Take It or Leave It

Editor’s Note: Marissa Muller is a 10th grade student with a growing passion for hiking. This essay was originally a school assignment and has been edited only superficially by goEast.  

The most invigorating day of my life was August 20th, 2015, the 80-degree summer day when I saw snow fall.

I was visiting my dad in Boston a few years back, and he wanted to take me on an adventure for the day. We decided we wanted to try none other than Mount Washington, the highest East Coast peak. Before we embarked, we first had to prepare. We needed just the essentials: water, food, and first aid. We were prepared mentally, but physically, I knew I was far from it. I had no clue what to expect.

Before the sun even rose, we awakened, showered, dressed, and got into the car before the clock read 6 a.m. We drove. My heart was racing as fast as the car on the long, empty highway, and the stress took over. The sound of my heartbeat echoed through my brain and made me question my decision. Before I could think twice, though, we had arrived, and there it was, towering over me. I couldn’t even see the top; the clouds had taken over. Across the parking lot, across the field, and across the gravel, the sign read: “Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail to Mt. Washington.” And, so, we walked.

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“I simply cannot tell you how many times I had stopped to catch my breath”

We traveled along a straight and flat dirt path for what seemed like forever. Then, we suddenly stopped, and my dad turned and said, “Here we go.” Those three, simple words had begun the adventure of a lifetime. We had arrived at the bottom of the monster that looked down on me from 6,000 feet up. And, so, up we went.

The steepness varied from manageable to completely unbearable. I simply cannot tell you how many times I had stopped to catch my breath and push back the tears of physical pain that found its way through my entire body: my arms, my legs, and my knees, but I never gave up. I was going to do this; I had to do this; I wanted to do this. Although difficult, it was rather satisfying and fun. Even though I longed for the top, I was really enjoying my journey there. It’s what makes it all worth it in the end.

I recognized that my pain often disappeared as we hiked, simply because of all the beauty that this monster held. Everywhere we looked, we saw life and color and nature, and I began to wonder why I feared this mountain so much, when it was really so delicate and full of life: filled with blooming trees, sparkling, clear, and rushing waterfalls, cliffs that looked out into the vast range of mountains and colorful forests, and the animals that called this place home scampering around you. I wanted to call this place home. The first half was glorious.

“Mountaintops don’t really take into account the summer months”

But, eventually we were out of the woods. I simply could not believe my eyes: Snow fell. Suddenly, I couldn’t see the bright green grass that I saw not more than 30 seconds ago; a blanket of snow engraved with hiking boot prints enveloped it. We were out in the open being tackled by the winds that challenged us to keep moving forward. We had accepted it, no doubt, but that didn’t mean we didn’t need a break. It took me a moment to realize that we were standing right outside of a wooden building that was sheltered only by a few remaining trees from the woods, the Lake of The Clouds Hut.

Normally, the Lake of The Clouds was a large pond where you could see the beautiful reflection of the overhanging clouds, but on a grey skies day, you really couldn’t see much. Mountaintops don’t really take into account the summer months, and it certainly wasn’t August up here. The snowfall now increased immensely and had begun to blanket the skies around us.

When we realized that the Lake couldn’t be seen, we went inside for a short while. It was as if we had walked right into a bakery in the middle of the North Pole: a whole new world. It was filled with never-ending cups of hot chocolate and baked goods and heaters to warm yourself up from the brisk winds outside. For a moment, I had forgotten what the day was like outside the door—a snow-filled summer day—but we had to continue on. I was looking forward to the journey to the top.

We stood, only for a moment to take it all in, and then, we went up again. Except, this time, we weren’t surrounded by a rainbow of flowers and fuzzy bunnies. We were surrounded by boulders and grey skies that only allowed a few feet of visible distance. The final chapter of this adventure consisted of a pile of boulders that finished off at the tip of the mountain. This pile wasn’t like any other, though; this one went on for days, it seemed—two treacherous miles to go to the summit.

I was doing all right for the beginning of this last leg of the journey, using my will to reach the top with the 35-mile-per hour winds physically pushing me. The only thing that verified the distance I covered were the individual rock piles marking the trail. These were called cairns.

“I had the choice to take it or leave it, and for a moment, I left it”

Suddenly, that wasn’t enough. I stopped dead in my tracks and sat down on one of those haunting rocks. I physically could not push on for the last mile, even though the summit was all I wanted. My physical state took over and shut me down. I had given up. All was over and my mind was set. I had the choice to take it or leave it, and for a moment, I left it.

I turned around to descend, but it only took about five steps for the boulders to begin to mock me. They shouted and called me a “quitter” and told me that they knew I couldn’t do it. They knew I would get so close and then give up, and for a moment, I let myself believe them. They were wrong. Something inside me sparked, and I had to prove them wrong—I had to prove myself wrong. I was going to take this. I wanted this more than anything, and I didn’t come this far to just give up when I could see the top.

I don’t know if my dad saw what I was thinking, or if he just saw the determined expression that suddenly took over my face, but when he said, “I know you can,” I suddenly knew I could. And, I would.

I could not give up. I had to push on and overcome what my body was telling me and listen to what my heart was saying. My heart wanted this. Step by step, boulder by boulder, I fought for the summit. And, finally, at last, I had made it. I had really done it. In the distance, a sign read: “Mt. Washington Summit: 6,288 ft.”

The sign itself wasn’t really anything special: It was a painted piece of wood stuck into the ground with snow lining the top. But, the fact that I had earned that piece of wood was what really mattered. Its job was to stand there and congratulate me and everyone else who longed to see it. My happiness was overwhelming. The sign wasn’t much, but it was all I wanted, and that’s exactly what I got: success in the summer snowstorm.

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