The rain fell for three days, while we kept heading east, where the storm would finally be over.

When we drove into the lot at the foot of Mt. Marcy, the sun came bursting out and steam rose off ground which was puddled in a hundred pools.

Nearby was Lake “Tear of the Clouds”, the source of the Hudson River.

I signed in to the camp log, so that someone would know we had gone up, and walked to the trail head. It is fifteen miles to the top, which would take a full day if conditions were perfect. Imperfect conditions have never deterred me, since the whole point of the climb was to test my endurance for self-imposed penance, and adverse conditions only added a deeper level of challenge.

Much like self-flagellation: my bed of nails.

Compared to the Sierra in California, mountains in the Adirondack are lower, but more difficult. Trails in California use switchbacks to make a wide zigzagging approach to mountains that may be 9,000 feet high. These grades are easier to carry a pack up as the angle of ascent is usually not much more than thirty degrees. The Adirondack Mountains are older. Erosion has worn their peaks to lower heights (Mt. Marcy is 5344 ft.), yet the erosion has also riddled the faces with chasms and cliffs so that often the trail is necessarily straight up.

The dog and I were alone on a path which wound through pine, fir and spruce towering above us. We had been living in the car all the way across the country from California, and the last few days of confinement had nearly suffocated us both. A constant dampness permeated my clothes and his fur. Piggy bounded along wearing his pack of food, and was overjoyed at our freedom in the sun. We hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards along the trail when I noticed that he was already muddied halfway up his body.

“Tehawus” was the Indian name for the mountain and meant cloud-splitter, as the peak was commonly enshrouded in low fog. The runoff from the shoulders had turned into a thousand rivulets of rain water pouring down through any crack and filling every depression. Sparkling clear water caught the sun and reflected brilliant prisms of colored light off the leaves. Everything had been washed and scrubbed clean by the heavy rains that fell.

The air was thick with a rising mist that floated up the mountainside like beckoning spirits.

But the soil had turned to spongy, slippery clay set to chute us back to the beginning. Two steps forward and three steps back. After we reached a point in the climb, where the dog needed help getting up a part of the trail that proved difficult for him, we began to form a new sort of bond.

In his doggy mind, Piggy had always been an independent, free-will, male dog. He was an Australian shepherd, a breed which is accustomed to having its’ way with thousand pound steer. The only begrudging acknowledgement of his need was when I helped beat off an attacking dog, and then he would prance in courageous retreat, growling over his shoulder. At this juncture, however, he couldn’t overcome the mud and slipped down much of the ground he had just climbed. When I pulled him by the scruff of his neck, held his leg steady while he scrambled along some precipice, or pushed his furry ass up…he sensed that we were a team. On several cliff sides where I couldn’t get up the main trail, he’d scramble around through the scrub until he found a way around to the point I was trying to reach. He would plant his feet on the rocks and bushes with his back to me, so that I could grab his tail, and pull myself up.

Around two thousand feet, we came to a cliff of sheer rock-face that was so steep, the rangers had built a ladder to facilitate the climb. I ascended to take our packs up the vertical thirty foot outcropping, and turned to go back down for my companion, but when I looked below me, he was already halfway up, climbing the ladder like a circus dog.

Shortly after that, while our side of the mountain darkened, we came to a flat, beside a waterfall that filled the small lake we had just circumnavigated. It seemed like a perfect place to spend the night, and we made camp on the first dry spot, while the setting sun turned the lake to red. Unfortunately, it hadn’t occurred to me that the waterfall wasn’t going to be turned off at night, and it roared in our ears continuously.

We didn’t sleep much.

The next morning we continued up the mountain side, finding it to be gradually drier as the mud gave way to solid stone. The tree line had fallen behind us, and when we finally reached the top, it was nearing nightfall once again.

The peak of Mt. Marcy is a rounded, bald knob of granite higher than all the surrounding ridges and peaks. It gets winds of up to 100 miles per hour roaring through the valleys all around. The wind is, at certain times, so strong and continuous, that you can stand into it at an angle of forty-five degrees without falling. The combined darkness and cloud cover reduced visibility to about ten feet. I felt that if we tried to leave the peak, we might walk off a cliff into oblivion, so, we camped in place.

All night the wind blew; and all night it poured.

Piggy and I wrapped ourselves tightly in an Army poncho, while the elements tried to wipe us away. Great gusts would billow, catching the edge of us, like a sail into the darkness. The rain beat incessantly, and we lay, huddled together, for solace and warmth.

There is a mystery in isolation. A soul that is bared to the elements has surrendered control. Leaving the comfortable and safe place, the mind must reconcile to a possibility of defeat.

I thought of this defeat through the night.

The many ways of dying, the less certain ways of surviving, and the pathlessness of life. It is both our glory and curse that we struggle through insecurity and loss, trying to stay afloat. There are no guidelines…everything changes so fast that life must be made up as we go along. At some point one must surrender to the impossibility of forever. We die to what has made our lives worth living.

We will end, sooner or late, since end we must. But we work, against this fall, and build even if the sea shall sweep it away.

At first light, the rain had ceased, and we abandoned our precarious perch to begin the long slide down the mountain. The trip down was considerably faster than the trip up. Piggy got very good at sliding on his belly like a seal.

We reached the camp store by two o’clock, washed the mud off, then left the Adirondack.

Heading for the Catskills.


~ by theoxherd on April 27, 2012.

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