Hearty breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, coffee cake. Energy restored. Good pace. Destination: Lakes of the Clouds hut. We’ll make tracks today, we said as we began our ascent out of the woods and onto the spine of the mountain.
We were hiking along one ridge of the Presidential range, climbing Mt. Clinton, or was it Mt. Pierce? Both presidents shared this gentle peak.
No one was passing us.
We were above the trees. That is, even we vertically-challenged people were taller than the runty stunted trees along the trail. Wisps of clouds were catching at us, wrapping us up.
The valleys below were still bright, but we had lost the sun and would not see it again until we were downward bound. We were isolated among mists and rocks.
Only for a moment. As we slowed for a last lingering long view, the passing parade passed us. Among them, a group of Australians, any one of whom could have been Crocodile Dundee. They told us they’d be taking detours along the way to climb Mts. Eisenhower and Monroe. After all, they’d never have another chance and they wanted the challenge. How ambitious, we said aloud. Scratch that challenge, we thought.
The ascent was gradual compared to yesterday. We hadn’t realized it, but yesterday’s hike had taken us 1200 feet up in little more than a mile, which explained why experienced hikers were working hard. Today’s hike would take us up another 1200 feet but over a much longer distance.
Still, the rocky terrain was not being kind to aging knees and ankles. We’d probably still be eating wild blueberries and taking pictures if the skies hadn’t looked so threatening.
Idly, we wondered if the gnarly old pines and crags would be adequate storm shelters.
We prided ourselves on maintaining a pretty respectable pace for short people.
It was only a small stair-step down, but I was heedless, distracted by some plant poking out of the rock. Ankle twisted. Just a twinge. I’ll be more careful from now on. No more plant-gawking. Apparently I was not careful enough.
Two miles from Lakes of the Clouds I was wincing with every step.
I didn’t want to be a weeny, but I had to slow my pace if this ankle was to get me through the trip. Megs was a brick, patiently adjusting to slow-motion hiking, cheering (prodding) me on, never mentioning that her knees were taking a beating.
We were glad now that everyone had passed us because no one could see us crawling up big rocks on our hands and knees and sliding down on our fannies. By the end of the hike we would be pros at this particular mountain-climbing technique.
When the fog grew thick and the rain finally came–a drizzle that barely tested our raingear–we knew we’d better keep moving. Who knew what the mountain could do to us now that we were above the treeline.
This is one big rock pile we said. Surely, this was the work of some bowling-with-boulders giant, and we are his dwarfs picking our way through the pieces. And where were the grand views we were promised? What were we doing here?
Our path became busy with hikers coming from Lakes of the Clouds. How much farther? we would ask like little kids. Did you hike to the tops of Mt. Eisenhower and Mt. Monroe, we asked a dignified elderly couple in full rain gear who seemed like efficient hikers. No, he said abruptly. We went round. No climbing. We go around all mountains. They moved on. How old were they? They didn’t look like they had to crawl up rocks. Or slide down them.
We met Melissa and Jeff. They’d climbed Mt. Eisenhower, but they were skipping Mt. Monroe, and they were looking forward to a two-day rest at Lakes. Or maybe they’d climb Mt. Washington to pass the time. (More rock power to you, we thought. Not us.)
The gray rock and gray clouds were beginning to wear on them, too. I’m tired of rock, Melissa said. Yes. Tired of seeing piles of it, tired of climbing it, tired of figuring out how to get around or over. And yet. And yet. When we dared to raise our heads and look up from the ground, the mountain spirits winked and caught us through the mists.