• Mary Anderson

How to Get Past a Blowdown

Going over a blowdown is a bit like dealing with life's difficulties. First I assess the situation. Then I look at how others have approached it before me. I take one small step at a time, watching for pointy pitfalls along the way, always mindful of keeping my balance.

When approaching one, I first slow down and take stock of what is ahead. Some are easy. I see the log across the trail, and I can see a worn place over the log which tells me that is where most hikers have gone over it. And usually, following the herd in this case is the easiest way around.

If there is not a clear way over, sometimes there is a herd path going up or down the mountain, around the end of the blowdown. Again I usually follow these, as most hikers before me have opted for the easiest way past.

Then there are blowdowns with no clear way around or through. Either they are new enough that no herd paths have been established, or they are so tangled and messy that people have fought their way beyond, willy nilly. Like life's bigger problems, these take more thought and consideration.

I prefer to go over rather than under. It seems to take less energy. But when forced to go under I will throw my poles on the ground under the log and turn so my head is facing uphill. I try to walk under the log on my hands with my legs stretched behind me, taking "steps" with my hands and then my feet, like a sort of spider crawl. When absolutely necessary, I get on my belly or take off my pack. As I go under, I pay careful attention to what is happening on my back. I don't want to snag my pack and rip it. I am alert for the slightest tug, telling me something has caught. As difficult as it is to be holding my weight with pack off the ground on my hands and feet, I try to be patient. The thunk that comes from standing too soon and banging on the log is not fun. I am always aware at times such as this that If I had a hiking partner she or he would tell me when I was clear of the log and could stand up. Rather than focusing on the loneliness that brings, I try to focus on the accomplishment of rising to a standing position with a pack on. I've heard many people my age can't rise from sitting on the floor even without a pack.

Going over takes many forms, but all involve balance and a careful awareness of the crotch. I have to find a place on the log clear enough for me to push through. I lean my poles carefully against the log. I don't want them to fall when I am partway over. If these logs are too high for me to raise my foot over, I have to manually lift my foot to get it over the height of my belly button, all while balancing the weight on my back. Once my foot is up, I hope I don't get a leg cramp from the awkward position. I slide my foot along the log, sometimes using my hand to pull it, as I cannot otherwise move it. I try to work the foot so it is over the top and onto the other side. Then I have to swing my body, which is now awkwardly standing on one leg with the other up in the air dangling over the log, into some carefully balanced position so that I can throw myself up and onto the log.

As I pull myself onto the log I try to avoid sliding over the rough bark. I especially take care not to hit the broken-off stump of a branch. Those pointy spikes can be really painful. It would be like sitting on a spike. I've had a few of these hit me in the crotch, and it is no fun. I've also seen some nasty puncture wounds from these.

Once I am sitting on the log I pick up my poles and probe the tangled mess of branches on the ground in front of me, searching for a safe place to jump. I often have to jump down at least a few feet, which is hard on my knees and feet, especially with a heavy pack on my back. When I jump, I have to push away from the log so my pack does not get caught on it and cause me to fall. I have to think carefully about the angle of my feet when they land. It is hard enough to pivot when I jump off a log. It is almost impossible to do when one or both feet are buried under branches.

Like I do when dealing with life's difficulties, I always say a thank-you once I am past the messy blowdowns. I try to take pride in my persistence. And I have learned that when I approach one with the joyful attitude of facing a challenge, rather than a sullen, defeated demeanor, I survive the ordeal much better.

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