The Bark of the Cony
In The Bark of the Cony, George Nash Smith, age 92, tells of a traumatic childhood accident and key life experiences that led to his attitude of challenging himself and the development of his unique life philosophy, Not If, But How. Through mountain climbing he learned a love of nature and imparted his life philosophy to his four sons. In 1969 they finished climbing all 67 peaks over 14,000 feet in the contiguous 48 states while forging strong family bonds, learning important values, and setting records along the way.
“Do your best to do your best.”
—G. Nash Smith
Excerpt from The Bark of the Cony
To climb Mount Eolus the suggested route was up its south face from Chicago Basin, which meant we could start from where our camp was. It was 3:00 p.m. when we got there, according to Quade’s Timex wristwatch. I thought we would need five hours round trip to climb Mount Eolus in good conditions, but because it was raining it would take us longer and we would run out of daylight.
Our goal was still to catch the train tomorrow at 2:10 p.m. So, we had a decision to make. Do we start early in the morning from here or do we whittle away at the 3,000 feet this afternoon? We chose to whittle away. We left Quade’s stuff at camp. I took my sleeping bag, which was big enough for both of us, a tarp, cheese and crackers, and some water, and we headed up. “Maybe the rain won’t last long,” I said to Quade. And it didn’t. It turned to snow. But we kept going. By 4:30 p.m. there was an inch of the white stuff on the ground. The snowflakes were extra-large and it was beautiful watching them shake hands with the earth. At about 4:45 p.m. we came across a ledge at the base of a rock wall that was wide enough to hold our sleeping bag so we chose to stop there for the day.
The ground wasn’t quite flat but I was able to level it with a tool I had found earlier. It was a sixteen-inch-long, three-quarter-inch-diameter rod that had a chisel-like nose, that no doubt was left over from mining days. We both crawled into the one sleeping bag at 5:00 p.m. For dinner we had Ritz crackers and Kraft pimento cheese spread. We were done for the day. There was nothing else to do but try and get some sleep.
The next morning, our Cony’s eye view from the snow-covered grassy rim was one of the prettiest ever, what with at least four inches of fresh snow and a crisp, slowly-getting-lighter sky with just a few clouds. If we had wanted to toboggan all the way down to Chicago Basin, we could’ve done so by moving our sleeping bag sideways a couple of feet. It would’ve been a nice morning to stay in bed, except that is where we had been for fourteen hours.
At 7 a.m. we left our wet bivouac gear and headed up. We still had a mountain to climb and a train to catch. The snow was melting, which made the rock wet and slippery and slowed us down. It was 10 a.m. when we signed the Mount Eolus register. We only had four hours to catch the train. It didn’t look good.
After an hour of heading down, Chicago Basin came into view. We sat down to rest and decide what to do. We would split up. Quade would go to camp, pick up his backpack and sleeping bag and hustle down the trail on his own. I would go get last night’s tarp and sleeping bag, then pick up the rest of our stuff at camp, and chase after Quade. I had Quade point out where he thought camp was and the route he would take to get there. I told him if he couldn’t find the trail and then our camp, he was to sit down, holler periodically and listen for my response. It is not a good idea for two people to be hunting for each other. Only one should hunt while the other stays put.
Because the grassy slope was wet and slick it took me longer than I thought it would to get to the tarp and sleeping bag. When I got back to camp, Quade’s pack was gone, which was a good sign. I gathered up everything, and headed down the trail. It was several miles before I caught Quade, and when I did, he asked for water and said his feet hurt. I replied, “We don’t have any water, but maybe we can get some at New York Creek. Re-tie your boots extra tight, that should help your feet. We need to move fast. You lead.”
We got to New York Creek at 1:50 p.m. That gave us only twenty minutes to go two miles, so we didn’t stop for water. Even though we had been close to running the whole time I said to Quade, “We’ve gotta go faster. Keep your rhythm but stretch your stride. Even a couple of inches will help. Hang in there, kid; you can do it." We continued moving like two packhorses, and we were sweating like three packhorses. Hup, two, three, four, double-time. My toes hit the front of my $8.50 J. C. Penney work boots with each step. My feet were killing me. Our packs slapped us on the back in a rhythm I can still feel and hear. It wasn’t raining, but we were soaked.
Hup, two, three, four, double-time. We heard a train whistle echo in the valley. I wasn’t sure what that meant but I was afraid it wasn’t good. We crossed the foot bridge at Needleton. Splat! Down we went to the ground without bothering to remove our packs. It was 2:20 p.m. Here’s hoping the train was late. Our bodies were hurting in all kinds of ways. After a few more minutes we were pretty sure we had missed the train. “Darn it.”