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Sunday, June 15, 2014

A World beyond Worlds

  As spring turned into summer, the mountains beckoned their irresistible call. At the end of May, my folks came out for the weekend, and so we decided it was time to take a few more peaks off the 46.

Cascade and Porter mountains, together around a 6 mile hike, are buried farther north of the giants, falling in the high 30s of the 46 by altitude. For the first time, we had almost perfect weather. Spotted clouds in skies of blue and temperatures in the mid 70s without a hint of rain or the brutal humidity that sometimes comes in the spring.

A curious thing about the mountains I have come to notice of late is that, in a landscape of such a massive scale, there is no end to the beauty that can be found on any level. Around us, the towering peaks of the mountains framed the sky, a mile above the ground and the cities left behind when entering their domain. Yet there exists a world beyond worlds. One that, if you but look to see it, exists beneath your feet and under the treetops, engrained in the rock and lush in the details unseen by the wider eye.

Mushrooms cling to the gnarled bark of elder trees, ferns grow from the loam enriched by decay of the undergrowth.

Undisturbed by the wind and the rain, life thrives where simply it is given the chance to be. Tranquillity, in a word, that fits so  naturally in the realm of the mountains.

Suddenly, the inanimate becomes animate, but in a temporal sense unburdened by the passing of the moon. Moss clings to rock and the rock itself affords a place for it to grow. Trees whose roots burrow deep give way in a spectacular balance that surpasses cognition. To be. That is all that exists here. No wars, no violence nor politics, no care for the worries of man.

Fiddleheads creep slowly towards the sun, unfurling and spreading their leafy fronds.

Cracks in the earth seem to beckon the mystery of what they might hide inside. Creatures of the night dwelling against daylight, snails clinging to the cool, moist rock, a ground squirrel hiding wearily from the boots of passing hikers.

And then suddenly I looked up to see the world sprawling out before me for endless miles, clad in the growth of new spring. Lakes dot the forests and rivers snake the valleys searching for a home amongst the rock. More than anything, the sensation of breaking through the treeline is surreal, and suddenly the hours passed in the calm shade of the trail are unburdened in the deepest calm. Rustling of leaves, the trickle of water, the chirp of birds flitting about in the mid morning sun.

As the mushrooms and the mosses, the snails and the algae, hoary lichens hold fast to the branches of unshod evergreens and spruce whose needles fled beneath the weight of winter's veil.

Two of my favourite things while hiking both seem to occur in tandem. On the approach of the summit when the treeline has passed behind, the early trailsetters laid cairns as waypoints to guide the way. Dry stacked rock built into mounds, as simple as they are, represent something that words cannot rightfully embody. Mountains on the side of mountains, it is a sign to me that says humanity has been here but nature remains its own true master. Not tamed or conquered, but acquainted with a respect that knows the mountains will remain long after we have come and gone.

Cairns may be a device of man, but my other fascination lies behind the hand of a single creator. Rich veins of mineral form roots across the rocky face of the summit, a testament of how long they have endured. Grown from a time beyond our understanding, the roots of the mountains come here to dwell after the labours of their long passage and ascent.

At the summit of Cascade Mountain, the trail winds around the peak gradually to the top, but there also stands a rocky face that was begging to be climbed. One day, I hope to journey into the world of true rock climbing, but until then I must pacify myself with indoor walls and bouldering in shadow of giants.

All along the trail, furry companions joined the hikers on the ascent, undertaking the journey in their own right and experiencing the world as it was meant to be.

A breath of sunlight greeted us at the peak, affording us a brilliant view of the Adirondacks that I have not experienced before or since.

Back down we went until coming to the divide to Porter Mountain close by. Along the ridgeline, the same curious spectacle yielded itself in the details so easily overlooked.

In an unassuming opening to the world around us, the summit of Porter Mountain appeared through the trees.

And this is where our ascent came to an end. A more perfect day I could not have asked for, and in it I came to appreciate more of the world around me, the richness it offers, and the peace that comes from witnessing its beauty.

This marks my 5th and 6th of the 46 High Peaks.

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