike, I never could quite figure out how far the trail was. I was hiking the Pole Canyon Trail at Great Basin National Park. The park’s app told me the trail is 6.6 miles round trip. My National Geographic Topographical Map also says 6.6 miles. But the sign at the trailhead said 2.3 miles one way, making it two miles shorter than the map and app said.
This was far from the first time I have run into mileage discrepancies. Looking at the map, I could tell the Pole Canyon Trail could connect with a few other trails in the park making a nice loop instead of an out-and-back. But if I wasn’t sure exactly how long the Pole Canyon Trail was, I didn’t want to include other trails making the distance even more unknown.
As I slowly climbed Wheeler Peak around the mid-elevation exhausting myself with each step, I made the decision to not try to loop it. This decision was confirmed in my head as I watched the terrain to my left rise steeply to a ridge. If I were to loop the trail, I would have to climb up and over that ridge. I was barely making it up the slow slope of the canyon. There was no way I was going to be able to tackle a ridge.
So an out-and-back of the Pole Canyon Trail it would be.
Now, whether it was 4.6 or 6.6 miles, was still to be determined. The sign at the trailhead said the Pole Canyon Trail ended at Upper Pole Canyon Spring. I thought it would be good enough to see the canyon, experience the mid-elevations of Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park, and see the spring.
I finally made it to a signpost at what I thought was the end of the trail. But it did not direct me to Upper Pole Canyon Spring. It simply said the Upper Pole Canyon Trailhead was 2.5 miles in the direction I had just come.
The trail turned and went to the right, straight up the ridge and in the hot sun.
Forget that, I thought.
I looked around for the spring but only found the trail to the right going up and over the ridge.
Confused, I checked my GPS. It said I had been 3.5 miles. Going by the park’s app and my topographical map, I thought I was almost to the end of the trail. I thought it was all downhill from here. I thought I had been 3.5 miles, not that I still had 0.8 miles to go.
As I thought about it, my tracking app did tell me I had only gained half the amount of elevation I should have. Even though I was exhausted and felt like I was constantly going up, I still had twice as much elevation gain in less than a mile.
I studied the map. I read the park’s description on the app and looked at the picture I took of the sign at the trailhead. Finally, I realized the Pole Canyon Trail did not end where I was sitting, but on the saddle on the top of the ridge.
If I wanted to complete the trail, I still had 0.8 miles to go and 600 feet of elevation gain.
I was tired. I was done.
But, on the other hand, it was only 0.8 more miles, and then it truly was all downhill. And long and steady climbs are worse than short and steep climbs.
I looked at the ridge. The hike was going to all be in the sun. However, I can’t seem to quit something I start. So I stood up and began the slow and laborious climb to the top of the ridge.
For every few steps, I took a break. But I’m so glad I made the climb. The higher I got, the more amazing the view of the canyon and valley below got. Looking over what I had just hiked gave me a little bit more energy to push to the top of the ridge.
As I topped the saddle on the ridge and the bald Wheeler Peak came into view, it took my breath away.
This was a true mountain scene showing the layers of ridges crowned by the rocky peak.
I was so tired, I could barely lift my phone or camera up to take a picture. But I mustered the energy to do so because I wanted this moment to last forever.
Because I had already climbed the ridge, I decided to go ahead and make the loop. And it really was all downhill from there.
The trail snaked down through the aspens, which showed a different side (literally, ha!) of the ridge from the mountain meadows of the canyon. It was neat to compare the two.
When I got back to the trailhead, I noticed I had salt crusted in my hair. It looked like paint. My three-liter water bladder was empty. Perhaps I had gotten too hot. Perhaps I chose a trail more difficult than my ability. Or perhaps it was the altitude that made me so tired. But in the end, I’m glad I pushed on through and completed the entire trail.