I woke up on a tiny rocky ledge overlooking a sunrise. The air was almost-pleasant in its coldness, the rocks had made me aware of specific parts of my back, and I blinked through the haze in my eyes at the upside-down wash of peachy colors and layers of increasingly distant blue mountains like fragile tissue paper cutouts. I righted myself, navigating Westy’s elbows. The clouds pooled thickly in the valley.
We stayed half-in sleeping bags eating sourdough English muffins in unsatisfying partial warmth and stretching out for just a moment the limited respite of the night before. Soon, though, we had to move, mechanically put on harnesses, and rappel back to the snow. Leaning off ledges with a backpack on felt unbalanced and unfamiliar to me, and I kept reminding myself through my sleepiness that I was doing everything right. The clouds moved, and the sun came out, was obscured by a peak, came out again.
The light was still tender and pastel when he ran off down the hill to go to work and I descended more carefully in the slushy snow with a satisfying frozen layer on top. I traversed past a lake, just starting to sparkle in the sun, and used some nearly buried trees as handholds, making my hands slightly sticky and piney-smelling. I was then in the forest, where there was less light and the trail was well maintained. I spaced out, inhabiting the foggy hollow in my head where coffee was supposed to have gone.
Right after I got to my car, I got coffee a very short drive from the trailhead and slowly chewed a bagel. I drove down a lush forest road for a half hour in the still-morning light. I lingered sleepily in the parking lot, remembering a collage of stars and waking up and conversations and wondering if I’d really slept.
I started down the lesser-used trail and waited for my legs to adjust to big steps up. Climbing the hill I alternated between listening to music and the birds. When I first emerged from the woods, I could only see a few feet of dull talus in front of me.
The fog became less wet and more like cotton balls as I started to encounter wet and subdued-looking bear grass and Indian paintbrushes. I clambered onto the summit rocks and could see nothing. I sat for a few minutes reading the summit register and the winding ridge of lichen covered rocks emerged a bit from the fluff. The fog was even more wispy but also greyer and moody now.
I picked my way along the ridge to the second peak, catching through the fog glances of highway or distant rocks or snowy peaks just melting out. After the second peak, the scrambling required more thought. Sometimes my hands touched wet rock, sometimes it was warm. I tried either side of the ridge when it started to get dicey and eventually found myself more in the forest, unable to find a good way to stay close to the ridge. I eventually gave up on regaining the altitude and followed a creek.
At first it was a loud bubbling waterfall, but eventually it became a trickle I could just barely hear beneath mossy rocks and branches. It led to a field of big boulders covered in geometric, sickly green lichen. I hopped between these, looking up for the occasionally visible sun, towards a small lake. Near the lake I encountered another faint trail.
I ran a bit down the snaking overgrown path. Wet plants brushed my legs and the ground was springy with moss and pine needles. Eventually I came to an intersection and started climbing a roadlike trail. It was reddish dirt and rock. The fog resumed its attack with renewed energy, so I thought some large rocks were people but still saw no one. At the top, I ate some fish and stared off the cliff into totally blank white. The air was almost exactly room temperature.
I wandered through the forest trying to find the route, balancing on dark wet logs with my arms stretched out to the sides like a child. I tried to descend some cliffs that turned out to be unsafe. My hands were totally covered in dark dirt. The last peak came into view out of a halo of fog, craggy and steep looking, but so close. I didn’t have time to keep getting lost though. I went back and ran whatever direction seemed the most downhill, laughing by myself until I was within earshot of some boulderers at a nearby crag. I thought I might as well ask them for a ride back to my car. Their dog ran to me, jingling and colliding with my knees.