The day after Easter in 2007, Flammeus and I chose Kaaterskill High Peak to hike for the list. God knows why. We were newbies at this, making mistakes and summiting by accident half the time. I was probably wearing sneakers that day, or something equally ridiculous, and was still using my pink bookbag instead of a pack.
Crisp ice and crunchy puddles made our footfalls noisy for the first half mile or so. We chatted and held hands where the trails was wide enough, still riding the weekend high: Easter Sunday happened to be my birthday and we had celebrated by staying in an delightfully quirky bed and breakfast in Delaware County and hiking Mount Utsayantha in a veritable blizzard. We were still “just dating” and this was a stolen Monday – a rare treat both in terms of being out in the woods and being together.
At the trail junction we came upon a pair of hikers switching footgear. They had just come down from the top and were removing their crampons. I’d never seen crampons before, but I played it cool and just said hello. Then it happened. The woman looked me up and down and her first words were: “You will not make it to the top,” uttered in an outrageous French accent.
Well, them’s fightin’ words fer sure, but I held back. I smiled saccharinely and offered her an opportunity to start over. “My name is Heather, and this is Tom,” I replied shoving my hand out.
“You do not have crampons. You will not make it to the top,” she sniffed. “It is a bushwack.”
“That’s ok,” I countered, remembering to take a deep breath before speaking. “We’ve done a few bushwacks before. I think we’ll be fine.” I was using my Jedi mind trick voice, sending her the “case-closed, stop challenging me” vibe.
“Which ones?” she demanded. Christ, she was relentless. I rattled off a short list of accomplishments (probably half of them lies) and she tore them apart. “Those are nothing. Easy,” she spat the word at me. “You do not have crampons. You will not make it to the top.”
Remember in the Saturday morning cartoons when Elmer Fudd gets thwarted one time too many and a siren goes off and red climbs up his neck and steam comes out of his ears? Tom was trying hard not to laugh, knowing how enraged I was and not knowing what would happen next. Thankfully, she stormed off at that point, uninterested in my fury.
“It’s pretty icy up there,” her male companion offered, “but you might be able to kind of go around the ice. Go off the trail into the snow and you’ll probably be ok.”
Tom kept stealing glances at me, amazed that I hadn’t leapt at that woman, tackled her, and beaten her about the head and shoulders with her own crampons. I’m not typically violent, but I’m also not typically challenged. Anyway, it was probably a full thirty seconds before I broke into a tirade.
“That god-damned, know-it-all …” I kept the name calling epithets coming thick and fast until we rounded the curve, saw the cairn, and started up. Then I shut up, at least briefly.
It was steep. It was not icy. Icy would describe a slope that had ice on it. What we faced was a vertical sheet of ice several feet thick. It resembled a frozen waterfall that had melted and refrozen enough times to be as slick as a freshly zamboni’d rink. Gulp. Tom gave me a questioning look and I unleashed another barrage of invective against the cramponfreak, and plunged in.
Tom followed me. Progress was incredibly slow. I used my fingernails and sheer ill will to inch my way up that damn sheet of ice. Clinging to saplings, tufts of dead grass, whatever we could grab that was poking out of the ice, we attempted to grow suction cups on out fingertips and continue up. We’d been at it for what felt like forever – maybe made it a third of a mile – when we gave up. It really was impossible and stupid and although I was loath to admit it, dangerous.
We turned around, sat down, and slid back down on our butts, hootin’ and a hollerin’ as loudly as possible. Kinda like sledding only without a sled, in the middle of the woods, I’m guessing for about a quarter of a mile. I hoped that lady could hear me cackling and I hoped it bothered her.
With melted ice to darken our backsides, we strolled back down. Every so often, just when Tom thought I’d let it go, I’d dive in again with another colorful tirade. I used terms that would have made a drunken truck-driving son of a sailor blush. I insulted her stature, her accent, her parentage, her age, her skin color, her hairstyle, her hygiene, and a few even less politically correct attributes. I no longer cared about her or her [expletive deleted] predictions – I was just enjoying making Tom laugh. If I couldn’t check off the peak today, well at least I could invent a new competition – the insultathon. And hey, what a surprise – I came in first!
Funny how memory works. The “successful” hike of KHP was a whole lot less memorable. Even finding pieces of the wreckage of one of the airplane crashes on that mountain didn’t compare with our train wreck of a hike and my failure to exercise any verbal self control. Whenever Tom wants to really get me motivated, he just murmurs “you will not make it to the top.” Once I finish a new round of verbal slicing and dicing, I’m ready to take on whatever lies ahead. And yes, now I do own crampons.