How to Survive in the Woods for 4 Days (Based on Personal Experience)

Four days, three nights, five mountains, and one bear; this is how I spent my last week of summer in 2019. There were moments on this trip when I felt particularly overdramatic and truly believed that this summer would actually be my last, and other times that I felt like I had just won the Olympic Gold. I left with scrapes and bruises all over my body, along with four days worth of mud and sweat, but at least I left with a little bit of pride.  

Day 1 The first five miles go pretty well. My dad, my brother, Aidan, and myself are each carrying packs the size of a small child. Obviously, carrying extra weight on your back isn’t ideal when you already have to hike in the woods for five miles, but things are going pretty smoothly. We finally get to the lean-to— the “shelter” where we would be sleeping later that night. We unpack our backpacks and set up our sleeping bags in the lean-to. We have a quick snack, and then we hike up a mountain. When we get to the top, I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I’m thinking, “Yeah Alyssa. You still got it at nineteen. You can do anything. That was a big mountain.” So, I’m sitting there on the top of Mount Marshall, just enjoying my cheese stick and the beautiful view, and then I see something galloping up the side of the cliff. Keep in mind that my family and I think we are making great time at this point. We are feeling extremely confident. The galloping thing is this very fit looking middle-aged man who is smiling. He is smiling. How can he be smiling when what he is doing is so painful? When I took my last few steps I let out a loud moan. How is he smiling? And then, of course, he has to tell us that he had already hiked two other mountains this morning. No, actually he says that he ran two other mountains this morning. And not five minutes later, a pack of hikers aged about 60 come strolling over. I overhear one of them telling a story where he had to crawl for miles on a mountain in the snow because he had injured his leg at some point in the hike. I have never felt so weak in my life.

Later that afternoon, we finally return to the lean-to and I immediately slide myself into a sleeping bag to take a nap. I learn later that this is not the best idea because I wake up with an excruciating migraine. I am sitting there, in a log shelter with only three walls and a ceiling, reevaluating my decision to do this, and wondering how the hell I am going to survive three more days in the woods. Cut to a couple of hours later– my dad, Aidan, and I are sitting in the shelter, discussing what we should do if approached by a black bear. This is on the account of the screams we heard a few moments before, coming from what was about 0.2 miles away. My dad says, “I don’t know. Unless it’s stealing our food or actually about to attack us I would say we should just leave it alone and be quiet.” Believe me when I say that the bear walked right up next to my dad who was sitting at the edge of the lean-to. All I see is a giant head creep up right across from me. Now, the sound that my father makes is almost primitive. It is as if a million years of evolution are reversed in this moment just for him to let out this sound that could only possibly be useful when attempting to scare away a predator. I kid you not, the bear runs away faster than I can even allow myself to take a breath.

Day 2 Yes, that was only one day. Anyway, Tuesday is great. There isn’t a cloud in the sky. We hike up and down two mountains– Skylight and Gray. The views are beautiful. We purify some mountain water, have some dinner, and we are in our sleeping bags by 7:30 pm.   

Day 3 Today, there is a torrential downpour. But also, today is the day I am supposed to hike up my 29th and 30th Adirondack High Peaks. I am not about to leave now when I am so close to reaching 30 out of 46 high peaks. We make it to the top of Redfield freezing our butts off, so we send a quick text to the family to let them know we’re still alive, and then we quickly make our way back to the bottom. From there, we go up the next trail. Keep in mind that this trail is basically a river now, and this mountain is literally called Cliff. 

After walking maybe half a mile, I misstep and end up knee-deep in mud. I can hear the water in my boots sloshing around with every step, and my clothes are so wet that I might as well have just jumped in the pond. We climb up some of the steepest rock slides that I have ever climbed with rivers rushing down them. At one point, I hear a very quiet “oh no” from behind me, followed by a snap and a soft crash. My dad had grabbed onto a tree to pull himself up over this rock, but the tree ripped out of the ground and he landed on a group of small pine trees. He fell off of a cliff. 

When I found out he was fine, I laughed so loud. I just love the fact that he felt it necessary to add in a very soft “oh no” in the very slight moment between the time the tree snaps and gravity decides to kick in. It sounds like I am listening to a cartoon villain add in one more bit of comic relief before he plummets to his death. But, somehow we make it up to the top and back down without breaking a leg or drowning. That night, a father and daughter come to stay in our lean-to with us for the night. Yeah, it’s weird. They start cooking Ramen in the lean-to with us at the same time the bear had visited us on Monday. At about 4:00 am, my dad, Aidan, and I simultaneously jump awake to this very animal-like sound coming from what seems like feet away. And it is feet away. It is the man next to us snoring. He sounds like a bear.  

Day 4 Finally, Jesus, this is getting long, we wake up to a beautiful sunrise. And an awkward man jumping up to turn off an alarm three times while his daughter complains that she did not get any sleep because her dad was “snoring all night.” We packed up the backpacks and scooted out of there. By the time we had about two more miles left, I start having a full-on panic attack complete with some tears, hyperventilating, and light-headedness. I am basically running at this point. And then I slip on a log, get a giant bruise on my arm, and my backpack hits me in the head. When I finally see our big, bumper-stickered car in the parking lot, I cry tears of joy.

All joking aside, this trip was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had and I would encourage anyone to go try it out, but it was probably both the most insane and difficult experience I have ever been through.  

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