Or Adventures in Hiking, Part II
I think I come closest to being who I really am when I am on the trail. I have a deep, abiding, passionate, and slightly hard to describe love for those Northwest mountains. I take what they are (some of the most spectacular scenery in the world) and layer on top it uncontaminated imaginings from my youth about the mystery, majesty and non-factual histories overlaying the rugged rocks and ancient trees. To tell you how I feel about the Northwest mountains – my mountains – would probably require reams of digital screen, not quite convey what I wanted to feel, and sound like a 13 year old’s Tolkein-inspired fantasy coming from a nostalgic 30 year old. So let me just sum up: they are an ideal of my youth that has not been found wanting with my adult eyes. I love them. And I feel very much as though I belong in those mountains.
The first mile or so is always prosaic, though. My husband and I are no longer 20. We were carrying 40 pound packs down a very steep decline towards the Mowich River under a deep canopy of trees. We were racing daylight, having started at noon with 9.8 miles to go with a major downhill, a major uphill and a more-major-than-I-realized kind of flat to go before we could take our rest.
The downhill was lovely, but unremarkable. The uphill from Mowich River is one of the most consistent and long elevation changes of my memory. We counted. There were 33 switchbacks, many of them quite long. You hear the roar of the river below grow increasingly distant, but there are a good three miles of turning your face to the mountain, walking, and then turning your back on it again.
At last, we broke out of the soft fir-needled path and into daylight. “See! We’re almost there!” I gaily called as we walked between blueberries, bear grass, columbine, lupine and all the familiar flowers of the alpine slope. (The flowers for the entire trip were fantastic and at their prime.)
That sound you hear is my husband cursing the memory. Erm. It’s possible it was more like 3 miles than one. Oops! Trust me. Two miles, carrying 40 pound packs, at high speed, without enough food (bad planning on that one) and at high elevation? Two miles is a lot. Golden light was streaming into an avalanche-lily strewn meadow as our tired feed pulled us into camp.
We left the rain flap off our tent. I kept my contacts in until the last moment so I could watch the stars as I slept on the bones of my beloved mountain. We slept well.
In our next installment: Good planning comes to naught, mountains majesty, why I’m glad I got the mosquito netting and the rationing of DEET