High on Life


BEGINNING INNOCENTLY, like most White Mountain trails, it tramps over springy forest bottom for half a mile. Then, of course, it turns up. For an hour it climbs through woods, at first with just enough grade for some huffing and puffing, but soon roots across the path become ladders, and branches by the side turn into railings.

We gain most of our altitude before we get to the tree line, but the climbing doesn't get any easier. The sun heats the rock, and soon two layers are knotted around our waists and even the t-shirts are clingy with sweat. Past the sign that appears around the perimeter of the Presidentials, the one that says we're entering the region with the worst weather in the continental 48, the one that says turn back if the weather isn't real good, the one that says people have died up here, even in summer. It's high enough now that we can see down into the valleys, see as far as the parking lot, and think how far we've come.

But there's plenty of climb left, for these ridges tend to bump along, one false summit after another. Oh, another couple of hundred yards, oh, another 40 yards, oh (giggle), another quarter-mile. The real top is obvious; there are lots of people up there eating lunch. The wind picks up a little, cooling the sweat on our backs, and we add a layer or two. And when we get up there, we are pretty quiet, part tired, and part too busy with all the looking around in awe that occupies one on the tops of mountains. Mt. Jefferson, perched between Mt. Adams and Mt. Washington on top of the Northeast. There's nothing to block the view; the world is a great dome with the Connecticut and the Androscoggin running fast and white at its edges. Five thousand, five hundred and seventeen feet below.

And up puffs a bearded, slightly paunchy fellow in a yellow t-shirt. He reaches the cairn that marks the top, looks around for a few seconds, then squats and pulls a joint out of his pocket. And asks, pleasantly, "Wanna get high?"


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