The long, tough climb

It was almost seven Sunday morning the sixth of May. I found myself almost at the bottom of a bad situation.

I was looking at a steep hill I’d obligated to climb. Bernie and Chris, my loyal dogs, were already lost from sight. They had no problem dashing up the mountain.

I lacked their agility. I lacked their stamina. My seventy-nine years lacked their teenage strength.

Friend Robi invited me to bring my two dogs and together with her four dogs; we would go for a walk. We had done this before, so I presumed we would be following the same route.

That route was strolling down the streets of Yarnell, Arizona. Yarnell is a very small community located nearly on top of a 6,000-foot mountain. The air is clean and fresh mesquite smelling.

It’s also the area where, on June 30, 2013, a 3,000-degree firestorm took the lives of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot Crew. They were specially-trained wildfire firefighters.

Although vegetation is returning, blackened trees are silent, grim reminders. That is where I was standing. I wasn’t on the road. Within minutes of starting, Robi and the six dogs were out of sight. I stared at the twisted trail of some scrub brush but mostly small rocks, a thin gully surrounded by odd-shaped and sized boulders.

Everything was slanted up. I faced a vertical wall. Okay, it wasn’t entirely vertical, but it sure wasn’t level. I wobbled just trying to walk over the uneven ground. I needed support sticks.

I was in luck, though I had to work at it. I moved off the path toward a fire-blackened mesquite tree and snapped off two branches. I used them as supports as I carefully planted my feet while I struggled upward.

More than sixty years ago I enjoyed hiking New York terrain. There were hills and mountains. But not like this. Those were fairly gentle, or perhaps my youth imagined them to be.

As I struggled ever upward, I felt pretty good. I wasn’t winded. I wasn’t dizzy. I was just extremely slow. Nothing goes uphill forever. I came to a small meadow. It was a fairly flat spot with sand and scrub grass instead of rocks. I needed that to keep me going. I was alone. My loyal dogs had left me. There was no dog barking sound. I wasn’t afraid of getting lost. For all my effort, I’d probably advanced less than a half-mile. There was plenty of daylight, and the trail was plain… it was just going to be a steep decline back.

As I continued plodding along, Chris reappeared. The other dogs quickly followed, and Robi brought up the rear. I bravely puffed out my chest, waved both charred sticks and managed to make some inane comment; I don’t recall what.

The idiot that I am remarked what a great time I’d been having. In truth… I did have a great time. So much so, as soon as I got back home, I ordered some climbing sticks.

Sunday, we tackle that mountain again. Now, I’m prepared!

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