Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hunter Peak, Part 2 by Drew Stuart

El Capitan from Hunter Peak Trail
by Drew Stuart
Continued from yesterday's entry.....

And then, after two hours on the sharp and arid slopes, I'm at the crest of the trail, at Pine Top, some 2,500 feet above the trailhead. Another country, another world, another state. I'm at the border of another country, with another constitution, other laws and rules – gentler ones, it would seem.


I walk on through pines, and the sun shines and the yellow grass waves. Soon, I can gaze down and see it all laid out, spread out before me: to the north, clear on to the Brokeoffs, further east, the striated, carameled walls of McKittrick Canyon – but, before me, to the west, the great humps of the high ones – Shumard and Bartlett peaks. A moment of recognition – I know you! Our sense of place, our awareness of a place as home, is in many ways tied to our ability to identify the landmarks, to name what we see. Now I am seeing the backsides – the backsides to me – of Shumard Peak and Bartlett, Guadalupe Peak. The severity of the western escarpment is tempered with this view of soft and wooded folds. The cliffs' classical severity is replaced here by mousy browns and subdued grays.


These are my favorite mountains. As with the man who knows that his wife is the most beautiful woman in the world, this is not an objective matter. I've been lucky to see many mountains around the world – some higher, broader than these, with glaciers and crashing waterfalls. But glamour is not necessarily what I'm after. (As with other pairings, circumstances have a lot to do with this one – having been raised in Texas, I'm sentimentally bound to these mountains. I often can't help but feel that things in Texas have more character.) And as with another person, the truth of course is that I hardly know them, the mountains. I am grabbed by the details and expect always to be surprised.

Guadalupe Peak from Pine top
by Drew Stuart

There is a strong, steady course of wind, creating a white noise as constant as a waterfall. Wind tunnel conditions. I walk along the Bowl Trail, along the edge of a cliff, a stony path through small pines – and soon I am scrambling up the trail to Hunter Peak. There are breaks in the wall, and beyond can I see El Capitan. It is cold here – my hands go numb, and I hike now in a sweater.


The peak is ecstatic and howling – but no place to linger for long.


Descending the peak, I saunter through the gentle pines – the colors are golden and the dark, old-world green of the pines and the pale green of prickly pear and sotol. The light shines, the sun shines, and the yellow grass waves. An Elysian light.


Shumard Peak
by Drew Stuart
The idyll comes to an end, a little too quickly – I felt like I could have walked on and on, drinking in the vistas, all the way to Dog Canyon. I'm at the head of Bear Canyon, and begin a stark descent, returning to those bright and bald slopes, glinting and pitted. Down, into a dark defile, I slip, and look up to see a maple and the fall colors around me, pear and bruised apples, mottled yellows and old-wine red. I walk on in a shadowed notch, and feel the affinity with the Carlsbad Caverns, as if I'm in the caverns.


I come bombing down the mountain – hard on the knees and the foot soles – and I'm back at the trailhead, five and a half hours after I began.

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