After coffee and bagels, the first thing we did on Saturday was check out the campground's pond. The 10YO wanted to catch frogs and couldn't even conceive of going on any mountainous treks until he had engaged in a battle of wits with any and all amphibians in the low-lying vicinity. The frogs and their fat tadpoles proved elusive at first, but we entertained ourselves catching little aquatic salamanders (or newts) for a while instead.
With a happy 10YO in tow, we adjourned for lunch (PB&Js and hummus wraps with cucumbers, peppers, and feta), and prepared for the afternoon's activity: scaling Mount Monadnock. The 7YO wasn't up for the challenge, so Husband occupied him at the campsite with various micro-engineering projects, ball playing, book reading, and napping endeavors befitting them both. Meanwhile, the neighbors, the 10YO, and I drove to the ranger's station to begin the four- hour hike. And that's when things got a little dicey.
Let it be known: I did no research on this mountain. All I knew was that the Neighbors' first grader had climbed it last year. Good enough for me, I thought. Note to self: a first grader's physical fitness and technical skills are no longer a suitable benchmark for me. No, apparently, I have the hiking skills of a kindergartener—perhaps even a preschooler—because I barely made it up that mountain in one piece. The walking part was fine, even the steep walking part, even the very steep walking part, but then came the rock-climbing part. The part where you're on all fours scrambling up these rocks and boulders only to reach another boulder, and then another boulder, and then another. Don't we need ropes and shit for this? Crampons? About halfway up the 3,165-foot mountain, I began to suspect I'd made a horrible mistake.
At some point while scrambling up yet another steep pile of sloping rocks on the White Dot trail, my internal compass went totally out of whack. I lost my sense of vertical and horizontal. All of a sudden, I felt the pull of gravity coming not from underneath my feet, where it usually does, but from the only flat ground I could actually see: the tree-carpeted overlook to my left and 1,500 feet below me. The pull was slow but steady, like alpine undertow. The more I backed against the rock I had plastered myself against, the more it seemed to be pushing me away. The world felt like it was tipping me over and emptying me out into the dizzying vacuum of open air over the precipice. I pleaded for my neighbors to come speak to me in gentle, soothing tones until the blood returned to my brain again and I was able to accept that the only way not down was up. From then on, I tried to keep someone else between me and the overlook. It's a miracle I have any photos at all. For future reference, this is about how much of a buffer zone I need between me and the edge of a mountain to safely avoid an emotional breakdown.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Monadnoc
I did eventually make it to the summit in case you're wondering, right behind the 10YO and my neighbors (including the pint-sized veteran). My reward was to nestle into the lowest spot I could find and decimate a chocolate power bar while quietly rocking. The reward for the 10YO was pool after pool of tiny tadpoles. That was a surprise! What are they doing up there on top of a mountain? I was grateful, though, because I needed a rest and the 10YO needed a psychological boost for the hike back down again, which was, in his own words, gruesome, despite taking the less steep White Cross trail.
When we got back, the neighbors made quesadillas on the camp stove and we grilled bananas with chocolate and dulce de leche over an open fire. Nothing has ever tasted so good!