The sun sets early these days, prior to eight -- and in these mountains, nestled among the shade and the ferns, so much quicker still.
Last night was a new lesson in this reality, when, scaling a mountain prior to sunset, I had to retreat prematurely, and found myself plunged in darkness by the time I reached my vehicle. a sneaky surprise, its newfound quickness -- so today, I start early and vow to complete a massive loop without being caught without a light again.
I leave the peak just moments after getting an earful of two fitness junkies talking workout regiments, their lack of love for eating, and one's urgent-but-not-that-urgent need to poo. These two boy toys -- all lean muscle and no concern for who is within earshot... I find myself conflicted -- both respecting their blandness and being confused about whether or not I respect their blandness. #youdoyou guys, I guess?
The path descending the peak forks in two directions. I choose the narrow one-way path to the main trailhead. In the distance is a white-haired, heavy-set old man, halted mid-path. With nowhere to go but cross, I put on my mask, stand to the side, and urge him to pass. To my surprise, he asks me if the ascending direction from which I came is in fact the descending direction, and it soon becomes apparent that he is lost, even with his phone and map in hand. I move closer to show him my map, trying not to breathe in his unmasked breath, and convince him to turn back around.
"From whence ye came!" I might have said in another time -- but silent, I trail behind him as he leads. We are headed to the same place -- but had I not chanced to intercept him, it is possible he might have found himself exiting on the entirely other side of the mountain.
Eventually, he stops to wait for me and double-check if the trail is in fact the right way to the trailhead. I confirm, and then forge ahead past him, for he has moved unsteadily this whole time. Not in the frail or sick way, but in the overworked way, and I, semi-young bones and all, need to move faster.
With a distance of nearly 3 miles and only little leaks of sunlight left yet, I worry!!! But I wish him "good luck," furrowing a brow at my own words as I utter them, and pass anyway. Strange, I think -- and thanks, he responds, perhaps finding my warning a bit strange or ominous as well.
To make time, I run partway down the path, hideously flailing. In parts, the trail is bald, and it is steep, and I nearly fall a few times. I wonder if I should stop and turn around -- walk back fifty to two hundred or maybe even five hundred paces to fetch him -- and execute one of many fantasy scenarios:
Might I caravan down with him?
But he is a stranger.
Might I warn him to pick up a big stick to steady himself on the steep trails?
But that feels extraneous.
Might I ask him to give me his number so I can check in on him afterwards?
But who does that...
Is this how people get lost on mountaintops after dark?
And despite thinking all this...
I leave him.
And even with my half-skip-running and directional wherewithall, I just barely descend with enough light to feel comfortable. Only two cars left in the parking lot -- so because I might wonder about his safety forever but don't wish to wait, I leave him this note.