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Travelogue F22

August 25, 2015

The tablelands in particular bear note for their uniformity as well as the uncanny green hue of the stones and outcroppings, only lichen and dwarf grass alive at this elevation and barely so at that. A general green haze pervades the heights, and, once loosed from path’s bounds, the lost are swallowed up therein. To this disorienting effect added our inability to narrow Thoreau Spring down to one of the surrounding rivulets disappearing beneath sand and loose rock, whatever aid the metal plaque might afford.

After reaching Baxter Peak and posing, my companion and I made our way to the Knife Edge, a surprisingly thin ridge linking other of Katahdin’s peaks, a notion which I had considerable difficulty explaining to my fellow traveller, a plainsman otherwise unfamiliar with mountain morphology. As to the Knife Edge, our attitudes toward the trail, if it can so be called, given its treacherous rock scrambles bounded by sheer drops, displayed again that remarkable inversion on which I have earlier remarked. For, in painting an image of the peak for him, I had touted the qualities of the Knife Edge, about which he had expressed some apprehension. Now faced with the ridge in the flesh, stone-cased as it were, it was not he who was cowed but myself and wished to turn around.

In vain, I recalled the importance of fixing a turnabout time, in this as in all things, that point beyond which, no matter one’s efforts, one is unlikely to progress. But my companion bounded off, and I scurried after, his short leaps and determined scrambling soon leaving me behind, some fifteen or twenty meters. Yet, when turning back and faced with the downhill return, our positions again reversed. Now, his heart drummed against his chest, or so he assured me, but not my own as we leaned into a wall opposite the empty air. I have wondered at this for some time, unable to puzzle out just how our affects might be so inversely tied, forever to mirror one another.

As has been remarked by others, the descent is significantly harder than the ascent. For the entirety of the slope comes into view, and handholds for climbing a rockface disappear with the change in perspective. Perhaps Heraclitus had it wrong: the way up is (not) the way down. Fatigue and apprehension gesture indirectly at the main problem behind it all, namely that descending is a matter of controlling how swiftly one falls down the mountain. This knowledge, far from facilitating the task, renders it rather more difficult. To the reign of gravity are all beholden, regardless of their knowledge or willing or unwilling ignorance. Mountains were no simpler before Newton than after.

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