Like many of us these days, I was feeling the tension that resulted from a sense that our country was bursting at the seams. I didn’t feel above the moral degradation that seemed to be plaguing the land, but I felt entrapped within a culture leaning toward right-wing extremism, one that looked to be devaluing science and intellect, that kicked at public education and environmental law, and one that put blinders on the view of recent history.
I needed to climb a mountain, and I found a good one near my place of residence. I had nothing to prove; Mt. Tom was there; it would help me vent; it would help me get a better look at the place where I lived and, hopefully, I’d gain more insight into the ground that I called “home.”
It was an overcast Sunday, with winds and snow flurries, with a temperature expected to peak around the freezing mark. I parked along the banks of Pine Creek near Ansonia, PA and proceeded on my climb.
I was looking at a modest 2.15 mile climb to the summit of a mountain overlooking Pine Creek, a mountain relatively small even by Pennsylvania standards (ranking #135 in the state), but one that promised a work-out through the several inches of crusted snow, and one whose final push to the top would put old Winter Knees to the test on its critically acclaimed “1100 vertical feet” of rock.
The trail’s first half mile of trail above the valley was a pleasurable walk above a small stream through enchanting stands of white pine and Eastern hemlock. After that, it crossed the stream and took an S-shaped turn into more open deciduous woods. Where the trail took on the character of an old timber road, it forked, with a sign to Mt. Tom summit indicating that a hiker could choose one of two ways to proceed. The long route would be 1.5 miles of moderate climbing, and the short route would be a “Steep” .6 of a mile.
I figured that the short route wouldn’t kill me, despite the literature claiming “vertical” ground, and I hoped I wasn’t wrong.
I heard myself huff and puff and felt the sweat begin to form beneath my layers of clothing. I heard myself say, Be Gone. Be gone you noises in my head. Be gone you killers of freedom who would drown the voices of mystery past and present. Be gone, you demons of divisiveness and habit. Be Gone, dammit! Let me huff, and puff, put one foot in front of the other. There– a nice view!
I was getting somewhere. The small brown creeper on a cherry tree, the common raven tearing through the wind above, helped me on my way.
Wildness was an urge that spurred me through the “1100 vertical feet” near the summit. It told me I belonged here for a minute or an hour, that the views would be worth the effort of climbing, that I’d come to know the buffer grown between myself and the world below.
Whoever described the final push to the top as a “vertical” climb was prone to hyperbole but I know what he or she was getting at. I’ve had easier times trying to convince my wife that I was innocent and didn’t drink (that much of) her favorite liqueurs.
It wasn’t easy but old Winter Knees made it to the summit cairn, and the views, though tossed by wind and snow, were healing, like a craft beer savored in a bar (or a pull of European spirit pilfered from a shelf), the palate and the soul refreshed.