This is it.  We were at the end of the road and were going to climb a goddamn mountain.  Not rock climbing or anything like that - there are trails, so how hard could it be?

The answer, of course, is really goddamn hard.  And really goddamn worth it.  The seven of us picked our mountain by pointing a finger and saying "that one."  We picked our trail by looking at a ridge and guessing that other people would have gone that way.  Perhaps we were being stupid.  Soon we'd find out.

The first climb was the hardest.  No trail yet, just shoulder-high plants and a steep incline.  I shouldered my pack and started pushing through the grass and flowers.  After awhile I heard voices telling me to wait up.  I was too excited, pushing too hard.  At that pace I'd never make it to the top.  After another while we made it to the crest of the ridge, found a trail.

Following the trail was difficult.  There are other people around, and after the solitude of the campsite we weren't really in the mood to see anyone but each other.  I was astounded by how badass these people were.  Some of them were biking up the mountain and had calf muscles the size of watermelons.  Or thereabouts.  Across the valley I could see the aspen leaves glimmering in huge waves from green to silver as the wind came through.  Trees don't do that back home.

Halfway up we came across a huge gulf, complete with waterfall and overhanging trees that I was sure were going to fall down into the water.  Their trunks jutted out like the jaws of truculent statesmen.  Nicole scrambled out on one and hung there, suspended over an immense space.

Someone took a photo.  I wish I had that picture now.

We didn't make it to the top.  Somewhere in the climb the final summit became unimportant.  We contented ourselves with the first summit, where a couple of bikers were toking up before their trip down.  Smoking pot before biking down a mountain is a bad idea, but they were going to be in front of us so it didn't matter too much.  Maybe we'd come across them later.  Hopefully not dead.

Going back down a mountain is sad.  Even the anticipation of my sleeping bag wasn't enough to make the experience completely un-tragic.  But at least I could say I climbed a mountain.  Kind of.

I.  II.  III.  IV.