Just past Maple Peak – 3/16
I scrambled along the ridge of Maple Peak as evening closed around me. My legs and lungs couldn’t keep up with the sun as it raced down and lit the sky in pale purple and pinks. I’d climbed for hours, rising from the wet ford of the Blue River and up through canyons and desert toward Maple Peak. The mountain had sat like a giant in front of me, looming on the eastern horizon yesterday afternoon when I looked at it and half hoped it wasn’t where I was going.
My legs didn’t have the climb in them. They haven’t felt strong this entire trip. I keep remembering when my legs used to laugh at mountains, but now they simply survive.
My lungs don’t help. They hurt when I climb. The thin air never feels like enough for them.
I took a few steps along the ridge and stopped to stare up at the rising mountain. I told myself I was taking in the view and not waiting for oxygen to fill my blood. It was a lie.
“Come on,” I told myself. “Just a bit further to the top.”
I didn’t want to sweat, not in the cooling air, but I didn’t want to miss sunset either. I pressed on. My lungs and legs burning as the disappearing sun left the world cold and every gust of wind cut through the sweat-soaked fabric of my shirt.
The sun reached the horizon while I stood a few hundred yards from the peak in a tangled thicket of branches, catching my breath again. I caught my breath and crashed my way forward. The last rays of light filled the sky with a mix of red, orange, and purple. Mountain tops rose in the distance. They looked like frozen shadows of an ocean in the dying light. The sky above me faded into a dark blue and black, twinkling with the night’s first stars.
I needed ten more minutes of the day that I didn’t have. I knew I didn’t have them. I knew I was too late. I scrambled up anyway, through a barbed wire fence and along the dark side of the mountain. Even in the dusk, I needed to say goodbye; the New Mexico border was waiting just a few miles away.
I spun around on the mountain top. My eyes traced the long path I’d walked across the landscape. I could barely see it in the shadows and fading light, but it was there. I found an old tin can with a register for peak baggers to sign their names. I pulled it open and flipped through a few pages before stuffing the register back and shutting the can. Scribbling a few notes on a piece of paper means little when the light is fading and there’s a sea of mountains to stare at.
The cold air made me shiver as I took one last spin from the top of a boulder. I stared off in the last bit of light, relishing the moment I spent all day reaching, then dropped off the far side of the peak with my headlamp blazing in the darkness, searching for the faint trail down the other side of the mountain that would lead me to New Mexico.
BREWS AND CANOES on July 22nd! If you’re in the southern Minnesota area, next Wednesday, July 22nd, I’ll be doing a presentation in Mankato at the Mankato Brewery for the Friends of the Boundary Waters’ Brews and Canoes Adventurers Series. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I’ll have some great pictures and videos of various adventures to share. Here is a link to the Facebook event page (https://www.facebook.com/events/1570494989900043/) where you can find more information. I believe tickets are only $7 in advance and you get a free drink with that while supporting a great organization that works to protect one of the coolest, wild places on the planet!