This Will Do: Scaling Erebus
“Maggie! Come! Maggie!! Heel!”
Sixty pounds of crazed English Springer Spaniel crash through the thick underbrush toward me.
“Stay with me.”
I stop walking, take a look at the trail, and realize that something is wrong. I should be going up, but I’ve been headed down hill for too long. Shoot. I was following the dog rather than the trail markers. Sometimes when I hike I space out a bit.
An old galvanized pipe running along the side of the trail is the giveaway. Come to think of it, this really isn’t a trail. It’s one of the old Shelving Rock logging roads built by the Knapp family’s team of workmen around the turn of the century. A nice place to walk, but it’s not where I want to be now. I should be on a skinny track. And I should be heading northeast, not south. I glance at my GPS, note the distance travelled so far and turn around. Now I’m heading uphill, hopefully in the right direction.
Before the dog and daydreaming sidetracked me, I was headed to the top of Erebus Mountain on the east side of Lake George. Erebus – pronounced “air-a-bus”, if you don’t know it, is the mountain directly south of Black.
I’m on this mountainside for the first time for many reasons. I haven’t climbed it (gotta check it off the list). I have free morning to myself (a rarity), I need the exercise (desperately) – oh, and my brother-in-law Chris was here last weekend and said it was the “Hike from Hell. “ (How could I resist?)
Speaking of Hell – in Greek mythology, Erebus was the son of the god Chaos – and his name has since been associated with darkness and an awful piece of dark terrain somewhere between Hades and the surface of the earth. It’s the place the dead had to slog through on their journey to Hell. Perfect for a leisurely hike, right?
Who ever named this place got it right – although this untamed forest is beautiful – where I stand now is buggier, rockier, wetter, more overgrown and darker than anywhere else on the east shore. It’s a bit scary, and definitely lonely. And I’m certain that Chaos himself designed the poorly marked trail system that radiates like a misshapen spider web all over this mountain range.
About ten minutes after doubling back we reach the junction that I missed earlier. A glance at the GPS tells me I’ve covered six tenths of a mile since my turn around –that’s 1.2 miles of extra walking. Oh Hell.
“C’mon dog. This way.”
A faded marker pointing east and uphill indicates the way to the top and we head off up the much steeper, narrower trail.
For the better part of an hour and a half we walk through dense forest where high underbrush obscures the lightly travelled trail. As I plod along the feeling that I am going in the wrong direction creeps into my consciousness again. Up here the path is less apparent than it was previously. I realize that I am descending again. No good. Did I pass the summit? There certainly were no markers at the apex. I turn around and monitor the altimeter on the GPS. Backtracking, I gain a few hundred feet of elevation and hit a point that seems to be the highest spot on the trail. I’ve reached the summit! I think.
Looking around there’s nothing but trees. No view. No gorgeous panorama of Lake George to the west and Champlain to the east as there is on Black Mountain. Just trees, a panting dog, and blood trickling down my legs from all the scratches I’ve collected on the way up.
“This is it? Maggie… What… The…Hell…”
It’s a bit of a let down.
Glancing to the east I see that there is more land rising above me – by land I mean a lot of rock and more thick tree cover. There’s probably a way up there, a way to reach the real summit, but I’m done. I can’t risk bush whacking to the top alone. Twenty years ago, maybe, but now I just want to get out of here, and get to the bottom.
Heading back I wander off the trail at least three more times. A blister the size of a quarter forms on my heel. Even on the way down Erebus manages to confound me – I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything less from the son of Chaos.