I reached base camp and was happy for the rest. But I didn’t want to show it to the others milling around, some on their way up like me, some on their way down. Some, who knows. Maybe they just liked the scene there.
It had been a deceptively tough trek up – several miles of thick hardwood forest. A moderate ascent, but unwaveringly persistent. I took off my boots and banged them over the side of the cabin’s porch before slipping them in plastic and shoving them to the bottom of my pack. I pushed my feet into the hard necessity of my ascension ice-kickers. One last swig of water and I was on my way up.
I looked up to the bending slope. The cabin was situated at the edge of the treeline, a final respite before full exposure. Now it was nothing but snow, ice, air, and the still bitter kind of spring cold.
I watched him slide, hands and feet sliding around manically searching for purchase on the mean gleaming slope.
About two thirds of the way up was where the real pounding began. One of my companions had to stop. He couldn’t kick a foothold and we had to bang each step three or four times before the support could be trusted. So that left two of us.
Closer to the top was where the wind became a factor. It was steep. We hadn’t really noticed the small shrubs, if you could even call them that. They were leafless extensions of root systems, just a handful of inches long each. We grasped at them and were amazed that they held some portion of our weight when footfalls all but failed.
Then went the other. His boots gave way to the lessening friction and he was gone. I watched him slide, hands and feet sliding around manically searching for purchase on the mean gleaming slope. It was a rapid descent, nearly back down to where the first called it quits.
Now alone with my thoughts and the wind and the tiny shrubs that had the power to decide who could ascend and who must go down.
* * *
About a step per five minutes, I’d say. But I made it to the summit, perhaps a ten square foot area where there was no triumph, no flag, no view. I was alone in a dewey gauze on top. I rewarded myself with a sip of water and surveyed around, waiting for the break in cloud mist that would reveal a glimpse of my new kingdom.
It was hard to breathe. It was hard to think. I lay down and fought the urge to close my eyes.
Propping up my head with my left arm I turned just in time to see a family of four with their black lab step out of a Honda Accord and gather near a wooden sign for a family photo. Then a pickup truck, five SUVs, and dozens of fanny-packed, sweatless, hydrated souls milling around between their cars and a large gift shop. It was another peak, slightly higher, couldn’t have been more than a hundred yards away. It seemed like a nice enough place.