It was early morning July. Hopes and spirits were high; however record temperatures reminded us that we were indeed susceptible to the harshness of nature when we entered into her domain. We were guest and we would pay our respects. Sweat dripped off my nose as I began to breathe heavily up the long climb. The sun was relentless, stinging my flesh through the nonexistent tree cover as we crossed over the higher end of the ridge. 35 pounds loaded into my backpack tugged down on my body I pulled myself up the mountain. The shade had long fallen behind as we made our away above the tree line. The promised water sources that were listed on the trail map had apparently dissipated in the intense summer heat. It was clear that luxury was not our companion on this particular mountain pass. Even at this point, we did not know how tough this trip would be. Still, spirits were high and we trekked on.
Hours later we made it to the treasure at the end of the metaphorical rainbow. There was no silver, there was no gold, and there was no rainbow. Instead we found nothingness; the kind of nothingness that surrounds you when you land atop one of the tallest mountains in the region. Breathing at this point was hard enough, and what we saw made it impossible. The view was plainly impressive to say the least. We were thousands of feet above the valley. A clear view on all directions allowed us to catch a bearing and determine exactly where we were, Beauty Spot, aptly named. Looking down at the lesser mountains that fell at our feet along the trail was mesmerizing. The clouds rolled by and the blue sky sung a chorus like I had never heard before, but this was not our goal. On further, there was another ridge, and another peak that beckoned our presence, even higher, within the clouds. We listened to the call and continued on our way. Soon after we found something we desperately needed. A small opening in the mountain seeped a clear, delicious stream of wonderful water. Our hopes were lifted, and moral was high. We filled our bottles, and with a new confidence pursued our goal.
The sun was beginning to fall, and our goal was nowhere in sight. The water we had found hours ago, had already been tapped into and was depleting quickly as we panted it away. At this point we had been hiking for around 6 hours entirely uphill. Our legs ached, our lungs burned, and our water was already running low. The clouds at this elevation were now fog at our feet. Looking into the mountains up the steep climb of dirt, trees and rock you could see the crest, after crest, after crest as you climbed, seemingly infinitely spawning as we cleared the last. Deep down I entertained the thought that this mountain would never in fact end. It seemed that God himself was building the mounds before us, appearing out of nowhere each time we made progress and cleared a massive mound of earth. Certain hopelessness was falling upon my companions as our bodies were beginning to give out from the punishment. Everyone wanted to stop, but stopping now would mean an extra day on the trail. Supplies were already low. Another night meant a day without supplies. This was not an option. I knew it was up to me to keep pushing, harder and harder up the mountain. If I stopped, everyone would stop. Lifting my heavy legs I continued up the never ending climb, desperate for the relief that lay on the top.
We were running out of steam. We had to split up, leaving our friend behind as he rested. Another and I continued up the never ending staircase to see if we were anywhere near the top. The climb had begun to mellow out, and the trees were thin and bare. We had made it. The feeling as we finally made it the top was amazing. I dropped by bag, and sat for a moment to take in the moment. I breathed in the cool, dark air, and began to stand. My head felt dizzy, and I nearly lost my balance as I stood. We were exhausted, and had to eat. I quickly began to set up camp as my friend signed to the other that we had made it. We waited for his return.
We waited for what seemed like an hour. Camp was set up and dinner was ready to eat. The sun had disappeared completely, but where was our friend? He had never made it up the hill. We waited, longer and longer.
What was that? It was coming from down the trail. Voices? More than one voice was echoing up the mountain top, but who was was it? As the voices grew closer, my body tensed up. I knew my friend had not made it up. Concerned, I clenched my blade. One can never be too careful out here. I could see the image of someone creeping through the trees. Jason! He had made it. He had met and picked up a fellow hiker, and invited him to camp with us. It turns out he was hiking the Appalachian trial for about 200 miles. The goal? His girlfriend lived up north. He was hiking his was through perilous, bear infested woods to visit her .It turns out we were in a bear reserve, and he had saw 3 on the way up, which we had somehow missed. Good to know, if a little late. How amazing his story was, but that is for a later time.
The night had fallen completely. We shared stories and snacks, and talked about gear, love, and past experiences. We hung our food in the trees, and made our beds for the night in the damp, dark woods. As we crawled into our tents, legs aching but relieved, we began to think about the next day. We were not entirely sure where we were, or how far we had made it. All we knew was we had a long day ahead of us tomorrow, possibly more grueling than today. The sounds of the woods lulled us to sleep.
To be continued.