The March Expedition was remarkable in that it was the first of its kind in 17 years of AR and FMA history.
To begin with, we were hit with a variety of stomach viruses, causing prolonged vomiting and diarrhea, both of which are exhausting for all that they seek to rid the body of toxins. The toxins from this strain were apparently able to reproduce as fast or faster than the body could get rid of them by both methods mentioned above.
Mr. Kevin said it reminded him of the situation at Plymouth in 1621, where people were crawling from the sick bed as others were crawling in. There was no way to foretell how many would go down, or how long they would stay down, nevertheless the expedition went forward with one concession—the cancelling of the first day due to cold, rainy and snowy weather.
We departed on Sunday, on time, and managed to hike to our first objective, which was well over halfway to the top. When Monday dawned, the staff had to decide whether to push through the steep final portion or rest for a day in the hopes that those who were still sick would recover. They opted not to push sick bodies further into the mountains, where evacuation, should it be necessary would be more difficult.
The Tuesday SMEAC called for all hands to be up, fed, packed and ready to go by 9 a.m., either Eastwards (deeper in) or Westward back to Gentry Creek where evacuation would be more easily accomplished.
On Tuesday at 9 a.m. we were told, “We are hiking Westward.” After a relatively short hike down to Gentry Creek, we set up camp in a new area which had abundant firewood and was close to a good water supply. Part of that day was spent in classes, alternating with breaks to feed our fires (and for those of us who think ahead, preparing supper which could be heating while we were in class.) Half of the class (those not battling stomach problems) headed back up Cate Branch Trail to make minor, but significant improvements where flooding had washed away a bridge a few years earlier. The remaining students remained in camp, hauling water and gathering wood.
Wednesday began with a hike to Gentry Falls, with short stops along the way to observe wilderness features that might be helpful for those who plan to do wilderness expeditions after leaving FMA.
The following morning began with calm, cool, clear weather. After cooking breakfast we assembled for classes which lasted until it was time to return to our camps, extinguish what was left of our fires, take down tents, put on our packs and move out at 12:55. The hike to the assembly point for transportation was easy and uneventful in as much as all of it was on good roads sloping gently downward.
We were told that in the event that this expedition had been a genuine search and rescue mission, we would not have turned back, for all that we would, naturally, leave behind any who were sick or recuperating. But such was not the case, and we were better able to use the time for classes, a pleasant day hike, and some needed trail repairs, none of which overly stressed those who were fighting that dad-blamed stomach virus.
The weather was so fine throughout the expedition, that it was a liability, in that it creates a false sense of ease while hiking in the small but very challenging mountain ranges during early springtime. A false sense of security and over-confidence can create a dangerously misleading attitude toward the mountains; an attitude similar to that of those who sail out into the ocean in good weather and thus become over confident of what their boat can do when nature gets a little tough.
Seeing it in this light, one can almost understand Mr. Kevin’s misanthropic (downright nasty) wish for bitter cold and rainy weather, but Mother Nature won out again (sigh) and beamed down upon her children who she loves!