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Mushrooms, mountains and men

I must preface this account with an apology regarding the length of this document of the experience, but I believe that it illustrates the exponential effect that “set and setting” has upon the mushroom induced experience.



I must preface this account with an apology regarding the length of this document of the experience, but I believe that it illustrates the exponential effect that “set and setting” has upon the mushroom induced experience. I would also readily double or even triple the length of this account to better express my reflections upon this experience, but in the interest of the sanity of the reader, I opt not to. I would also like for it to be known that, immediately following this experience, my use of marijuana was drastically reduced from a daily basis to that of four or five times a month, and I attribute that in whole to my use of the mushrooms.

Prior to my acquaintance with psilocybin mushrooms, I had only ever experienced marijuana (on a regular basis for a few years before the mushroom endeavor) and MDMA (once, about 2 months before the shrooms.) I must admit that before my MDMA experience, I would have been much more reluctant to ever try psilocybin. After the MDMA, I began researching the wide, wild world of entheogenic and psychoactive substances, primarily through the Erowid vaults. Even after this research, however, I was still quite apprehensive about the more potent substances commonly used, such as psilocybin and LSD. But I knew that, if the opportunity were to present itself, I would most certainly try either of these substances.

As fortune would have it, a prime opportunity for mushrooms arose: over the 2003 University of Colorado fall break, myself and two friends (M and R) were to go backpacking for two nights in the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, specifically the Longs Peak area. Longs Peak is one of Colorado’s famed “fourteeners,” reaching 14,255 feet in elevation. We decided that this would be a great opportunity to take psilocybin, as it was well after the peak season, being early October, and were almost guaranteed total seclusion in the campground.

After our first day of hiking, which had to be cut short due to hale/snow at the higher elevations, we returned to our base camp, which was at approximately 11,000 feet. By this point, the rain had stopped, and we figured that we would be in for an enjoyable night of romping through the pristine high altitude wilderness while tripping. We prepared a small meal of hot soup prior to ingestion, at the suggestion of M, who is an experienced tripper. R, who had tripped on shrooms twice before, is repulsed by the taste of mushrooms, so he had his earlier than M and myself, mixed in with his soup. M also doesn’t care for the taste of them, but was able to down them with filtered creek water, of which we were sure to stock up on before we tripped. While we were filtering water, I consumed my shrooms, and was able to easily handle the taste, and they went down quite well, despite bits sticking in my teeth. We each had 3.5 grams of Psylocibe Cubensis.

As I had never tripped before I was, needless to say, a bit apprehensive about what to expect from the experience. I had a marginal understanding from my research on Erowid and what R and M told me, but my only points of reference were marijuana and MDMA, two substances quite disparate from psilocybin.

We returned to our camp from the creek. As R had consumed his dose about 15 minutes before M and I did, he was already acting a little out of the ordinary. Our relatively normal conversations were at times interrupted by interjections of “whoa...” form R, who was obviously feeling some of the coming-up effects. Perhaps five or ten minutes later (T+0:30), I was a good deal more sympathetic to his condition; although I was in no way hallucinating, it seemed that all of the surrounding trees were silently laughing at me. I felt that the world was preparing to undergo significant change, for better or worse I had no clue, and the trees found my naiveté regarding these impending changes somewhat humorous.

We decided to lounge in our tent (a 2+ person tent, luckily able to meet our demands for three) while awaiting the onset of the effects, as it had started to drizzle a bit in the forest. By this time, R was acting incredibly silly, periodically taken by bouts of irrational mirth. After only a few minutes, we were becoming a bit bummed about the weather, as it crossed our minds that it might not let up, and we would either get soaking wet outdoors or be restricted to indoor (in-tent?) activities, which are quite restricted in a tent of this size. Retreating to civilization wasn’t much of a viable option at this time, as our campground was a mile and a half from the trailhead, and it was increasingly dark and wet.

However, this “bummed-out” feeling wasn’t long to last, as soon after, M and I had also joined in the giggling and outright laughter; everything was incredibly funny, particularly the red “Marmot” logo on the outside of the yellow tent body, which had begun melting and running in a liquid manner to us (I quickly discovered that multi-person trips were possible and, in fact, frequent.) I was still coherent enough at this time to think to myself “wow, so this is what tripping and hallucinating is like. Cool, haha!” However, the night, and our trip, were both young.

Chronology goes out the window at this time, but many events are still quite vivid in my mind. I have waited almost two months to write my account of this trip, as to not let the recollection for documentation interfere with the lessons that I learned that night.

By this point, it was quite wet outside, and getting wetter with the intensive rain. My first vivid visual effect was that of a very small puddle of water that had made it to the floor of the tent. A small amount of water on a waterproof surface is always fascinating, but never before have they throbbed, rippled and changed shape of their own accord. R, however, was getting quite antsy, and decided to make his way outside, apparently prepared to deal with the wet body and clothes later. As much as I wanted to be outside and mingle with the trees and forest at this time, I opted to stay inside the tent, as I was being plenty entertained in that space. Perhaps half an hour later, perhaps a whole hour, R returned inside the tent and, to our astonishment, his body felt completely dry and warm. M still had enough presence of mind to realize that R, in fact, was neither dry nor warm, so that was taken care of. This was probably the last coherent and linear action we took that night; the rest of the evening was dictated by an incapability of linear thought and irrational behavior.

