Greenleaf hut, where Elissa Ely rested after an "agonizing" hike in the White Mountains.  (Herb Swanson/Appalachian Mountain Club/AP)

Greenleaf hut, where Elissa Ely rested after an “agonizing” hike in the White Mountains. (Herb Swanson/Appalachian Mountain Club/AP)

It was one of those ambiguous experiences — not because the experience wasn’t clear, but because I wasn’t.

We had hiked three hours to the overnight hut, over hills called The Agonies. Our leg muscles had burned down to glowing embers from scrambling up boulders. A full day of scrambling down boulders and greater agonies lay ahead.

On the other hand, the views would be spectacular.

Tomorrow we were going to be on the most traveled ridge in the White Mountains, and it was Saturday. But everyone we’d meet on the path would have the same friendly perspective, and the dogs we’d already met were ecstatic.

According to the Mount Washington Observatory (and they knew their stuff) it was going to drop into the 30’s overnight, with fog in the morning — and often that socked-in viewlessness didn’t burn off. And yet the observatory promised sunshine in the afternoon.

It was hard to know how to feel.

At dinner, we sat on the ends of a long bench, facing other climbing strangers. The one directly across the table was charming, personable, and Canadian. He spoke to his children in French and to us in musical English. They were having the time of their lives, he said. They’d bounded up the route we’d taken today, and were planning our same ridge trek for tomorrow. It was thrilling.

I recognized in our two selves the unchangeable halves of human nature. His was irrepressible. When the meal was close to over, he leaned across the table.

“May I offer you some tea?” he asked courteously.

It was the same gentlemanly consideration he probably showed towards all living forms, and clouds and rocks as well. He began to pour hot water into my plastic mug.

“Half full,” he said, making our differences clear.