I stood at the top of the Amonoosuc Ravine Trail, staring down at a large series of rock slabs that led the way to the base of the mountain. It was 7:15 p.m. and darkness was rapidly falling, and as I glanced at the horizon I noticed that storm clouds were rapidly approaching.
There was no time to reconsider my decision to descend the trail; I had to move. I quickly but cautiously began navigating my way down the jumbled mass of rock slabs. At times, I was forced to walk down tall, smooth slabs, and I took baby steps forward as I attempted to keep my weight leaning backward. Other times, I had to take large steps off of rock ledges that sent a wave of pain through my knee as my weight shifted downward.
But this was just the beginning. The trail had much more in store for me.
The path among the rocks soon weaved its way next to a waterfall, a pretty sight to be sure, but something that made some of the rocks slick and added a new element of danger. I now fought not only gravity but a loss of traction as I skidded down the wet rocks. The trail navigated along the waterfall a considerable distance, until the trail abruptly reached an impasse and the only opening was through the waterfall itself.
I wondered whether I had made a wrong turn, until I saw a sign on the other side of the cascade indicating that the trail turned left. I squinted to see the bare marking of a path where the rock slab ended and small trees began, and I was relieved to conclude that at least I would be embarking on a real path after crossing through the cascading water. There was no way to rock-hop or avoid the water as it ran down a smooth rock slab, so I simply plunged my boots into the water and headed forward. When I reached the other side, I saw to my dismay that the trail did not lead into the woods after all. I looked at the sign again, and it was then that it hit me; I was supposed to descend the waterfall itself. So I walked back out onto the rock slab, with water drenching my boots, and began inching my way downward. I cursed the person who had routed the trail through here, and I stumbled and began sliding several times only to be saved by my balance and sheer luck.
Finally, the trail entered the woods; it had seemed like forever since my feet had landed upon something other than sheer rock.
But now it was dark.
As I put my headlamp on, I felt water not on my boots but from above. It had begun raining. ‘Well, at least I’m back in the woods,’ I thought.
But it was not to be. The trail soon revisited the open rock slabs with cascading water, and when I wasn’t descending these treacherous areas I was taking long, arduous steps down jumbled masses of broken rock. My knees cried out for relief as I agonizingly made my way downward along the rocks, wet with spray from the cascade but now even more wet from the rain.
After what seemed like forever the trail finally left the rock slabs and remained in the forest, and I followed a path that was not a dirt trail but rather a long series of roots, muck, and broken rocks that never strayed far from the cascade. I lost the trail several times, searching desperately among the much belong me for some indication of a trail, before eventually taking a leap of faith and heading in the direction my instincts thought best. Every now and then I would see a wooden plank or bog bridge, which confirmed that I was in fact on the trail even if the terrain itself gave no outward indications. I constantly feared that I would lose the trail and become disoriented, and in a way the cascade which made the trail so treacherous to descend became a security blanket to which I desperately clung.
The noise from the cascade was so loud that I worried about startling a bear; although I clicked my trekking poles frequently to warn of my presence, I knew the falling water drowned out all sound. I cast the beam of my headlamp desperately across the terrain in the hope that I would spot a bear well before I happened upon it. The last time I wanted to do was inadvertently get too close to a cub in the dark.
But soon the trail spit me out into a large open area, and the nightmarish descent was over. As I cradled myself in a space blanket while I waited for my wife to pick me up, I cast my gaze back upon the dark, foreboding woods from which I had emerged with a newfound sense of gratitude.