I was going to save this for later this year, mostly because I just recently told a tale of Ridiculous Amy Hiking Stories (a.k.a., that time I climbed through the ceiling of a lava tube), but it keeps coming to mind and obviously wants to be told, so I figured I’d just get it over with and share it.
A few months after I met my now-husband, he moved with me from Florida to Arizona. We took two weeks to make the trek so we could stop in New Orleans and hike and camp our way through areas we’d never visited before. We also would get to be in Roswell, N.M., for the 50th anniversary of the infamous UFO “incident”, and that seemed like a good time.
That’s how we ended up in Big Bend National Park in Texas, in late June. It’s a beautiful place, filled with mountains, and cacti, and wildflowers and wildlife. I’d never even heard of a javelina before Big Bend, nevermind saw one. We came back to our campsite one day to discover a javelina there, and held our breath until it ran away from us.
We were experienced campers and hikers by this point, but we were not regular mountain climbers. My family growing up didn’t do much outdoor stuff, and I’d lived in South Florida since graduating college, so I didn’t have many opportunities to mountain-climb even if I’d thought about it. Emory Peak is the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains and in Big Bend, and there was a terrific switchback trail leading to the top. We armed ourselves with water and slung our camera bag over my husband’s shoulder for the climb and set out.
The climb itself was rather uneventful. The trail zig-zagged to the top and wasn’t too strenuous. I don’t recall how long it took us to climb, but it wasn’t mountain climbing inasmuch as it was upward hiking. All good. When we reached the end of the trail, however, we found ourselves at the base of a giant boulder that was the true peak of the mountain. And I mean gigantic. The side we were facing, however, seemed easy enough to climb. Little shelves all the way up to make it to the top, and it wasn’t a particularly long climb.
It was completely worth it. Another couple had scrambled to the top as well, and were sitting there, taking it all in.
The view was exquisite, uninterrupted in every direction. We looked down at the United States and at Mexico – all that wilderness and desert. The wind was blowing, but it was more a strong breeze than anything else. The thing I remember most about the peak? The butterflies. There were so many butterflies. They fluttered around us, checking out the sparse vegetation that had forced its way through the rocky ground and brought nature through the barren stone.
They fluttered. The breeze blew. No one spoke. The butterflies were everywhere. Truthfully, it was magical.
At some point – it may have been after 5 minutes or 50, as time seemed to stand still there – we decided to make our way back down.
This is where things went … awry.
We apparently didn’t start to climb down the same side we’d climbed up. In a few moments, we realized we were hanging over nothing. There was no bottom in sight – at least, none that we could see, because we quickly realized that looking down was not the best idea.
The next thing I remember about the afternoon was being back at the car. I quite literally have no memory of how we made it back. Did we climb sideways? Did we climb back up and figure out the right way to climb down? Did we somehow just climb all the way down to where there was a bottom?
I honestly can’t tell you. It was probably one of the first two options – I would like to say we climbed back up and did it right the second time, but we weren’t always known for our best decision-making abilities in these circumstances. Doesn’t really matter, though, because I have no memory of what happened.
That night, however, I discovered a bruise in the shape of a hand on my butt. I did recall at one point when, in order for me to climb down, my husband supported my rear as I let go with too many limbs. In our abject fear of death, he apparently held me so tightly that I had the only evidence of what we’d done.
I still, however, remember the quiet and the butterflies.