Thursday, October 31, 2019
Climb All Your Mountains
The first obstacle nearly defeats me, a granite boulder big as a truck, an iron rung at the level of my chest, another above my head and to the left, and no obvious way to hoist myself up and over. I last hiked this trail 25 years and 50 pounds ago, at a time when nothing seemed too difficult. Will this rock, five minutes into our hike, be my Waterloo? But I can't admit defeat—this hike, after all, was my idea, a trail two teenage boys can't possibly complain about, all sheer cliffs and vertical ascent. It's the reason we woke at five this morning and, against all precedent, left the house at 6:15. I still want to believe nothing is too difficult. If I can't surmount this rock, today, when can I?
I remember how stone works, how there's always a crack or a crevice or a crystal for hands and feet to find purchase, and I make it easily over. From there we clamber over boulders the size of household appliances, shimmy beneath slabs of rock balanced over cave-like crevices, side-step along angled ledges, and climb walls of rock on iron ladders bolted to smooth granite faces. The boys scramble ahead and wait, scramble ahead and wait.
I know we're nearing the top when I smell the familiar dog-poop odor of fall viburnum leaves, a scent that clings to my memories of the peaks in this small range. Atop one last ladder, we pop out onto an undulating plain of smooth granite and short, twisted pine trees. Near the cairn, we sit in the lee of the wind, snack on cheese, crackers, and figs, and watch a schooner with terra-cotta sails ply the waters around the islands, a scene that might be two hundred years old.
The boys bound over the granite as we head down the north ridge of the mountain. We lose them when we reach the trees, and they make their own way back to the car, taking the short spur and walking back along the road. C and I parallel the mountain, climbing up and down and up and down endless staircases of stone, eventually rejoining the morning's trail above the boulder field. Muscles that have been out of use for untold years quiver as I lower myself from rock to rock, exhausted from the morning's toil.
We find the twins at the parking lot, and they tease us over our choice of trail: "It only took us seven minutes to get here. It took you guys an hour!"
"That's okay," I say, "Nobody's lost or hurt, and we had a nice, four-hour hike."
"To be fair," E says, "It was an hour of hiking and three hours waiting for you."
Yes, to be fair, I made my very slow way up the mountain, but at least I made it.
This post went out last week to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. You can subscribe here.