A few months back, while visiting a national park in Brazil, I decided to do a demanding hike, which eventually led to a climb up a steep mountain. The trail is often listed as one of the most difficult in Brazil; consequentially, you’re not allowed to do it on your own without prior authorization or help from a guide. I decided to break the rules and do my own trail. I lied at the entrance gate saying I was only doing the most basic hike within the park. The officers granted permission and so I went.
The mountain is the fifth highest point in Brazil – not that high when compared to other mountains but still very rocky and challenging. Due to its proximity to the ocean, the mountain range blocks all humidity coming from the coast; upon contact, this humidity is pushed up all the way to the summit, transforming into dense clouds along the process. Because of this phenomenon, and depending on the wind, the weather can change within the blink of an eye.
I was one of the very last people to enter the park. Most of the visitors had already left once I started my hike (normal people start in the morning, whereas I chose to start in the afternoon). It was a chilly weekend and the clear skies were not sufficient to warm away the cold sensation (nearing 5 degrees Celsius). Before starting the hike however, I did decide to do the easier one as a warm up. By the time I started the official hike, it was already three hours past midday and I believed I could get back just before sunset.
Along the way, I walked by several people already on their way back (all with their guides and tired faces). Since I was aware of time restrictions, I sped up and did what I like to call “riking” – a combination of running and hiking. By the time I got to the climbing part, I walked by the last group of people heading back to camping grounds.
The few signs that marked the way along the first few miles ceased to exist once I got to more rocky areas. The only thing people had told me in advance is that I would get to a point in which I would have to jump from one rock to another, right at the summit of the mountain. It wasn’t an easy jump; guides usually carried climbing ropes, pulleys, ascenders and all the required material. I only had a backpack filled with fried banana chips, an almost empty water bottle, a notebook and a photo camera.
I knew I was running out of time so I just continued with the plan: I would find my own trail and I would eventually get to the summit. At some point, the very top of the mountain divided the trail into two paths – either right or left. I chose left. It took about thirty minutes to realize I had taken the wrong direction since I could no longer move forward. I could see the crest of the mountain right besides me, yet there was no way to reach the upper part. The only solution was to climb down to the bifurcation area and choose the right path. Though, as I started heading back, the weather suddenly changed. It was already 4:30 in the afternoon and sunset was just a couple of hours away.
Dense clouds completely blocked my view and a cold shiver immediately ran down my spine. I froze and waited for a few seconds hoping that the clouds were just passing by. The wait prolonged and the body started to get cold. I couldn’t remain static; I had to find my way back. The fact that these rocks bordered a 2.000-meter fall did not help conquering any fears. I used my entire body attempting to find the right trail but I knew I was moving too slow – and the cold sensation just got worse as the sun approached the horizon.
I yelled. I shouted as high as I could. I called for help but no one could hear me. For one second, I regretted; I just wanted to get back. Deep inside, I knew I couldn’t give up; I had to find my own way. And so I continued. Step by step; rock by rock. Some false leads; some steps back. I felt blind and without direction. I was desperate inside but I couldn’t let the feeling take over.
I shouted again. No response. I felt betrayed by own self. But suddenly, just like an immediate granted wish, the clouds started to move and the view got brighter. I could sense sunrays cutting through and I could finally see a lead again. The intense white gave way to shades of greens, blues and grays. I knew where I was and I could see the climb down. I had walked even closer to the edge but there were different paths ahead waiting for me.
I climbed down, still feeling insecure that the weather could change at any moment. I walked fast; I didn’t have time to look back. I safely arrived at the lower trail just before the last sunrays crossed the horizon. The sight was impressive – a true privileged position. Running out of breath, I stopped to let the moment sink in. I was the last one to leave the park that day, and as I walked out, the officer asked me why it took me so long to finish the easiest trail. “I was out of sight.”
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that this moment came back to me. Because of a sickness, I just recently went through a period during which I felt in the precise same way: alone, helpless and fragile. Looking back now, I ask myself if I learned anything. Truth be told, not a whole lot. I still want to go back to that mountain, redo the trail and conquer the summit.
What I did realize though is that it won’t be less rewarding or commendable if I trust my fate to someone who already knows the trail. Just as important as discovering news paths on your own, are the people you choose to carry along. Those rocks were new grounds to me; yet, several others do the same route day after day. They have the experience to lead you to the summit. It is your responsibility however, to make it your own journey – and hopefully find a new sight along the way.