We are tired. Darkness is dropping and a deep, unsettling quiet has settled over the summit of Stairs Mountain. We worked hard to get here. Tonight is Janelle’s first time in the woods after dark, away from the security of cars, camp stores and washrooms. Exposed. Snow is coming.
Janelle is engaged, eager. She helps set up camp. She carried the tent poles up here, so she might as well be the one to assemble them. Her job was to unpack and sort our food. We had a hot dinner, and sat on the magnificent ledges of Stairs summit until the granite chilled and the sun could no longer provide any hope of warmth.
Now, Janelle begins to shiver a little and she starts to worry, the ache in her bones from the day’s hike combined with this new experience taking its toll perhaps. Meena takes her to the tent, layers her up, tucks her in her bag to show her how warm she’ll be, snow or no snow. I spend 10 minutes boiling water, which we’ll put back in our water bottles, then tuck into her bag; radiators for the night.
There’s too much to worry about on a night like this for a ten-year-old who wanted so badly to “camp out in a place where there are no bathrooms” as she said over and over in the past. So I don’t want her to have any memory except how beautiful a night on a mountain can be.
We give her attention, and talk to her about our own experiences in camp: coyotes howling us to sleep in the Grand Canyon, camping in the shadow of George Washington’s visage at Mount Rushmore, watching the moon rise over Mt. Everest in Nepal.
Finally, one last thing before we sleep. We take her out of the tent, into the darkness, out to the ledges. I hold her left hand, Meena holds her right. We stand there at 3,500 feet, three souls breathing hard into the first swirls of snow. I count to three and we all shut off our headlamps.
And as we look down across the blackness of the Dry River Wilderness at the distant lights of Jackson, twinkling like stars, I hear Janelle catch her breath. She’s never been here before, never looked down on the world from the dark, from above.
“Wow,” she whispers into the glorious, cold night.
Crawford Mountain and Stairs Mountain (10/7/12)
Heights: 3,119 and 3,463 feet
Location: South of Pinkham Notch. I-93 north to Exit 35 to Route 3 to Route 302 through Pinkham Notch.
Our trailhead: Davis Path (side trip up Mount Crawford spur) to Stairs Mountain spur.
Distance: 5.2 miles one way, including .6 up and back to Mt. Crawford.