“It’s a beautiful day to be on a mountain!”, I smile and greet hikers when they reach the summit of an Adirondack high peak. Sun or rain, wind, haze, and/or bugs, it’s always a beautiful day to be on a mountain. Air is fresher there; food tastier. Colors are brighter, clouds closer. Though usually exhausted, people are happier, friendlier, more alive.
Granted, some days, the discomfort of too much sun, rain, wind, haze, and/or too many bugs overrides the aesthetics. And yes, on some days, I’m too busy monitoring the vegetation, doing trail work, and/or speaking with hordes of hikers to be able to contemplate the experience.
But the beauty is there. Every single day. On a mountain.
Of course, beauty is subjective, preferences variable. Although most people seek dramatic scenery or at least some sort of view—a bit of perspective—I’m happiest to hear the weather-bot announce “summits obscured in clouds.” I love to perch on a little throne of rock, watching mist swirl up through the krummholz, over the ledges, around the cairns, and back into the other side of the grey-white world. Just as the visible space condenses (quite literally) into an ever-changing wall of nothing, the soundscape empties of everything but wind, breath, and the occasional song of the white-throated sparrow. Feels and tastes all become cool and rocky, slightly damp with accumulating dew. Instead of feeling disconnected and disoriented—unsure of just where I am, who I am—I almost feel more pointedly aware of myself and my surroundings; when all I know of the world is the rock, the mist, myself, well, then, that’s the world.
On these days when I can’t see the arc of the sun through the sky (and thus can’t gauge morning vs. afternoon; then vs. now), time tends to skip, leap, and stand still. I sit and watch mist; one minute drags on. I sit and watch mist; an hour slips by. There are subtle changes—a shift in the wind; slight patters of rain—but little else to distinguish one moment from the next: the sparrows, maybe the craak of a raven; dark-eyed juncos hop into and out of my life. Every now and then, I hear trekking poles and a shape or two emerges/coalesces on the summit; the hikers and I speak for a little while (“Sorry there’s no view, but look at this fascinating, rare, and fragile alpine vegetation!”), then they disappear/dissolve. I sit and watch mist.
|Clouds splitting on their own (needing no help from Mt. Marcy)|
Often—almost always—the clouds aren’t there for the entire day. Sometimes they sweep in or lower mid-morning (in which case, it’s fun to watch them coming); other times they break up mid-afternoon. Those are the most exhilaratingly, achingly beautiful days to be on a mountain:
mist, mist, mist for hours;
a moment here or there when the air seems to glow, or, oh!, a patch of blue sky appears! Hope!, then back to mist.
Mist, mist, mist;
glow, glow, blue sky! And a dark form below the summit!—Panther Gorge? (from Mt. Marcy) Avalanche Pass? (from Algonquin)
Brighter overhead; sharper underneath. The shoulder of Haystack? The silhouette of Skylight?
|Haystack emerging from the steam|
Pieces of other mountains come and go; the familiar landscape reassembles itself between swirls of cloud. Finally, it all breaks open: sunlight streams down into steaming valleys and shines on steaming peaks. Hikers fortunate enough to arrive at just the right time (or tenacious enough to wait it out) point and laugh and shout; we all dash from ledge to ledge, snapping photos and calling out for views. “Beautiful!,” we exclaim, “The world! Was it there all along?”
|View from Cascade: Big Slide and the Great Range in all their rugged glory, with a cloudscape to match|
Every day is a beautiful day to be on a mountain.
|Pre-storm sky seen from Algonquin|