Ruff Terraine

September 2013

There’s a large framed photograph on the wall next to my bed. I glance at it almost every night for a few minutes before I close my eyes. At over thirty-three inches, it’s a spectacular view from the summit of Camels Hump. There, in the center, stands Buddy on the edge of an outcrop. With eyes closed and head turned towards the afternoon sun, a steady breeze lifts his ears. He’s almost majestic really. Standing on top of Vermont’s highest peak at four thousand eighty-three feet is an experience Buddy is quite familiar with. You can see most of the Green Mountain spine, Lake Champlain and even Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Buddy and I have shared this view together at least a dozen times. My guestimate is somewhere around sixteen. But really, it doesn’t matter. Because this particular September morning was his final trip to the top of Vermont.

When Buddy and I hit our usual trailhead that morning, the fog was so dense you hardly noticed the trail in front of you. Ascending the mountain from the east, we stop around fifteen hundred feet and set up camp. As I check the time, I figure we’ve got just enough daylight to make the summit and back before dark. Without a backpack now, we clip along at a solid pace with Buddy in the lead of course. Suddenly, large pockets of blue sky appear as the valley fogs breaks up. Soon we’re looking down on a white blanket below us. Most hikers with dogs tend to stay on the Monroe trail to the summit but Buddy and I find the split-off on Alpine South more breathtaking. The howl of wind above the treetops isn’t far above us near the tree line where we meet the Long Trail. Suddenly, we’re above the treetops. It’s an exhilarating view that never gets old. The final two-tenths of a mile pass right under the spectacular cliff face of the hump itself. With Buddy in my arms, I make my way over large crevices and carry on towards the summit. Once at the top, Buddy finds a place in the sun to rest his tired legs.

Sitting beside him, I share some of my snack and water. This year Buddy seems more interested in a nap than the view, but I take it in anyways while scratching the back of his neck. His muzzle has whitened greatly since our last summit. So today, I’m going to stay a bit longer. With the late afternoon sun trying to warm my back, I recollect past hiking trips with Buddy. His pads are worn like antique leather. It’s startling really, when I think of the miles of rough terrain he’s covered. It was a perfect time to recognize how blessed I am he’s never been hurt on the trail. From several climbs up Mt. Pisgah to Clara Bow, the Long Trail, Mt. Hunger and the hump we’re sitting on now, there’s no surprise my vet says he has the heart and lungs of a much younger dog. Surely that day there must have been a few other hikers who wondered about the man with tears streaming down his face while massaging his dog, but this was Buddy’s last and I didn’t care one bit.

The setting sun behind the Adirondacks suggested an hour or so of light. Good enough reason to brush off my wanting to stay and begin the decent to our tent. We were the last ones to leave the summit that day, but still took our sweet time. The sound of his ringing bell and nails gripping the rocks soon became more apparent than the wind as we lowered into the trees.

We made it back to our tent that night by headlamp. Buddy enjoyed my sleeping bag as I enjoyed the camp fire. Later, I cuddled my snoring dog and drifted off.

The next morning Buddy and I made our way down the rest of the mountain while the sun was lifting the fog through the trees. It was a perfect final hike up the hump.

Finally at the parking lot, I loaded my pack into my truck and lifted Buddy up onto the front seat. As I backed out of my space, a Subaru wagon pulled in. Out hopped a chocolate lab puppy, anxious to get underway. I smiled as I drove off, hand on Buddy’s head. I hope that man enjoys every second of his adventures with his dog as much as I have mine.

 

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