While driving to wash windows one day (I’m a window washer now by the way) my friend John pointed out the window and said “Up on that mountain is an arch.” I looked out the window, squinting my eyes. “Oh yeah, I see it.” I said. Then I promptly forgot about it until a few weeks later when I had nothing to do on a Saturday. The arch suddenly crossed my mind and I decided right then and there that I was going to hike up to it and do some hammocking.
If you can’t see the arch then click here.
So I hopped in my car and drove to it. The first problem I noticed was that I was on the wrong side of the river. Fortunately, about a mile down the road there was a bridge. So I parked my car, crossed the river, and walked to the bottom of the mountain ridge. There I encountered my second problem.
A barbed wire fence had been put up to keep people from going off the road. I wandered around, trying to find a way around or over it but there was nothing. I walked back to where I started, noticing that the barbed wire was slightly higher in one spot. I summed up my inner GI Jane, tossed my backpack over the fence, and army crawled underneath the pointy fence. Second problem solved.
The arch was about a mile upriver from where I was. I considered climbing up the mountain now and walking along the ridge but decided against it. It was a vertical wall of rock and I was hoping that it would become less steep as I got closer to the arch. There was a railroad track that ran along the river so I walked along that. The overgrown plants around the rail and between the ties showed me that a train hadn’t been on this line for awhile.
As I walked I came across a series of rope bridges and walkways that were strung up between two sides of a canyon. I have no idea what they were for, but I was expecting Indiana Jones to suddenly come barreling down with a short Asian boy and shrieking woman in tow. I left disappointed.
After fifteen minutes of walking I came to a lime kiln. John told me it was part of the limestone mining process, where the stone was put in the kiln and the lime that came out was used for agricultural purposes. John also said that mountain lions liked to sleep inside of them.
Fortunately this one was mountain lion free.
I was now directly underneath the arch and I began my trek up. As far as off trail hikes go, this wasn’t too bad. Not too steep and not a whole lot of scree. It was going well until I got to the last thirty vertical feet before the archway where the walkable slope shot up into a straight rock wall. I’m not well practiced in rock climbing but it looked like there were enough hand and footholds so I felt confident that I could reach the top (but boy, was I mistaken).
It really wasn’t too bad. I always had three comfortable points of contact with the wall… Until I got to the very end. Ah. Problem number three.
I had climbed to a point where there were no more handholds above me. I was now stuck on the side of a small cliff. I looked around, but saw no other climbing route or any other way to get to the arch. I considered climbing down but immediately nixed that idea. I was committed to getting to this arch. I wasn’t about to give up.
I found a foothold that was about knee-level height and placed my left foot in it. I loaded all my weight on to my left leg while taking a deep breath then pushed as hard as I could, exhaling as I extended. My body shot up and for a brief second I was completely parallel to the cliff face with only one point of contact through my left foot. My hands scrabbled momentarily before I caught hold of the edge and secured myself. I pulled myself up into the mouth of the archway. I had made it.
I sat there, looking at the view but not really enjoying it due to my elevated heart rate and the rush of adrenaline. After twenty minutes or so I set out to solve my last problem: how to get the hammock up.
My first idea involved some dirt clods and small trees. The hammock held and I was filled with delight, but then a large gust of wind hit and blew the hammock down. I was going to have to channel my spirit animal of Bear Grylls and get more inventive. I examined the archway and saw there were fissures in the arch, and I got an idea. I grabbed the hammock straps, wrapped them around two rocks, and shoved the rocks into the cracks. Now the hammock would be pulling on the rock which was wedged into the arch.
Excellent. Another problem solved (hopefully). It was now time to test my Macgyver-esque outdoor skills, and I’ll admit, I was scared. If my anchoring rocks broke free there was a very high likelihood that me and my hammock would fall on to the sloped ground and slide off of the rock face I had just climbed up.
This was one of those high-risk, low-reward situations. Worst case scenario is that I fall down a mountain and die or become seriously injured in a remote and isolated area. Best case scenario is I sit on a hammock for five minutes while I mentally freak out about how my hammock will fall and wonder if I could be a good soccer coach without the use of my legs.
I took a five minute timeout to consider my decision. But, in the end, I came here to hammock so that’s what I was going to do. While cursing my stupidity out loud I gingerly began putting my weight on to the hammock. Every other word I uttered was four letters long. I realized this fit perfectly into my habit of making terribly stupid decisions, but at least this time I told my brothers where I would be hiking. So I’m getting a little better.
After ten minutes of freaking out and slowly getting in the hammock, I ended up laying in it without touching the ground at all. Despite my absolute terror I even managed to relax for a bit. I was on the hammock for about forty minutes in total, looking out over the valley below and resting my eyes as the warm sun blanketed me.
As I basked in the sunlight I reflected on my little adventure. I knew it would be a challenge to set up my hammock in a place where there were no trees, and that it would require a little work to reach the stone archway (although I didn’t anticipate it being quite so dangerous). But it’s just a matter of thinking about one problem at a time and not getting overwhelmed by thinking about them all at once. Although who am I to talk? After getting violently sick in a public bathroom, creating my own path up to an isolated mountain top, encountering high explosives, and now hammocking over the edge of a cliff, maybe I have a problem of making questionable decisions that I need to think about…