Rain that feels like a hailstorm, gods throwing pebbles onto the tin sounding board of the leaky cap of the truck. Rain that in a poem would lull me to sleep, but here, alone, at 12,000 feet in the bowl of unknown mountains, will do nothing but keep me awake, or half-dreaming.
Dreaming that rangers will find that I paid only the $3 daily fee, not the $7 camping fee, and they will come knocking on the truck at three in the morning with their ghetto-quelling flashlights, they will mockingly demand that I open up to account for my sins, they will turn out to be bears and I will be trapped in my sodden sleeping-bag in the bed of my truck by green tunic-wearing Smokeys, intent on human flesh.
Dreams that I will wake from to find that the slight slope I parked on (I couldn’t find a flat spot; indeed, I never can) has become the Lhotse Face, and the truck has slipped out of gear, loosened the handbrake, rolled over the rocks I put down as chocks, and is making for the stream at the bottom of the slope: I will be trapped in my sleeping bag (sodden, of course), bouncing like an unwilling lemming borne aloft by suicidal mates heading for the water.
I will wake to find myself looking up into the faces of mocking English school-children gathered at the bus-stop... wait, that’s another dream from long ago and far away.
Always, the first night camping—or, indeed, any night camping alone—inspires with me dread. I cannot explain it. I am 31 years old, and should be over this shit.
Two hours later—maybe 11 o’clock, and the drumming at last gives way to the soft brushing of the whisk (or whatever it is that drummers use to make the swishing, shuffling beat), and, finally, to silence. Meanwhile, the urge to pee is finally too much for me. I climb out of my sleeping bag, pry open the tailgate and crawl out onto it. Kneeling, I peer up around the glass, and every horizon is visible, some 2500 feet above and around me. The dark ridges are again clearly outlined against the white gruel of clouds.
The drumming-become-silence of now-accustomed rain has been usurped by the single sound that it concealed. Wind. Wind whistling along the ridge-tops surrounding this bowl, and rushing up and down the treeless slopes.
Snow patches lie streaks of paint against the darkness. Across the inky flatness of the lake, a particularly luminous patch stands out like an eye. It is a tent of another camper. Maybe he is reading himself, or writing in a journal. Here, alone in my rain-drummed truck, I think maybe there are two; they are talking, perhaps, of cabbages and kings; maybe they are making love by candlelight.
The rushing fills the basin and now distinguishes itself as two noises. One is transient, removed, and high. Like far-off traffic. That must be the wind across the top, I imagine. The other is more constant, like a generator, or a fridge. This must be the swollen creeks and rills pouring the rain off the slopes and into the lake. All will, I suppose, be revealed tomorrow.
Also, one—only one—plaintive cry. A bird call. I recognize the song, but cannot identify the bird. This late at night, it still seems to herald the dawn.
Still, no ursine rangers yet. No slipping handbrake. No landslides and death by smothering under thousands of tons of ex-hillside—another tragedy I concocted while waiting out the rain, these last couple of hours.
Maybe I am, after all, destined to see the day.
July 19, 1999 - some snapshots from on high:
—clouds whispering in ragged ranks. Erasing the world in a quiet, wet uphill motion. Glimpses of ridges and snow banks on mountainsides across the cirque, absurd in their position: mid-cloud.
—the desert top of Cameron—a pebble-strewn plain, incongruous in the cloud and snow and green below. Three pit shafts, at 14,000 feet and above. A weathered triangular stone (a claim-marker, perhaps) at the corner of an abandoned pit marked "230" over "30" to the south, and "195" over "5" to the west.
—the pleasant Kansas City couple on the top of Democrat—leapfrogging me all the circuit-round. His first fourteener, she with easy confidence. A face like Magda’s—strong, square jaw—and the physical presence of Kristen.
—water gurgling down the scree-slope; hidden by lichen-covered, sun-bleached rocks.
—the large lady with two black Labradors who appeared lost at the top of Cameron. Eager to move, but unable even to think to look at her map.
—the distant thunder booming on the approach to Lincoln, hastening the pace to Bross and down.
—the supermarket-walk pace along the high ridgeline between Cameron and Lincoln and on to Bross.
—the call of the marmot filling the V-shaped notch lined on both sides by hundreds of feet of scree.
—clouds, again, pouring up the valley to the cirque in a mass of space-filling white, then slopping over the tops of the ridges, out and up into the neighboring valleys, and leaving a few views underneath the cloud, across the cirque. Cloud-banks slipping over the saddles and ridges in a 20-foot thick rushing, wet ooze, then cresting and expanding down and up as they pour over the land, regaining their lost domain—the sky—from the upstart mountains. Hints of shapes, man-size folds of water in air, skittering up the slopes, like stragglers after a departing army. No more than optical illusions, than blear in the eye, they twisted as they climbed.