The mountain gods are merciful today, a gift perhaps for all our hard work the weeks before.
If there is a single moment to take away from this whole journey, it is this one. We are alone, sailing along the Shelburne Moriah ridge, two travellers moving through the spectacular landscape; our breath strong, legs sure. Our stabilicers clack comfortably on the frozen granite. The wind is slight, the sky deep blue.
The girl moves ahead of me, as always, a small pink and red form. She rarely needs help with directions now. The early first hikes where she’d agonize over blazes or get frustrated at trail markers are long behind her. She sees like a hiker now. I watch her shift her poles this way or that, pausing nearly imperceptibly occasionally to seek out the next yellow slash or twist in the trail.
Above treeline, the blazes or cairns are what guide us as we wind our way toward the summit of Shelburne. The day has already been long and we both know we won’t make it back to our car before dark, but it doesn’t matter today.
We climb up a small hump and come to a vast clearing and Janelle does stop there. “Is that the summit?” she asks, pointing ahead to an outcropping maybe a quarter-mile away.
“I think so,” I say. “I’ve never been here so I don’t know if that’s a false summit or not. But it seems right.”
She shrugs. It makes no difference to her, or me, here, in this place above the clouds. She spins fully around, taking in the deep views and the soft white snow coating the pines. To our immediate west, Moriah and the Carters roll pleasantly in the shadow of the northern Presidentials.
“That’s Mount Washington,” I say and point with my walking stick to the Northeast’s highest point. The air is so clear, we can see the tips of the observatory and summit buildings glimmering like diamonds. Janelle studies Mt. Washington for a while, tilting her head as though she’s about to say something. But she keeps it inside. I wonder how long I have before we’ll be headed there. Next summer maybe?
The miles pile up, and we are fully burdened with winter gear and food. But it is also a day without worry, a day when we have come together fully, in a place that has cauterised our love of hiking and of being with each other.
We hope you enjoy the slideshow we put together to highlight this particular, wonderful hike! Join us next week for the final two vignettes of our amazing journey!
Shelburne Moriah (11/6/12)
Height: 3,735 feet
Location: Gorham. I-93 north to Exit 35 to Route 3 north to Route 115 to Route 2, through Gorham to trailhead on right.
Our trailhead: Rattle River Trail to Kenduskeag Trail to summit, out and back.
Distance: 11.2 miles.