“Shauna, let’s see if we can climb the big hill!” I race my cousin across the loping grassy knob leading to the cottage.
“You’re daft if you think our Ma’s will let us up that,” Shauna gallops behind me, close on my heels.
Our families are here on Achill for a week. Our cottage is nestled into one of the green faces of the island. The grass around our lot is well kept but up beyond it curves a ridge, wild and windswept. It’s hard to tell where it goes. It seems to loom upward for ages.
“Come on! Let’s just ask!” I yank open the screen door, Shauna nearly crashing into me.
It takes several long rounds of extensive pleading, but finally they concede. It is decided that Shauna and I can venture up the hill, so long as some adults come with us.
So, we depart; two twelve year olds and three women: my mom, Aunt Joanne and Aunt Siobhan.
Even in July, it’s only 20 degrees. The wind is tangy with brine, stinging our eyes and noses. The skies are blue in every direction, sunshine making the water iridescent. Waves pound the rocky shorelines. We leave them behind as we climb.
Shauna and I bound ahead, giggling and tripping our way up the slopes. We can hear the women behind us, their words tossed by the breeze.
It gets rockier the higher we go, thick tufts of grass dotting the cool stone.
My cousin and I charge forward, intent upon showing our speed and finesse. We will get to the top first. We will beat them.
There comes a string of swear words behind us and we halt in our tracks. Joanne has slid sideways down a steep hump. She struggles back to her feet, laughing and cursing.
“Your butt is wet!” Shauna squeals. We collapse in a fit of giggles.
“You know, I think this is Croaghaun.” Siobhan is struggling to catch her breath. “How much farther is it, girls?”
I dart a look ahead. “I dunno. Can’t see that far.”
“Siobhan!” my mom tries to look disproving but her mouth twitches.
“I think we’re in over our heads here,” Siobhan replies, waiting on Joanne. “I’m pretty sure we’re on Croaghaun.”
“We can’t go back now!” moans Shauna. “I bet we’re almost to the top!”
We are not almost to the top.
Here’s the thing about Croaghaun Mountain — it is shaped like the sloping back of a whale. When you’re at its feet, it’s hard to understand just how far it goes.
We climb for hours. Shauna and I are so spent that we’re barely leading now. We scramble on hands and knees up rocky outcrops and grassy crags. The wind buffets us, unsteadying our footsteps and turning our hair wild.
When we crest the final brow, the sun is setting. We are deposited, panting, bruised and muddied at the peak of Croaghaun.
Shauna and I wander to the edge of the rock. It’s as if the whole other half of the mountain has been cleaved away. Before us yawn sheer cliffs that descend straight to the rocky sea below. But not before cupping a small, pristine lake to its side as if wrapping its fingers around a warm mug of tea.
We gasp. The women join us.
“Look at that lake down there! It’s so beautiful!”
It is a secret you would never know. Not unless you climbed to this place; to this exact spot.
We disperse a little, each lost to the magic of it. The sun sets before us, turning the sky and water crimson. Jagged rock rings the lake before running itself out to sea. Waves froth and roar against the cliffs. There is nothing but salt air and the wind whipping our faces.
A short time later, my mom says that if we don’t leave now, we’ll be sliding down this mountain in utter darkness. We don’t have anything with us. This could get dangerous very quickly.
We slip and scramble down the mountain with a fevered sort of exhilaration. The beauty of the place, the race against the setting sun, it sets our feet racing and our hearts pounding.
By the time we return to the cottage, dusk has fallen and the stars are emerging.
“Where on earth have you been?” Uncle John is incredulous. A pot of soup is on the stove, grilled cheese sandwiches in the pan. We are bedraggled and full of laughter.
“Oh,” Siobhan grins wickedly. “Just climbin’ a mountain.”
Shannon Terrell is a writer based in Toronto, Canada. You can usually find her exploring with little to no sleep and an excess of curiosity. She loves words. Especially when she gets to put them together herself.