The drive up was more peaceful than usual. The morning commute was mostly dark but as we were driving down US 302 the sun began to rise. This ride is famous for its direct route across the White Mountains with peaks on both sides towering over you. As the sun started to wake, it illuminated the peak just ahead of us with a bright pinkish orange color, and while the others were still hidden in the morning’s night, their silhouettes made for a serene contrast.
We started the hike at Glen Ellis Falls via the Wildcat Ridge Trail, which was soon regretted just minutes in. The trail starts off remarkably precipitous, rocky, and harsh. Within moments we were walking on a ledge with a drop off to the left, which typically wouldn’t bother me but the random ice patches undoubtingly had my nerves acting up. Although, ledge walking was nothing compared to the monstrous chimney (two vertical rock walls at an acute angle) we came across about 15 minutes into the hike. We had two choices; either scramble our way up and over or head back. Without even having a chance to ponder the options Cullen was already making his approach up. I quickly followed and when it became too challenging for him and he became unclear of what move to make next I was right there guiding him up. I was telling him to stay when it was too unsafe so I could catch up and help him the next few feet, having to be extremely cautious because one wrong move could send either of us off the cliff just a few feet to the left.
Slowly and safely we made it to the top, and as we continued our hike we came across an open cliff with an exceptional outlook. However, as I approached the cliff, Cull was nowhere to be seen. I called his name, which usually he appears so rapidly it’s like a magic trick. I called again, and again my voice getting more and more frantic fearing that he had slipped on the ice at the edge of the cliff. Moments later he appeared running top speeds down the trail to get to me. He then did something he has never done for me on any of our hikes. As I dropped to the ground, half of the reason was due to my relief; he jumped at me placing his tiny paws on my shoulders and started to smother me with kisses. I swear he could tell the panic in my voice and how uneasy I felt about this treacherous climb we were on. His paws stayed on my shoulders and his head was now pressed against mine, comforting me as I sat and welcomed the view of Mt. Washington. The peak was completely controlling the view once again, but this time the view was completely snow capped. The mountain wearing the snow as a crown establishing the dominance it has over the other mountains in the presidential range.
From that point on Cullen’s attitude changed. His guard was up and he didn’t want to leave my side. As we pressed on, he constantly would look back at me or stop to check in, not leaving me until I gave him a pat and told him I was okay. The hike was nothing more than a series of steep inclines and declines with some serious ice making it tricky for me to navigate my way safely. Most of the time I would just follow Cullen’s lead and he would present to me the safest way up or down, however there were times when my assistance was needed and I did the same for him.
As we approached the summit of Wildcat D, the sun was shining and bright, and I felt its warmth cut through the harsh cold winds this peak was famous for. We took shelter from the wind behind a tractor as we shared some lunch. I quickly made the decision to cut the hike sort and make our way down the ski trails. Descending the same way we came would have been a gamble I would have not wanted to take for either of us. Cullen’s friendship is one of the greatest gifts in my life and I will never take advantage of his love and dedication for me by having him push himself to the point of getting hurt.
The trails on the way down were much calmer than the one we had ascended. Some of the trails were covered in hardened snow. Without even thinking I grabbed Cullen and began to slide down the slope on my butt just like a young, innocent child after a snowstorm. However, that lasted only moments and then we were back to using our legs. As we reached the base I knew we had about another two miles of road walking back to the car.
As we walked I realized that the mountain we just hiked was a lot like living life. There will always be challenges, a series of ups and downs with some slippery spots and the only way to triumph over these complications is to keeping moving forward using the guidance of your loved ones. Although, there is no doubt that there will be some great views on the way up, in order to get the whole picture, to see things for what they are you must make it to the top. This is where you find out who you are and where you find the purest love from the most important ones in your life. Turning back brings to you nothing more than regret and doubt. Never question your will and the will of others; it will be the only way to reach the summit.