Caitlin “Cinnamon” Kelly
Emma “B-Sug” Geiger
As the rain pitter-patters on the roof of our warm Arcadian kitchen, we sit here in our purple sweaters and have a chance to reflect on our backpacking expedition – and already distant memory in contrast with our comfortable Arcadian lives.
“I wonder what the other group is doing” Jane asks aloud. We reach the trail junction 1.35 miles away from the summit of Haystack Mtn. on our 3rd day apart from half of our fellow community members. For a month, the 12 of us had spent nearly every waking moment together, and now we were heartlessly driven apart because of High Peaks wilderness regulations. Three seasoned hikers pass us by and inform us that the trail we’re about to embark on is one of the most “rugged” assents in the Adirondacks. We laugh nervously and exchange worried glances and decide to press on, paying no heed to their words. Forty-five minutes later we’re scaling slippery rock faces and understand their warning. An hour later, the summit is still not in sight. Morale is low as the mist descends upon us and clouds our vision, making each step a feat in itself. Another hour passes and we reach the windy and cold summit. 1.35 miles has never felt so long. Nate’s angelic voice rings on the summit, singing a tune we all know well, “This little Doug (light) of mine” that allows us to carry on. Why did we risk life and limb to arrive at a socked in summit? The following is why: We begin the hike down to Little Haystack (the 47th high peak according to Nate), and Kealey cries out “look over there!” We all turn left to see Panther Gorge emerge out of the clods and are greeted by the immensity and grandeur of the highest peak in NY, Mt. Marcy. Immediately, surrounding peaks including Saddleback, Basin, Skylight, and Gothics, are unveiled. It seems as though we’ve been transported to an entirely different place. The astonished gasps of our comrades are audible.
It is the last day of our trip and we’re cooking breakfast at the Ore Bed Brook Lean-to. Reflecting upon the 9 peaks we’ve summited and the 30 miles we’ve walked, we sit content and tired as our ginger bread pancakes cook upon our whisper lite stoves. Little do we know we’re being watched by a woodland creature, who is equally excited about the prospect of a ginger bread breakfast. The silence is interrupted by Zena’s words, “hey bear”. A black bear, not more than 10 feet away, pokes his head from behind a tree. He looks on curiously as we continue conversation with him. Adrenaline kicks in – or long forgotten fight or flight instinct is awakened within us. Despite our coaxing, the bear lingers around our camp for several minutes, a reminder that we are a guest in his forest.
A few hours later we eagerly awaited the arrival of the other group. Bellies full of Noonmark pie, we indulge in a spontaneous roadside dance party in front of the new Outdoor Program cabin, still smelling of fresh pine. This will be the temporary home for those who will go on to conquer yet another high peak of the Dacks for St. Lawrence’s Peak weekend the next day. An hour later, and an hour late, we hear the distant rumbling of the approaching Suburban. Chaos ensues as they pile out of the stinky car, and we ambush them with affection. After hugs and stories are exchanged we can’t help but notice that their appearances have changed. Beards have grown longer, skin weathered by mountain air, calves toned, lips chapped by the unrelenting winds, hands swollen, freckles increased by the intense UV rays only found above tree line, and faces hardened by exposure. All noticed within the first 5 seconds, of course as they shared stories about their experiences, we realized there was overlap, as well as uniqueness. They taught us the secret of “trail magic”, or paying it forward. We learned they climbed 4 peaks, experienced a sunrise hike on Marcy, laughed as much as they hiked (if not more), and enjoyed moments of spiritual awakening and clarity.
Night has come upon Arcadia and we sit in the same seats, same purple sweaters. The clock strikes 8:20, a typical bedtime during expedition. William drops a pot in the sink, Marguerite sweeps below our feet, somewhere a mouse finds a snack, stars begin to dot the obsidian sky, and the cow jumps over the moon. This is home.