My alarm sounds.
Groggily, I open my eyes to the darkness.
we stream out the door.
Other hikers linger at the lot.
We step out, turn our headlamps on,
and plow up the Valley Way.
4:31 a.m. – 7 a.m.
Silently, we step up
the well-set stones
as night engulfs us.
I grasp for rocks in my invisible surroundings
and grab slugs.
Water tumbles beside us
in an unseen cascade.
Slowly, the sun paints light into the forest,
first with gray shapes,
then with contrast, color, and relief.
The trail feels ridiculously easy
for the first 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
Then, as the short pine trees
welcome me to the final leg,
my adrenaline flags,
and my legs yearn for an end.
A small taste of what is to come.
Reaching the Madison Hut,
a cloud hugs the mountains
and kisses our cheeks with rain.
The wet rocks up Madison
demand our full attention:
a foot here, a hand there.
We spider our way to the top.
I pull myself onto the final summit rock,
Looking out into the vista,
I see only a white curtain.
Fog hangs over Star Lake.
This alpine treasure remains buried.
8:14 a.m. – 9:13 a.m.
Scaling the wet rocks of Mount Adams,
we discover gardens of moss and lichen.
Red tips grace British soldier lichen.
Diverse species dazzle me like fine sculptures.
I want to stay. To memorize. To photograph.
Eighteen miles of trail beckon me onward.
the game is to grasp the wet rocks.
This is way harder than Twister.
Every movement require a sharp eye
and deft placement.
Whiteness hides the horizon.
With hopeful spirits,
we smile for a selfie.
9:13 a.m. – 10:09 a.m.
I pick my way through the slippery stones.
I fantasize about the feeling of soil beneath my soles.
Mountains appear before us
as clouds dissipate.
Sun shines on our faces
as beauty spreads out a picnic blanket.
A feast of alpine awesomeness awaits.
I scarf down mangos and trail mix
at the col between Adams and Jefferson.
Three pairs of hikers pass us.
All of them started at 5 a.m.
To one pair, we proudly report that
we started at 4:30 a.m.
This pair slept in their car
and witnessed a wave of hikers at 4 a.m.
J and I are the ones who slept in.
10:57 a.m. – 11:35 a.m.
Climbing up Mount Jefferson,
we dine on the delicacy of dry rocks.
We summit Mount Jefferson,
another pyramid of rubble.
We don’t bother to take a picture.
Like ants, the tourists swarm Mount Washington,
looking through viewing scopes,
eating pizzas, and standing in line for a photo-op.
We shovel snacks down, tag the summit,
and dance off the peak.
Sunshine makes everything better.
We trail-run down Washington.
At the hut,
I feast on pita bread, hummus, and cucumbers.
I enjoy a fair-trade candy bar and chips.
J and I air out our feet and put on dry socks.
This is heaven.
3 p.m. – 7:22 p.m.
The joys of friendship, good conversation,
and an easy trail nourish our spirits
as we hike Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson.
Miniature balsam firs dot the slopes
as we lose elevation.
Their small purple pine cones
remind me of the Himalayan fir
in the Arnold Arboretum
that my friend and I visited on Wednesday.
Amazing how it is all connected:
trees, mountains, and friendship.
Later, J and I will name
our most exhausting climb as
Cliff and Redfield Mountains in August 2015.
I climbed the mountains on the 13th,
and we met as I shoveled food into my face
at Cloud-Splitters in Newcomb, N.Y.,
barely able to talk or think.
She climbed them on the 14th
and likewise sat in Cloud-Splitters
devouring a backpack meal
In mountain misery,
we met each other.
To mountain misery, on this day,
our friendship returns.
Yet, our comradery creates a way for us
through the difficult route.
We feel like the monarch butterflies
who migrate the difficult route
to Michoacán, Mexico.
Like the monarchs,
we travel through tough terrain
to destinations of delight.
Like the monarchs,
we fly to places of alpine beauty,
flex our athletic prowess,
and pollinate a flowering friendship.
7:22 p.m. – 9:22 p.m.
The sun begins to set.
We scramble down the wet slabs of Jackson
and begin the slow journey downward,
descending wet rocks in the dark by headlamp.
Our long day concludes as we empty out onto Route 302.
A moonrise greets us, glowing bright behind the black clouds.
We did it.
After an hour drive back to the hotel,
a soft bed and warm shower will greet us.
Delicious payment for a day well hiked.