By Cassidy Cichowicz and Kate Powers
It’s 9 o’clock at night. We are shuffling down Phelps Mountain, single file, headlamps on. Everything looks different in the dark—our feet slip on rocks and our shoes get tangled on roots. We have a minimal sense of location or time, our solitude the only thing about which we are certain.
Ten hours earlier, we were basking in the sunlight along Marcy Dam, our toes dipped in the water, backs on rocks and hiking boots off, drying out from a soggy hike up Algonquin two days earlier. We had been craving sunshine since our trip in the high peaks began, the balsam firs and pines preventing the warm beams and vitamin D from reaching our skin. Finally, we were able to peel off our layers and warm ourselves naturally. The sunlight entered our pores, warming our skin as, ironically, we read Rick Bass’s Winter, occasionally dozing off, resting up for our evening of adventure ahead.
By 3:30 PM, we had made our dinner (spaghetti and quinoa), gathered our layers, and, most importantly, packed our headlamps. It was a good thing we left our campsite early, as we met many new acquaintances along the way: a duo of fiery Mainers, who bickered like a married couple; a father and daughter team who insisted on being photographed with us; and an ambitious Alaskan set out to climb the highest peak in every state, who had just finished #46. What connected us with these people was a shared desire to explore nature and enjoy the Adirondacks.
At 5 P.M. we were alone on the peaks, gaining elevation and a new level of seclusion we hadn’t yet experienced on this expedition. We summited Phelps with plenty of time to eat dinner, take funny pictures, and hang out before the sunset. The view was expansive and humbling: we could see Camel’s Hump in Vermont to our left and beyond Avalanche Pass to our right. We sat close and shared stories, strengthening the bond we had formed on our trip.
As a group, we wandered to a flat rock that gave us a clear view of both the East and West, where the moon would rise and the sun would set. In silence we drank in the vibrant oranges, golds, and seafoam blues as the sun sank below the treeline. In the East, the full moon rose out of the deep purple horizon, hanging in the sky stoic and vivid. They say that at the end of your life only a few moments flash before your eyes; we wouldn’t be surprised if this view from the peak was among them.
After our weeklong expedition, we can’t help but ask ourselves, why do we climb mountains? Our sunset hike up Phelps taught us it isn’t just to tally the peak off our 46er list or even to gape at the amazing view. We climb mountains to gain a new perspective. On top of a mountain, you feel like you are just a tiny particle floating around in this vast universe. However, you come to realize that whether you are a doctor, lawyer, Joe Schmoe, or a student, on top of a mountain we are all equal.
Trekking down Phelps, we settled into our new outlook. We climb mountains to feel connected to and be present in our bodies, to find a sense of place in our new home, the Adirondacks, and to form new and perhaps even more intimate bonds with the people we share these experiences with. Eyes heavy, layers on, we follow the beams of our headlamps. We head back to our campsite, our inviting sleeping bags waiting to embrace us when we return, the rushing of the wind and shelter of the trees helping us home.