Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A long day's journey on and off the beaten path

A certain mountain climbing episode, not successful by the usual standards, was the seed of a post last december. In that post I said the peak is not always the high point of the climb. Nice try. It certainly isn't the high point if you don't reach it.

My son the outdoor adventurer and trepid yours truly returned to scale Mt Washington, as vowed. Knowing my haphazard taste in equipment, junior pointed me to a few good purchases and talked me out of about five pounds of unnecessay gear. What a difference seven months can make. No snow, sunny, 20 MPH winds at the summit and temperatures in the mid 50s. That is about as good as hiking weather gets. We got up at 4:30, drove to up to the white mountains and made a day hike of it. This time we reached the peak with barely a stop, doing the 4200 foot climb in about five hours. There were a few hikers who appeared to be doing the whole hike at a running pace. We made it up and back down before sunset.

Lots of people trudged up that day. I wonder if they are all as sore as I am.

Most of the crowd at the summit don't do "sore", they drive up the road to the peak. The people who consider "lawn chair" an outdoor activity will not be there on our next hike because the road closes once it snows.

Tuckerman's ravine is a relatively sheer walled box canyon with a severely exposed trail snaking up the sidewall. Water runs across the trail in places making the footing a bit more treacherous. This trail closes in the winter too, when avalanches sweep down from the rim and the trail becomes an ice climbing challenge. But its gorgeous. You have to make yourself look up from your attention to where you put your feet because every few hundred yards, it looks like a different place.

It was a much longer day than the sum of six hours of driving and seven or eight of hiking with other chores and people moving, about 20 hours of constant motion and eight hours of sleep in two days. I had to either recuperate or post...hence the delay in this posting. Yesterday, I could not keep my eyes open at work nor take stairs without some pain. Looking back at the trails I've traveled, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

Travelogue completed. Sermon optional

I do not know of a major religion that is without sayings, imagery, allegorical tales or key myths that involve going to or being on mountains. A favorite metaphor of those who strive for ecumenical and interfaith outreach is of climbers on a mountain so vast that its scattered foothills have very different climates. Believing their senses, the climbers are led to describe seemingly discordant experiences and preparations, but those who reach the top are all in the same place and know it. Nice thought. A bit to the left of and, IMO, well above nearly all western religious thinking are certain thoughts of Krishnamurti. Even he relies on the geography of mountains to depict his sense of which way is spiritual up. One thing he did say was that Truth is a pathless land. There is a place on Mt Washington where this expression can be visualized.

There is nothing but a tumble of jagged lichen encrusted rock. There is perhaps the idea of a trail poorly suggested by cairns and painted blazes which do not stick as well nor look visually distinct from the lichen. More subtle than cairns or paint, the scratches made by the tips of trekking poles show where the most people have gone. But you see climbers bounding or painfully creeping well off the "trail" and actually all over the rock pile, each making a progress satisfactory for reaching or departing the summit. The summit, now that I have been there, still isn't the high point of the hike.


Gerry said...

I wonder what Truth is... I feel I am hopelsessly far from casting my beady little eyes upon "it"...

Nice travelog.

GreenSmile said...

My suspicion is that more often than not, Gerry, the truth is like a rock you sit on to rest, or climb over to gain another few feet in your quest. The mountain is made of rocks, you barely notice them. They aren't "high concepts" like the mountain or its summit yet they are the stuff of which all those concepts are composed.

Don't you wonder at the strangeness of it all: how would there be any such thing as truth and yet it would never be near us? It is all in the view and it is the viewer that gets in the way...thats me talking.

Amy said...

The people who consider "lawn chair" an outdoor activity will not be there on our next hike because the road closes once it snows.

That guy was so obviously trying to live the car commercial.

PS: Your son is a well-turned lad, isn't he? ;)

surrogate said...

What great post... and a fun trip, I dare say.

As for truth? Hah! I know it when I see it... I think. I saw a snipet of truth zipping by the ridge behind my house a few days ago, I think, or I thought. Alas, after blinking to adjust my eyes? -damn thing was gone. Probably UNDER one of those rocks right now, sneaky little bastard.