The rocks were all slick as moose snot, and the pitch was as steep as the price of good maple syrup. Up and up the trail climbed. The gnats swarmed and dipped and dodged. Sweat beaded, danced, and dropped from the tip of my nose.
The roaring brook hadn’t had enough to drink overnight, so it only babbled quietly to itself. The bridge was out, but we walked across, feet dry on the other side.
The trail hugged the brook for a half mile and then turned churlishly toward the summit, leaving us no choice but to grind our way up the loose stone and slippery roots for the next couple clicks.
The humidity was everywhere, thick on our skins, like breathing warm soup, and I found myself instantly in the orange, that heart-testing place just before code red. I like the orange generally. My pulse high but steady. There’s a rhythm there you can work with, making good ground through honest effort, the spell only broken by the sudden loss of footing as the broad flat stone that looked so much like a solid place to step, instead does its best impression of winter pond ice.
Hot summer is good for the ferns and other floor cover, stretching its limbs over the path. Thorns take little bits of flesh by way of toll. Mercifully, we can’t see too far ahead, so we don’t lose hope of reaching the top. It’s there somewhere, if we can keep climbing.
And then of course, we top out, or break free of the narrow, green corridor, stepping into a high meadow that funnels us out to the stony ledge. The sun is full strength there, and sweat is running down my shins.
So much sweat. All the sweat. It stings my eyes and I try not to let any part of me touch any other part of me.
We can hear the birds chirruping down in the valley, down in the darker parts of the green blanket spread below us. They have better sense than to be caught up high like this in the hot morning sun.
Still, we sit here and rest, a breeze melting away some of the work, and watch the clouds cast their moving shadows over the treescape. A mother and daughter and granddaughter sneak up behind us sitting there in our reverie. They want the view, so we move on.
The way down passes campsites, marked out by bear boxes for overnight food storage, a double track that suggests jeeps grinding their way up in case of emergency.
Then another narrow flume of a trail back to the brook. I nearly lose my feet three, maybe four times, rocks skittering away from me as I lurch for balance. Then, on a wooden footbridge back along the brook, M steps sideways, and I see both her feet come up off the ground. She comes down with her full weight one one leg, banging her knee on a rock.
Quickly, she’s back on her feet, wiping the dirt off, rubbing the sore spot. The car is just up ahead in the sandy lot.
The morning is thick and thickening, the forest drunk on rain, the night before.