Despite the small size of the tent, its dimensions appeared boundless. Thoughts might as well have been nonexistent, as we all lost interest in them before they materialized in our actions. We would begin a position shift amongst the three of us in the tent, only to move no more than a few inches each before we were distracted by the next tumbling though. One of the most amusing events of the evening was our attempt to smoke a pipe of marijuana: none of us, all very experienced smokers, could figure out how to use a pipe and lighter. I finally gathered enough courage to brave the weather and relieve myself outside. What I witnessed in the forest under the waning light approaches being indescribable: the trees dancing a flowing dance in time with each other, and the forest floor, at the same tempo, writhing and contorting in perfect harmony. Had it not been so wet outside, I would have wandered forever through this primeval paradise. I returned to the tent.

Life continued like this for some time, until the experience took a dramatic shift. I realized that all of my sensory input, particularly aural, was not right. Although the sound of the rain falling on the tent was for the longest time pleasant, I began to hear the occasional, incoherent spoken whisper from outside the tent, undoubtedly resulting from the haphazard percussiveness of the rain. It then occurred to me that what I was suffering from was hypothermia: hallucinations, delusion and a lack of bodily thermal input are, after all, typical symptoms. I could not be convinced by M and R that the only reason for these sensations was the psilocybin.

My irrational paranoia was contagious; M and R began feeling as I did, that the mountain was too much for us to cope with, that we would succumb to the torrential rain and cold, to be found lifeless in the morning. The option of an expedient packing and frantic, wet and dark return to the trailhead occurred to us; it would be miserable, but we would survive, if we could find our way back. (The trail was rather direct, but in our current state, we would certainly have become lost.) Worst of all, however, was our inability to arrive at a conclusion as to what course of action should be taken. We would never get past the point of listing our options for survival before our collective thoughts would shift altogether, only to once again return to our survival. I believe this is what is known as a recursive thought process.

Only God knows how, but we eventually decided to survive the night by expelling all superfluous gear from the tent into the wet night, and survive by exchange of body heat via spooning. I was not convinced, however. According to accounts from R and M (I retain only bleak memories of this occurrence,) I was convinced of my imminent death. I was laying upon my sleeping bag, R and M frantically trying to coax communication out of me, my only response to their query of whether or not I could sit up being “yes...,” followed by no physical reaction save the rolling of my eyes back into my head. (“Why did I do this to myself? I’m never doing any drugs again, if I survive!”)

After what seemed an eternity, I was compelled to sit up, and we quickly arranged our bags as to conserve heat, myself in-between R and M (they recognized that I was suffering the most of our party.)

By this point, R and M were able to hold a somewhat sequential conversation, and merely listening to them speak brought me back onto a limited level of reality. I realized that I had taken the mushrooms, that we were plenty warm, and that the only plausible way for us to die that night was through our own irrational, paranoia induced actions. I knew then that we would survive.

Although the group mentality resumed normalcy, the effects of the mushrooms were by no means gone. Conversation was reflective on what we had just experienced, rather than what we were going to do to merely survive the experience at hand.

At this time I was having quite intense closed eye visuals, but none with eyes open. In this state, I was able to enjoy the effects of the mushrooms but maintain a grasp on reality merely by opening my eyes. I also noticed that my eyes were slightly sore, and very physically tired, and realized that this was due to the intense kaleidoscopic nature of my closed eye visuals. They were moving at a constant tempo, and my eyes would physically move in time with this tempo. I found this reflective period to be the most enjoyable of the entire trip: if I wanted silly visual distortions, I merely had to close my eyes, but the realization of what I had just endured left me in awe: I believe that this was a legitimate near death experience, and although I didn’t experience contact with an entity, it was deeply spiritual. I had to smoke a bowl of marijuana.

R, M and myself proceeded to share seven bowls before finally lying down to sleep. This may have helped to calm the intensity of the trip but, unfortunately, also clouded my mind so that my memory of the actual trip was slightly foggy, and I the next time I trip I would like to avoid marijuana altogether as to maintain a more coherent state of mind.

For most of the following day, I was quite introverted and pensive; my thoughts dwelled on the intensity and implications of what I had experienced the previous night. I believe that mushrooms should under no circumstances be underestimated and used as a “party” drug. My use of psilocybin resulted in one of the most informative experiences of my life to this day, and the only drug I have in my repertoire to contrast it with is MDMA. While MDMA seems to temporarily give one the impression of blissful existence, mushrooms gave me the unedited, unabridged life experience, condensed. I experienced joy, sorrow, pain, fear and redemption in the span of only about 5 hours. Such an intense learning experience has never come in such a compact, 3.5 gram package.

Was this a bad trip? Perhaps. Was it a scary trip? You bet. But was it a learning experience? Undoubtedly. Although R and M both apologized about the result of the trip, I affirm that I couldn’t envision a better first trip. A more enjoyable experience is easy to imagine, but this particular one gave me a taste of the undeniable power and a realization of a practical use of psilocybin mushrooms. I would definitely repeat the experience, many times, in a variety of settings.

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