Lying to Your Hiking Partner
Could little white lies actually make for a more pleasant push through challenges, or are we all deluding ourselves?
It’s Just Around a Corner
The early morning air is crisp and cool. I can’t actually see the mountain we’re climbing, but I can infer its shape by what’s not there: stars.
The night sky above is a brilliant splash of twinkling lights, ending abruptly at the ridge line of Mount Democrat, which is jet black. I happened to be at the front of the dancing line of headlamps, winding its way up from the trailhead.
Long-time readers may recognize this as the morning I lead hundreds of hikers astray, and learned a valuable lesson about crowd psychology. Being the first in the pack also meant the darkness ahead was so complete, the world ceased to exist outside my flashlight beam.
Less than an hour into the hike, we reached the top of a steep slope, leading to the bottom of the saddle between Democrat and Cameron. This stretch is one of the biggest elevation gains in the DeCaLiBron loop. That in mind, I turned to my hiking partner and offered a perfunctory, “just a bit more to the top.”
I’d seen the map. I knew this wasn’t true. The next mile featured steep steps, hewn into the mountainside like the pathway to some ancient and remote temple. A layer of thin ice coated each one, making every move tenuous and shaky.
This gorgeous sunrise from the summit made the whole ordeal worth while:
Still, in the pre-dawn moments we sat waiting for the sun to properly rise above the craggy rock, I pondered: how did I develop this habit of lying to my hiking partner?
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It was never over anything serious — the forecast, mileage, difficulty, risk, or even what to pack — but instead over trivial progress milestones.
What’s more: mincing words is unbelievably out of character for me. I take great pride in being blunt, straightforward, and honest. Why are tiny details about the trails the exception?
Hiding the Trail for our own Good
A more recent trip had me on the receiving end of a little friendly deception. Wildfire smoke filed my lungs, burning the back of my throat and nose on the way down. The air felt heavy, not humid.
“Good we got here when we did.” My friend who planned our early morning ride pulled his bike off the rack on his enormous SUV. “Only gonna get hotter.”
I nodded in agreement, throwing my leg over the frame of my bright orange Fuji. “By then we’ll be on our way down. You ready?”
By the time the words left my mouth, he’d already started peddling down the path.
He called back over his shoulder: “Nice, slow start to the top!”
The trail wound across a wide-open, grassy mountainside toward a nearby radio tower. At least, it looked nearby. When you have a meandering, uphill trail, tall vegetation makes it impossible for you to see the path more than one or two turns ahead. In the same manner: the folds and ridges of mountains often hide wide chasms of distance between you and your destination.
Sure enough: I crested what I’d believed to be the final push to the tower, only to find it was on another, taller ridge across a wide valley. The ride thus far had taxed every ounce of strength I had — or so I thought.
I didn’t stop peddling, deciding to shoot for consistency over speed. In doing so, I managed to achieve something I’ve only done once: I reached the top without taking a break.
Sometimes it’s a blessing not to know how hard the road ahead really is.
The video above illustrates a similar example on a different day: the view of the long climb to the top is shrouded in thick fog.
Share this with your hiking partner to let them know your deception is well-intentioned!
Give it Everything
The ride down was fast paced, exhilarating, and a fitting reward for the hour or so of hard work I put into the climb.
As I navigated the flat section of trail leading to the parking lot, a question popped into my head.
Would I have finished the climb if I’d known about the grueling second stage from the start?
I didn’t need to wonder long. When I returned the next week, I found myself faltering as I came to that ridge. I knew what came next, how difficult it would be, and how much it would hurt.
Invariably, I found myself focusing so much on the challenges ahead, I lost sight of the obstacles right in front of me. A large boulder unseated me, and forced me to push my bike to the next crest, where I could build my forward momentum again.
I write a lot about preparedness and big-picture thinking. But that shouldn’t come at the expense of giving your attention to the task at hand.
Whether I was consciously aware of it, my white lies on the trail were done in service to this end. Sometimes it’s best to keep putting one foot in front of the other, rather than agonize about what challenges could lurk ahead.
I Want to Hear From You
Is it better to know exactly what you’re up against, or to roll with the punches and tackle challenges as they come? Leave your comment below!
Announcements: New Content Coming
First, thanks to everyone for reading, sharing, and supporting Cole’s Climb. Because of the increased interest, the home page will look a bit different in coming days.
To fulfill my goal of promoting safe access to the outdoors, I will begin publishing and linking guides and resources to help readers of all experience levels. This guide section will start appearing on the home page, alongside my other posts.
The content you’ll get in your mailbox will stay more or less the same: still a mix of stories and news from the trail.
I’m also working on another big project I’m excited to bring you all. Hopefully I’ll be able to share more next week.
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Thanks — you’re really doing me a solid!
Here’s a picture from my upcoming article for reading all the way through.
I've heard similar white lies on the trail when hikers on the way down say to hikers on the way up, "You're almost there!"
Finding the right partner, that’s the key to life, not only life on the trail. Someone who knows when you need to hear the truth and when clever encouragement is necessary.