In summer of my ninth year, a friend, Peter Armstrong, came to the rescue during a domestically turbulent time and invited me to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and to Mt. Chocoura. His uncle, Fr. Bill, drove us there and let us ascend to the summit alone to then bed at Jim Liberty cabin on the tree line south of the summit while he stayed behind at the Piper Lean-to half way along the Piper Trail ascent. Now it was just us three boys: Peter, Robert and myself, making silly noises and cracking senseless jokes all the way up the mountain. Then Robert bolted ahead of us to beat us to the top. A small white cumulous cloud was headed straight for him and Pete yelled, “Look out for cloud nine!” For the first time since a beyond magnificent age five experience, I was full of joy and laughter. We then ascended the upper end of the story book-view laden Piper Trail in the alpine zone.
At eight-tenths of the climb, the spruce/fir blanket opened into a wonderworld of a rock garden with a Matterhorn-like acent to the top. We congregated on its pinnicle summit with completely unobstructed view of the Earth below for the rest of the afternoon until dusk--a view of the earth below that was breathtaking as were the interesting rock formations and natural spruce, heather and flower gardens directly beneath us--this stately granite pinnacle often called the Matterhorn of America. I was in absolute awe of this and all the unmolested spruce/fir forest below. This was a most special childhood experience which showed me another side of life and creation. It was beautiful, kind, exhilarating and restful. And now a strange and awesome miracle was also about to occur.
We ate a late lunch of dried fruits, oranges, beef jerky and raisins and spent hours talking and enjoying the view. A handful of hikers came and went and we conversed with them off and on through the afternoon. We decided to watch the sunset and then head directly to the Jim Liberty Cabin on the south face while there was still some light. Peter calculated we could slip over the steep south summit and drop right on Jim Liberty in a matter of twenty minutes. The alternative was to follow the trail down the west side of the summit and then follow the Weetamoo Trail looping south along the timber line which would take over an hour and a half.
We descended steeply, at times frozen in fear on near vertical granite fields (some that were wet) but managed to get up the courage (and luck) to make it further unscathed. Unbeknown to us, we had just crossed the Weetamoo and entered into thick evergreens and there was no more light. Suddenly the three of us slid on a wet spot on a vertical granite wall and fell onto a crescent shaped ledge. We were slightly banged up with skinned knees and minor abrasions, nothing serious, just scared. We looked around for a way off the ledge but found none. There was just a sheer drop into the blackness behind us and to each side of us. As our eyes adjusted, we could see for about twelve to fifteen feet and there was no place else to go except the crescent ledge we were standing on. At this point, we became terrified. It was a sheer wall at this point just below the south side of the summit without finger or toe holds to work with. There were some diagonal ripples in front of me but without enough depth to grab hold of the rock. We were trapped and doomed to fall off, get eaten by some hungry creature (so we thought in youthful fear), or just plain starve to death.
We imagined ourselves as skeletons on the ledge without anyone ever knowing where we were or what had become of us. Now we started to cry and wail. Peter suggested we kneel and pray (interestingly, the crescent ledge now seemed quite a bit wider). He prayed exclaiming, “O God, please save us!” Before he was finished there was a light which reflected on our tears and suddenly our focus was on an area to the right of the ledge. Peter felt around with a stick. Now there was a large natural granite patio we could step directly onto! It was not there moments before. We had all looked, felt and looked again. There had been nothing but a sheer drop into the night, but now there was a place to easily step onto so we just accepted it and left the crescent ledge behind! There was an indentation into the side of the mountain of about 14 feet where light seemed to completely disappear except for a dead spruce leaning almost vertically up the face in the back of the indentation which was glowing a ghostly silvery white. Directly to the right of the spruce were almost perfect granite stairs—natural yet with seemingly near perfect geometry and spacing. We followed up the steps to the tip of the spruce where the light ran out and the ground beneath us suddenly leveled off. We were back on the Weetamoo Trail. We tried to sleep there, but it was hard and rocky, spooky, and we were starting to be pelted by a light rain. So after fifteen minutes, we decided to try for the cabin. As we collected our gear, Peter noticed a dead contorted narrow tree trunk that looked exactly like a witchy/haunting bluish-silvery-gray inappropriate gesture. So Pete made the same gesture back to it and said, “Same to you.” We rolled in laughter.
It was still extremely dark and the section of trail we had yet to traverse was full of ankle killers, false keyholes and pseudo-trails which could render us injured, lost again or worse. But we seemed to glide over the trail without turning ankles or taking a wrong turn. We felt perfect peace like our steps were being guided. After about 17 minutes, the conifers opened up and there before us was a brilliant star lit sky above that went on forever. Just below us to the right was the Jim Liberty Cabin. Inviting white smoke billowed from the chimney, glistening in the star light. We were now extremely excited and thankful to God. We ran to the cabin but no one was there. “Where did the fire in the stove come from?,” we wondered. We placed a boulder against the door to keep out bears (again the childhood fear nonsense even after a miracle). And went to sleep after having chosen from among the six wood bunks inside.
Early the next morning, we awakened to the smell of bacon and powdered eggs cooking on the stove. A senior forest ranger showed up and was the acting chef. We assumed he had started a new fire after gathering his own wood. But then he asked us, “How long has this fire been burning?” Peter replied, “All night.” The ranger noticed there were four large oak logs in the stove. “Did you carry those oak logs up the mountain?” he asked. Then Peter said, “No, the fire was going when we got here last night.” “That’s odd,” said the ranger, “The only signs of human traffic for the last four days near the cabin are from you three boys and oak does not grow up here.” The next possibility is beech, but it is not found above 1,300 ft. and we were at approximately 3,000 ft. The predominant trees there are balsam fir, white and black spruce, paper birch, mountain maple and showy mountain ash not of any great size and none of these could account for the breadth and density of the logs in the stove.
Breakfast was delicious and we thanked the ranger for looking after us. When I stepped out onto my beloved and large granite patio vista in front of the cabin, I witnessed the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen. Each of the millions of dew drops on the earth’s carpet of firs had its own rainbow—each uniquely inspiring and collectively beyond the brilliance and worth of diamonds. Needless to say, I did not want to say goodbye to this mystical home of Chief Chocorua and Holy Mountain of the Great Spirit.